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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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