When Mayor Bloomberg chose Joel Klein to drag New York City’s dysfunctional public schools into the 21st century, there was a hue and cry among self-styled advocates and other interest groups about Mr. Klein’s lack of educational experience. Critics complained that Mr. Klein was an interloper from the private sector who simply would not understand how to run the nation’s biggest school system.
The critics were right, in a way: Mr. Klein certainly was an outsider. He had not spent a lifetime nodding in agreement to every demand from teachers’ unions. He had no experience signing off on archaic work rules designed to inhibit efficiency. He didn’t know what it was like to operate a system for the benefit of teachers, not students.
For all of those reasons, and more, Mr. Klein will go down in municipal history as one of the city’s most successful and innovative schools chancellors. He was a tireless advocate for excellence in the classroom, he was unafraid of taking on the United Federation of Teachers and he eagerly embraced revolutionary reforms like charter schools. But after eight memorable years, Mr. Klein recently announced that he will leave the Education Department beginning in January. His energy, intelligence and leadership will be missed.
In Mr. Klein’s place, Mr. Bloomberg once again has gone beyond the insular world of education, selecting publishing executive Cathleen Black as the next chancellor. Like Mr. Klein, Ms. Black is not a career educator. She will require a waiver from the State Board of Regents before she can take her post, because she lacks the credentials deemed important by educational bureaucrats.
Critics in the City Council and elsewhere are urging the Board of Regents to block Ms. Black’s appointment. Perhaps forgetting that we’ve heard these arguments before, they complain that Ms. Black doesn’t have a background in educational leadership–just as Mr. Klein didn’t. With their vision fixed on the 20th century, Ms. Black’s critics no doubt fear continued reform, continued change, continued innovation.
It would be refreshing to hear somebody other than the mayor acknowledge the sacrifices that Ms. Black will make in the name of public service. She is going to resign from her highly paid position as chair of Hearst Magazines, and she will quit three corporate boards because those entities do business with the Education Department. School advocates should welcome her interest and selflessness rather than condemn her simply because she comes from, yes, the private sector.
Mayor Bloomberg has made education reform his signature issue. Mr. Klein turned the mayor’s promises into reality. Ms. Black figures to build on Mr. Klein’s impressive legacy not by simply getting along, but by asking tough questions and demanding accountability.
No wonder some people want to stop her.