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An open letter to the DOE from NYC's education reporters

Although chancellor-appointee Cathleen Black’s transition from private citizen to public servant has officially begun, the Department of Education is still keeping her activities a secret.

Black’s school visits have drawn particular interest because she is starting her new job with very little experience in public education under her belt. Black has also given no formal interviews so far and little is known about her stances on policy questions.

Historically, the schools the chancellor visits also tend to signal what characteristics and practices the DOE is promoting.

In response to requests from several reporters, DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said that she would release the name of schools the chancellor visits only after the school day ended. Today, Black visited two schools, P.S. 111 and P.S. 78 in Queens, Ravitz said this afternoon.

“Part of being chancellor is visiting schools and talking with principals, teachers and parents openly and candidly about what is happening in their school community,” Ravitz said. “Having TV cameras and reporters over your shoulder is often not conducive to such an open exchange. So there will be public visits and private visits.”

It’s an interesting stance for the city to take, given that part of the city’s legal argument for releasing teacher effectiveness scores is that public employees do not have an expectation of privacy.

A group of the city’s education beat reporters from four news outlets, including GothamSchools, are sending the following letter to Black, asking that the city not wait until after she has left a school to let reporters know she visited.

We’ll update when the city responds. In the meantime, if you hear that the incoming chancellor is visiting your school, send us an e-mail or let us know on Twitter.

Dear Chancellor-designate Black:

We, the education beat reporters of the New York City press corps, are writing to make a formal request that you allow the city to release a schedule of your school visits publicly in advance of those visits.

Our position is that your school visits are a matter of public record. Previously, the city denied interview requests because you were not yet the chancellor. Now that the transition has begun, you are a public official.

Today, DOE Press Secretary Natalie Ravitz refused to share the names of the schools you were set to visit. She later said that she would release the names of the schools, but only at the end of the day. Ms. Ravitz has told reporters that the visits need to be kept secret so that you may speak candidly with principals, teachers and parents.

We believe that having honest conversations with parents and teachers, and publicly sharing where you are visiting or who you are speaking with before those conversations take place, are not mutually exclusive.

When outgoing Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was appointed in 2002, reporters were allowed to follow him on his visits to schools. We see no reason why you would not do the same.

We look forward to working with you in the future.

Sincerely,

The New York City education press corps

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