Tag Archives | Cathie Black

The Best and Brightest (and whitest?)

We’re just about finished jumping through the hoops for getting into middle school–we’ve toured all the schools, filled out the applications, and Liam just finished a round of tests with perhaps a few more still to come. Keep in mind that we’re talking middle school, people–6th freaking grade. Not high school, not college, not a top-secret government agency.  One particularly high-strung classmate of Liam’s wailed to her mom that if she didn’t get into a good middle school she wouldn’t get into a good high school and then she wouldn’t get into a good college and then she wouldn’t get a good job and she’d end up living in box on the street.

She’s a tad dramatic, that girl, and we’re pretty sure she’s headed to a performing arts school. But despite her anxiety, middle school is a pretty low stakes operation.

When you get to the other end of middle school and start thinking about high schools, however, the stakes start to matter. Being a proactive worrier, I’m already fretting about high school applications: would Liam do better at a small artsy school? a serious academic school? or one of the big elite schools, like Bronx Science or Stuyvesant?

Cathie Black, our sassy Chancellor with the larky sense of humor, just announced that 5984 eighth-graders were offered spots at the city’s nine specialized high schools. “These students have admirably pushed themselves and we look forward to watching them succeed in high school and beyond,” she said in her press release.  200 more students received spots than last year–5400 as opposed to last year’s 5200.

It’s great news, right? All these kids coming to the elite high schools, where they’ll prepare to be the leaders of tomorrow by learning how to negotiate a demanding curriculum and a diverse student body.

Whoops. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on February 15, 2011 in Education, NYC, Politics

Cathie’s Challenge, the City’s Future

photo: Michael Appleton, New York Times

It’s not the hat, although really, that hat? I’m not going to be one of those women who disses people on the basis of their fashion choices. Besides, there are so many other reasons to diss Cathie Black; we don’t have to pay any attention to that hat.

Did you see the article about Cathie in today’s Times? It made me want to like her because of her work with Ms. magazine, back in the day, and because Oprah’s magazine was her idea, apparently. But ultimately? Reading the article was sort of like watching Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee: I wanted to like her, really I did, but I just can’t get GOOP out of my mind. Cathie Black doesn’t have anything to do with GOOP, obviously, but she also doesn’t have anything to do with public education, either.

Cathie is a woman who thinks “the common touch” means riding in taxis instead of limos.

Um, Cath? For the record? Most of us ride the bus. Or the subway. It’s the taxi that’s the splurge.

This article says that Cathie is a gal with a “suffer no fools” attitude, which is great–when you can fire the fools who piss you off. What’s she going to do with an organization that talks about the “zone of proximal development”  to describe students’ intellectual growth? Can’t fire those fools–the union won’t let you.  And the union isn’t all bad–the union makes sure that teachers don’t get fired just because the principal is pissed; the union ensures that there are limits on the grueling hours faced by classroom teachers (what’s that you say? they get the “whole summer” off? Well…teachers are off for all of July and some of August, that’s true. But let me ask you this question: would you like to deal with 28, 32, 35, 36 10 year olds for eight hours a day, five days a week, ten months a year? Wouldn’t  you need a vacation, too? And maybe a prescription for Valium?)

Does Cathie know that reality? The reality of a jammed public school on a sweaty day in late June?  Does she know the reality of a PTA frantically trying to earn a few extra thousand bucks selling wrapping paper, in order to pay for instruments for a school band?  Somehow I think that the kids at the Kent School, where Cathie’s kids went to school, have not only instruments but several lovely music rooms in which to play those instruments.

Cathie loaned her Bulgari bracelet to a Manhattan museum exhibit. Wasn’t that civic minded of her? She’s not done much else that demonstrates “community spirit,” if by community spirit you mean things that people do for the good of the community and not for the good of their own bottom line. She sits on several boards–and is paid handsomely to do so, and I’m sure she gives money to charities – and she’s occasionally donated to political candidates, mostly conservative Republicans, including Dan Burton of Indiana, who has a “zero” rating from Naral Pro-Choice America.

