Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Chris Owens on Cathie Black


Black Still Lacks

The District Leader of the 52nd Assembly District explains why Black is whack
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Cathleen Black was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to serve as chancellor of New York City's schools. Credit Seth Wenig, AP
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg's first Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Joel Klein, served for eight years and has received accolades across America for "reforming" the City's system.
Frankly, it is unclear why.  If the Mayor did not have such tremendous corporate clout of his own, an education administration that endured numerous reorganizations and senior staff changes with questionable improvements in the academic performance of 1.1 million schoolchildren as a whole would probably not be so admired–and would certainly be subject to more intense scrutiny.
Now, as the nation's largest education system struggles to prove that its evolution during the past eight years has some staying power, Mayor Bloomberg has hired Cathleen Black to serve as Klein's successor.  Yet Black has no history of attending, parenting in, teaching in, directly supporting or administering any public schools.  She is hyped as an outstanding manager, but has never presided over an organization with a mission such as the New York City Department of Education.  Remember, however, that she is embedded within the acceptable plutocracy.
Black's nomination was an insult to every accomplished educator in New York City who has also been hailed as a great administrator and who has worked hard to improve herself or himself so as to better serve our children.  It was a dismissal, again, of parents and New York's communities.  And, given Black's lack of relevant experience, Mayor Bloomberg had to apply to the State's Commissioner of Education for a waiver of employment requirements that apply to school superintendents across the state.
Accordingly, outraged parents, community leaders and educators spoke against this nomination and some 16,000 petition signatures on various petitions were collected protesting this nomination and demanding a sensible search for an appropriate leader.  Mayor Bloomberg offered weak arguments about the need for a great manager as Chancellor (not as Deputy Chancellor), and the Education Commissioner, David Steiner, acknowledged that Black's background did not fit with this position.
Steiner, however, did not end Black's nomination.  He chose instead to accept a compromise where Mayor Bloomberg committed to the appointment of a new Deputy Chancellor who allegedly has the credentials that Black lacks.  Steiner's waiver was challenged in Albany Supreme Court by three petitions–one by Park Slope resident, parent and attorney Eric Snyder, one from two parents represented by attorney Roger Wareham, and one by 13 parents and one teacher represented by attorneys Norman Siegel and Herb Teitelbaum.  State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and yours truly, as a member of the Deny Waiver Coalition, were part of this last group.
Last week, Judge Gerald Connolly rejected all three petitions.  The judge found that Commissioner Steiner's decision to grant Black a waiver reflected the discretion that the state education law gives to the Commissioner.  The Commissioner took a reasonable approach in coming to his decision, according to the judge, and, therefore, legal precedent dictated that the Court should not overturn or modify the waiver decision.
As of Monday, January 3, Cathleen Black becomes Chancellor and the Petitioners in the legal cases are deciding whether or not to appeal Connolly's decision.  We have 30 days to file an appeal, if we decide to do so.  Since we are committed to improving public education in New York City and we believe that Judge Connolly may have erred on certain points, we may well appeal.  On the other hand, there are factors that may lead us to forego an appeal.  Regardless, we hope that readers understand why we are so concerned about this issue.
First, Black's lack of qualifications will remain an issue.  None of us would be comfortable if someone with no law enforcement became Police Commissioner.  Unlike every previous Chancellor, Black does not even have a Master's degree in any subject area.  There are plenty of qualified educators within and outside of the City who could have served as Chancellor, and there is no evidence that the Mayor engaged in a meaningful effort to tap this pool of proven leaders.
Second, the waiver provision of the Education Law was designed to prevent the politicization of education appointments.  Both Commissioner Steiner and Judge Connolly chose to ignore the intent of the law and acquiesce instead to political power.  Accordingly, we cannot assume that current law will protect our children's education.
Third, changes in the education law must be pursued.  It is essential that a check on the Mayor's nomination process exist and that the Chancellor's job requirements be strengthened either through the elimination of a waiver option entirely, or, at a minimum, through more limits on the discretion provided to the Commissioner of Education.
Fourth, the recent Court challenge is just one battle in the struggle.  The corporate leadership model for education adopted by America's elites has serious problems.
Parents need to be ready to fight for our children's education.
On behalf of the 52nd Assembly District, Hon. Chris Owens represents Park Slope on the Democratic State Committee and on the Executive Committee of the Kings County Democratic Committee. He is a parent of two public school students and a former Community School Board 13 President. For more information, visit  and  Send emails to

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