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

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.