The big strike against Black is that she comes from big media, and thus she is not a professional educator. If a professional educator is someone (anyone) on the Department of Education payroll, I bet we can find a few folks that we would be slow to refer to as professional educators.
I remember talking to a friend who is a retired New York City school principal. I was thinking about my own career, and how I like teaching at the university level whenever I get the opportunity to do so. I mentioned how he must have thought back on his career as rewarding.
“He didn’t care,” his wife chimed in. “I didn’t want to go to Vietnam,” he told me was his reason for becoming a teacher. Maybe doing things differently is necessary in a large education system like New York City, and for this reason alone, the Joel Klein-Cathie Black model might work.
Nationally, there are teaching fellowship programs where people from outside the educational profession are encouraged to become teachers. Teaching is a great profession, and I have encouraged many friends to ditch the corporate cubicle in favor of this rewarding career, but in certain areas, perhaps thinking outside the box is necessary. Maybe a chancellor who is not glued to the bureaucratic jargon is a good thing. If it does not work, the mayor can always make a change. For now, however, what are we afraid of losing?
Councilman Robert Jackson points to the experience that the commissioners of the Police and Fire departments have as a reason to nix Black. Did Jackson have an issue with Nicholas Scopetta being named Fire Commissioner in 2002, where he served for eight years? Scopetta had no experience as a firefighter.
It is always good to “hire from within” and get an agency person on the job, but sometimes it becomes more about management and less about ground level experience. How many presidents have had military experience before taking over as Commander in Chief?
Black comes from publishing, and most notably she was on board in the early days of the USA Today newspaper. Barack Obama’s senior advisor, however, is also not a policy academic. He is David Axelrod, a former writer for the Chicago Tribune. Chief executives make executive decisions, and Bloomberg has made one.
The folks that run our education system are the principals, teachers, and professionals that get hired every year. When Michelle Rhee took over the Washington public schools system, she changed a great deal of policy, but she did not take responsibility away from teachers.
Black will not be micromanaging the classroom if she gets the job. If Black can follow in the footsteps of Klein and continue to push the ball down field, then this can work out well. There is no rational reason to not have faith in the mayor in this instance.