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.