30 November 2010

Topical Tuesday: Educational Issues

Public education. Important to all those individuals who cannot afford to go or send their children to private schools. The climate of education in New York City has become quite controversial lately with the nomination of the new chancellor who will head 1.1 million children (the largest school system in the United States), 380,000 employees and 1600 public schools. 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has nominated Cathie P. Black not because of her extensive background in education but because she is an excellent manager of several magazines. She managed to rise in the ranks of the Hearst media empire and broke several glass ceilings for women in achieving her goals.  In addition, she saved magazines from folding such as Holiday, New York Magazine, Ms., iVillage and USA Today.  Ms. Black was the president of Hearst Magazine.  She has acquired board member status with companies such as Coca Cola and I.B.M. (she holds this position until January 1, 2011 when she takes on the position of NYC school chancellor).  Ms. Black has achieved a great deal and opened many doors for women who were excluded from obtaining top positions in the high-powered industry of media magazines.

However, what puzzles me as an educator is that Ms. Black has never held a position in an educational facility or academic setting.  She does not have a degree in education nor have her children ever attended public schools.  How could Mayor Bloomberg have overlooked this (or did he)?  As a teacher in an urban city public school, it disturbs me that I am held to such a high standard (Bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences, Master's degree in Science Education, teaching certification via 5 teaching exams, mentoring for 1 year by an experienced teacher, 3 years probation before awarded tenure, plus annual evaluations from my principal), yet the highest position in the school system is given to someone with a Bachelor's in English and no experience in the classroom.  What stake would she have in an urban city public school? 

As you can imagine, New York City parents, students, teachers and the United Federation of Teachers oppose her nomination.  Mayor Bloomberg appealed to all his supporters to no avail.  The solution: the state stepped in and offered a compromise.  Ms. Black will be appointed the position, if and only if, she accepts as her Deputy Chancellor someone who has moved through the ranks of the school system (from classroom to board room).  Today the state will give a waiver for Ms. Black's lack of educational experience and the city will wait and see what happens.  There will still be one big pitfall to this compromise.  How much power or say will the Deputy Chancellor have when Ms. Black implements all the "necessary" changes to save money. 

So what?  What is important about all this?  What does it mean for our public schools and students?  Well, Ms. Black will surely run the Department of Education using the business model that has proven her so successful in the past with failing magazines.  There will be budget cuts (even though we have suffered already from cuts these last three years).  I foresee a lack of classroom supplies, overcrowded classrooms, layoffs, teachers giving up more time for an insufficient 3% wage increase (that does not contend with the 4% annual inflation rate), and our students suffering from the extraction of the human factor.  I predict that this model, if proven successful in saving money, will be applied to city schools all over the nation, causing more destruction to our already fragile learners.  But, what does it matter.  To "Big Business" supporters, in the end we're only just numbers.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


CA Heaven said...

I guess what happens is that they try to run a school district using principles from big corporations. That is, the top level management has management as their profession, and not the core business (education in your case). It may be sucessful, or it may fail. I guess that remains to be seen, but I agree with you that there are reasons to be worried and to pay careful attention to what happens. By the way, in BigOil where I work, it's basically the same. Our CEO has background from management and economy. He has no education in our core business (earth sciences, and oil production). However, in his team of presidents and wise presidents there are people with geo-science and technology education and experience. I think this is a crucial point, when a corporation is headed by a management professional. I hope for the best for your school district. Future generations are too valuable to put at jeopardy >:)

Cold As Heaven

CA Heaven said...

Sorry, I mean vice presidents, but I hope they're wise to, hehe >:)

Hart Johnson said...

Chary, I've seen a little about this and it baffles me. There are a couple systems that just can't have evaluations limited to dollars and cents, and education and health care are the biggies... Educational outcomes are in such intangibles as 'competent, contributing citizens' and are years down the road. I know there are a lot of inefficiencies in the school districts near me, but NONE of those would be fixed by fewer teachers or inadequate school supplies. They should instead be addressed by streamlining the administration... trouble is, the decision makers are loathe to eliminate the necessary jobs: theirs. NYC may also have some of the trouble Detroit does: population mobility in detroit means there are buildings sitting empty that STILL have to have basic maintenance. I really hope what they do works, but I don't hold out much more hope than you do.

Unknown said...

@ Cold as Heaven- I like that compromise between the CEO's who run the company and the Vice Presidents' who know the ins and outs of the business. What I am afraid of is that those who have knowledge in the industry will not be given the power to have much say in the management of the company itself. I fear that like the Chancellor in my case and the CEO in yours, that they will have the final word and not heed the advice of their deputies.

Unknown said...

@ Hart- I agree that those two systems have come down to dollars and cents and its really sad that our children are not put first. Although I tend to be idealistic, I know that there will be many more cuts down the road but why does it have to always be cuts to the classroom.

I would stop the bidding wars for construction and books, then shop around for the least expensive company (or book store/ publishing company like Barnes and Nobles) with great quality and hire or order from them. So much money is wasted when NYCDOE signs a bid contract. But instead, staff are laid off, classroom size increases and no copies can be made because the school can't afford paper in their budgets.

Sorry for the rant but I see so many things that are wrong that could be easily remedied. Why doesn't Mayor Bloomberg see it?

LTM said...

I would wonder if Ms. Black has children in the NY public school system...? I doubt it, but it would certainly make a difference in her approach.