She perhaps met Burton because she’s friends with the Quayles, Maureen and Dan. Remember them? VEEP under Bush I?  Dan’s most memorable moment as Vice-President came when he corrected a student at a spelling bee, telling her that “potato” was spelled “potatoe.”  You may not be surprised to learn that Quayle is the product of Indiana public schools. Yep, public.

I’m sure that at the Kent School, kids get drilled on the proper spelling of various vegetables.

Cathie’s sister is quoted in the article as saying that her sister loves a challenge. Which is probably why Cathie has risen to the uppermost ranks of US business–and I don’t begrudge her that success for a minute. She can have the fancy educations, the multiple houses, the birthday parties for 75 of her best friends at a villa in Tuscany (probably my invitation was lost in the mail, don’t you think?) — that’s all great. She can be a role model to women who want to steamroll to the highest echelons of corporate culture.

But as a friend pointed out (thanks Stephanie), what to Cathie Black is just “a challenge” is for millions of New York kids, the future. She can quit, if the challenge gets to be too great, and go lick her wounds in Southampton. But what about the millions of kids left behind in New York’s public schools? Will she be taking them to Southampton too?

So no, it’s not hat she’s wearing in that picture that matters. It’s what’s under the hat that’s the problem.

Continue Reading · on November 19, 2010 in Education, NYC, Politics

The Price of Public Education

Caleb’s school is having a fundraising drive. The PTA wants to get 85% of families to donate to its General Fund, which is used for everything you can imagine, short of paying teachers’ salaries. When I was PTA President at Liam’s school a few years back, fundraising was the hardest part of the job (second-hardest part of the job? Not screaming back at people who were–by screaming at me–screaming at the teacher/principal/DOE/their own childhood).

The PTA has been sending out fundraising emails all week, pushing class parents to remind parents that those classes who hit 85% participation will get to attend a magic show in the auditorium…while the non-compliant other classes sit in their desks doing math worksheets. It’s fundraising through parental guilt.

But one class parent has taken this fundraising really quite to heart. Here’s an email that circulated this morning (with all identifying details removed):

…At this stage, I would say that the option of making phone calls to parents who have not contributed should be considered as well. Phone calls would help get something out of at least 50% of those who have not contributed at all. We should aim to get at least a dollar out of everyone as a token of their support for PTA. This strategy will definitely take us over the 80% mark.

III. The three Kindergarten classes deserve applause for their amazing participation rate.

I am surprised to see that XXX class has not attained the 80% mark. The XXX Class parents need to do more. I am sure, with more effort this number can be improved. I am willing to send out emails to XXX class families  but don’t want to override Class parents. We can do it if we think “Failing is not an option here”

Clearly XXX class will be taken to the thumbscrew room and tortured until they all pony up.

To her credit, the Chair of Fundraising (read: volunteer mom, who also has a full-time job) emailed a response that reminded this parent about the reality of life in public school: a huge range of incomes and cash-flow situations; families without easy email access; families for whom English isn’t even the second language but the third or fourth; and so on.

Other than my own college experience, I have never been in a private school, so maybe it’s a whole different vibe in that realm. Maybe when you send your kid to private school you implicitly agree to be part of the phonathons, or to ante up thousands of dollars at the school auction, in addition to giving outright to the general fund–and I imagine that if you’re a family on financial aid at these schools, it might feel a little weird. A friend of mine, whose son went to a really ritzy school for a little while (on a full scholarship) said that the unwritten rule seemed to be financial aid parents did the scut work, while the big donors just… wrote checks.

But public schools are free, right? Our tax dollars at work and all that? Which is why of course some folks (New Jersey, I’m talking to you, but alas,you’re not alone) protest tax hikes aimed at bolstering dwindling education budgets: if they don’t have any kids in schools, then the failing schools aren’t their problem. Other parents think that hey, the school gets its money from school budgets and so why should they throw in extra cash? It’s public school, not private school, so there shouldn’t be any fundraising.

