getting to know you

Five things you may not know about the next schools chancellor

What do we know about Cathie Black?

Most of the profiles of her published so far focus on her management style, her similarities to her new boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and her lack of substantive experience in education.

But other details are beginning to surface. Here are some things we’ve learned so far:

This is not the first time she has walked into a management situation as an almost complete outsider.

Seven pages into her memoir-like business advice book, newly-appointed city schools chancellor Cathie Black recounts an episode that suggests yesterday’s events may have felt like deja-vu.

In the book, Black describes the first time she walked into the offices of USA Today to meet the staff. She had just been named president following the newspaper’s tumultuous first year:

I was also a female, non-newspaper person and an absolute unknown quantity to these people — many of whom had just learned about my hiring moments beforehand. As I looked around the room, I could feel the questions in the air: Was I a savior, a marketing genius who could turn the paper around? Or would I be a flop?

Twenty-seven years later, Black is in a similar situation: an outsider entering a school system whose members have as many questions about her as she does about them. Even her predecessor, current Chancellor Joel Klein, only found out that she would take the position on Monday, he told reporters today.

She’s checked in with the teachers union head, but hasn’t set a date to meet them yet.

Black called teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew yesterday, a union spokesman said. No word yet on when the new chancellor will sit down with the union heads to talk shop, however. As Bloomberg pointed out yesterday, Mulgrew and Black have met once before — but only in passing.

There is a growing movement lobbying State Education Commissioner David Steiner not to grant her the waiver she needs to become chancellor.

Because Black lacks the minimum of three years’ education experience required under state law to become chancellor, she will need a waiver from State Education Commissioner David Steiner. Before Steiner can grant the waiver, he must appoint a panel to review the mayor’s reasons Black should have this job.

Critics of the mayor’s decision to appoint a businesswoman who lacks education experience are now rallying around the waiver process, urging Steiner not to grant it. As of around 7:30 this evening, more than 950 people had signed an online petition posted yesterday calling for the state education department to deny the waiver.

Black’s appointment has also drawn criticism from a number of state legislators, including Senators Bill Perkins and Carl Kruger and incoming Senator Tony Avella. State Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo also sent Steiner a letter today opposing Black’s appointment and saying that he is considering legislation that could block waivers for non-educators in the future.

Steiner answers to the State Board of Regents, who are appointed by the Assembly.  So if political opposition to Black’s appointment grows — particularly in the State Assembly and especially in the office of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — there’s a possibility it could doom her chances.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch yesterday seemed cautiously supportive of the mayor’s appointment.  “At the heart of mayoral control, I truly believe in allowing the mayor to make his choices,” Tisch told City Hall News.

If layoffs come, she will have a strategy.

One of the biggest questions of next year will be whether the city can avoid massive teacher layoffs. For this school year, the city skirted layoffs by spending the money it had set aside for future teacher raises to plug its budget gap. But next year marks the end of the federal stimulus money it has been relying on to balance state budget cuts, and city officials have warned that it’s unclear how they might make up the difference. Klein told reporters today that he believes layoffs are a real threat.

Black is coming from the publishing industry, which has seen its fair share of financial woes, and she has personal experience as the manager who breaks the bad news. In a video called “Layoff Lessons” that Forbes posted today, Black explains how she approached layoffs in publishing:

Well, for the person having to do the dirty deed, it’s very hard. I mean, I think you want to have thought through it very carefully, you want to have worked with your human resources department. You want to have a package already prepared for each individual. You want to get your message out. You don’t have to have an hour’s conversation. Because about the first five words that come out of your mouth, as in, “a department is not going to exist any longer,” they have mentally checked out. They are listening to one more word that you are saying, so it’s like, make it short and sweet.

But you have to be empathetic. It’s a very hard time there today. So I think you want to be fair. You know, walking around a little bit is not a bad thing to do. I think in tough times you want to be seen walking the floors.

Black’s political donations span the ideological spectrum.

Over the past five years, Black has given money to both Democrats and Republicans from all over the country, the Village Voice reports. Her biggest political donations have been not to candidates, however, but to the Magazine Publishers of America, the industry’s political action committee. In the most recent election cycle, the PAC gave more to Democrats than to Republicans


that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.