How does she respond to these *fair* concerns from those directly impacted?

Interesting post~

Sue said...

I love working in the education sector. I love teaching, and the buzz of having presented a good lesson. I Hate the system with passion. Our people at the top decided it was most economical to have as many casual teaching positions as possible (this is in the trade sector at tertiary level) which of course has led to fragmented teaching, lack of continuity, frustrated and uncommitted staff, (who leave when a better offer comes at the drop of a proverbial hat leaving their classes in turmoil till another person is found) lowering of standards, and assorted other negative outcomes. but hey! they're saving money! and that's what it's all about isn't it?

I love this sector and working with refugees, migrants, and the fabulous array of people desperately keen to be educated. But the system (IMHO) treats them and the staff with appalling disrespect, and fails to acknowledge that a sound education system is vital for our society in the long term.

(Sorry, now I've joined your rant) Good luck. It'll be interesting to hear if/how she manages. I hope she makes better decisions than what I've experienced.

Unknown said...

@LTM- Ms. Black does not have children in the public school system. She grew up in a very rich neighborhood in Chicago and amassed quite a fortune in the magazine business. Her children have attended only private schools. She doesn't really have any stake in public education.

Ms. Black has responded to the "fair" concerns by going to Washington, meeting with celebrities and closed closet meetings with people from the state in an attempt to rally support. She has not addressed parents, students nor the educational staff.

Unknown said...

@ Sue- Hahaha, I think I've started something. Sorry I lured you into my rant.

I absolutely agree. Teaching is my passion and I wouldn't want to do anything else. However, the system is in serious need of repair. I'm sorry to hear the high turn around with your educational system. It's disconcerting to our students who need continuity or those who have difficulty adjusting to change.

Good luck with yours! I'll post at a later date how mine goes.

Natasha said...

Being a bit of a Ms. Black myself, I am going to play Devil's Advocate here.
You are a teacher, Chary, and you know everything there is to know about teaching (I would love to have you as the teacher for my kids). George is a doctor, and is the last word in oncology.
But what do Chary and George really know about running a business? Not much. Running a business is not rocket science- they can figure it out, but why should they have to? Rather than have Chary and George doing something they have no experiece in, and which is only going to take them away from the jobs they are very good at, why not just bring in a professional?

Enter Ms. Black. She knows nothing about teaching or medicine, but she knows everything about running a business. I would rather have her run the school system, than train someone who should and could be doing something a lot more productive.

Ms. Black may not been all bad. She might determine ways to make the money go far. You mention bidding wars for contracts- she may put in end to that. She may realise that not having paper for your copiers actually results in a loss of productivity greater than the cost of a few sheets of wasted paper. She may put in place a system where teachers are paid incentives according to their ability/ results. She may figure out ways to economise without copromising on quality. She may be the best thing that happened to the public education system. She may figure out ways to bring cash into the system.

Or she may not.

Clearly the system is not doing too well (and one of the measures of that for me is that teachers are underappreciated financially). Things are not working as they are. Why not experiment?

And I know what I am talking about, because in my previous job, I was in Ms. Black's position. I was the 'outsider' brought on to clear up a system. I had no experience with programs, and was always the first to admit it. I was also the first to say that my objective was redundency- the day I put the administrative systems in place and knew they worked, I saw no further role for myself (the next CEO could still be from Programs, I did not want it to be me).

But all I faced was resistance, resistance and more resistance. It was almost painful to see them struggling with things they did not like, and which they knew nothing about, when I could have done it far more effectively. And five months after I left, I am told salaries are being delayed by a week, because of a liquidity crunch. What can I say except, 'I am sad, but not surprised."

Natasha said...


I just read your last comment, Chary. That is definitely not the most sensible approach for her to take. If she is serious about bringing about change, she should address the people who's support she really needs. And that is YOU.

Hart Johnson said...

natasha-I think a PRO at management IFF she knows enough to listen about the business she is managing, may just be idea. The US has reason though, to be skeptical about the running of schools like a business, because,of course, it is most cost effective to teach nobody a damn thing. (at least evaluated in a quarterly profit vacuum)

Natasha said...

The way I see it, Tami, and I am convinced that in this one thing, I am right, any business (magazine, financial institution or school) should be rated solely on the value it creates in the purpose for which it was set up. A financial institution is set up to generate profits and it should. A school is set up to guide young minds, and that is what it should do in the most cost effective manner possible.

A school system that doesn't teach, but makes a profit is a failure, because it doesn't do what it was set up to do. And if Ms. Black doesn't realize that, she should be replaced by a professional manager who does.

Unknown said...

@ Rayna's first post- I would have supported her if she stated, "I plan to make changes with the students in mind. I put kids first." Ms. Black has not done that. She has been hiding behind Mayor Bloomberg's coat tails and rallied support from everyone but those who are directly effected by the change.

Thanks for the compliment about teaching your kids.

Natasha said...

@ Chary- seems like she is treating the post as a Prize, rather than a Challenge. With that attitude obviously her appointment is going to be resented, and more sadly, she is going to miss the point - that the purpose of the school system is to nurture minds, and her success is determined solely by how well she enables people better qualified than her to do it.
Which is SAD. And which attitude makes the job of people like me so much difficult, because we get greeted with the same suspicion, even though we come to a job with the right attitude.

Anonymous said...

That's politics for you... I'm just glad I'm out of school. I think the standards are sliding lower and lower...