Now I could turn my attentions here to Cathie Black, who went to a private Catholic high school in Chicago, a private Catholic college in DC, sent her kids to boarding schools in Connecticut (to the tune of about 45K per year) — and of course she herself lived in CT until a few short years ago, when she moved to the Upper East Side, a neighborhood not known for its failing schools.  And I could ask what on earth Cathie knows about life in public school or I could wonder, as a friend did this afternoon, about the fact that apparently Bloomberg couldn’t find anyone in the entire five boroughs who had any experience in education and who might be interested in the Chancellor’s job.

But I won’t talk about any of that.

I will only say that in public schools, fundraising has become a fact of life. Parents are expected to give–and give and give and give–because budgets are stretched so thin. My friend Brenna pointed out that on top of being asked to donate to a general fund, there are the slide rulers, the calculators, the twenty-five item “must have” list that teachers hand out on the first day of school (not to be confused with the teacher “wish lists” for the classrooms), the gym uniform fees, the field trip fees, the book fairs (a percentage of every book you buy goes to the school), the bake sales (which can account for thousands and thousands of dollars in any PTA budget)…By the end of the year, many families will have donated thousands and thousands of dollars, one way or another, and the public schools that serve these families are lucky to have them. Because of course, there are many more schools where all they have is what the Board of Ed gives them, and nothing else.

The tone of that email I got this morning, telling me that “failure is not an option,” seems like serious overkill–as if Gordon Gecko (in the first movie, not the second) was somehow a member of the PTA.

But then again, there aren’t many things more important than educating children.  Maybe failure really isn’t an option.

I don’t know the answer. I wish I believed that Cathie Black does.

Continue Reading · on November 14, 2010 in Education, NYC, Politics

Why I’m Not the New Chancellor of NYC Schools

I know why Mayor Bloomberg didn’t tap me to take over from Joel Klein.

I’m overqualified.

I taught public high school for four years, have a doctorate in literature and have been teaching college students for longer than I care to remember.  Both of my kids go to public schools; I went to public schools until I got to college.  But apparently the best qualification to run the NYC schools is to be…completely uninvolved with education.

Joel Klein resigned earlier this week (do we break into a chorus of “ding dong the witch is dead…”? ) and Bloomberg has appointed Cathie Black to replace him. Cathie is a former chairperson of Hearst Magazines and, according to Bloomberg, is a “superstar manager.” The fact that she sent her own kids to private boarding schools in Conneticut, or that she herself went to parochial school in Chicago, or that she has absolutely no experience with education at all–none of that matters.

According to Bloomberg, what matters is that Black knows about “jobs, jobs, jobs… what our students need.”  Well, yes, they need jobs–but we’re talking about kids coming out of high school, not college. What they need before they get a job is how write and read and add; they need to be in buildings that are not jammed to the rafters and falling apart; they need the arts and gym; they need fewer bureaucrats and better teachers who are paid better salaries…the list is endless. Do the schools really need to be headed up by someone who was the publisher of USA Today? Really, the best we can do is the publisher of the McPaper? That’s the standard to which we aspire?

Magazines and newspapers are things, widgets that can be stacked up and counted. There’s a schedule of production, the content is generated, the pages are compiled, and voila, there’s your magazine. And you sell it for a certain price (or download it or steal it from the airplane or whatever) and you get a certain amount of profit. Granted, the world of paper publishing has been rocky the last few years, but still, basically, a magazine is a widget.

News flash (hey, Cathie, yep, talking to you): a kid is not a widget and learning (alas) does not happen on a set production schedule. If it did, I never would have come so close to failing Trigonometry (Mrs. Orr, wherever you are, I wish you well: you tried, you really did). So if kids aren’t widgets, then why hire someone whose expertise is in widget-sales?

I guess, though, that she is very very, very good at selling magazines. Maybe that does qualify her to run the largest school district in the country. I mean, some NYC schools sell magazine subscriptions as fundraisers, so right there her expertise is going to be very helpful.

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Continue Reading · on November 10, 2010 in Education, NYC

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