Hello, Cathie Black

Many in New York and nationwide who follow education were caught off-guard today by the announcement that Joel Klein would be leaving his post as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, effective at the end of the year.  He is being replaced by Hearst Magazines executive Cathie Black, who is known for her success in the publishing world and is a total newcomer to the world of education.  Indeed, she has two children who attended independent schools in Connecticut, rather than city schools.

Joel Klein’s future is a fitting departure for a man who was viewed by many parents and teachers as being too corporate in his approach: he will take a senior leadership role at News Corp, advising the company on ways to invest in education.  Yes, that News Corp, the one founded and headed by Rupert Murdoch.  His entry/re-entry into the private sector after eight years at the helm of New York City’s public schools was announced this afternoon at a press conference held by Mayor Bloomberg.

What of Ms. Black, who will start her new job at the beginning of the year?  Like Klein, she comes to the Department with very limited credentials in the education world, but with a pedigree and profile that Bloomberg has decided amply qualifies her for the spot.  “Cathie is a world class manager,” the Mayor told the press at today’s announcement, reiterating the sentiment a few times when queried about the incoming Chancellor’s qualifications.

It is hard to say what policies Black will pursue when she takes the reins as leader of the country’s largest school system.  She praised Klein and his work over the past eight years, but with an empty record, change could also be afoot.  As a magazine executive and public figure here in New York, Black championed women’s issues, which have been a central part of her career dating back to her time long ago at Ms.  She has written a book, Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) which offers some insights into her philosophy, her leadership style, and hints at factors which may be determinative in her leadership of the school system.  There’s a good review available at the Huffington Post; I know I’ll be taking a look at it soon, if only for tips on getting ahead!

With this choice, Bloomberg seems to be continuing a clear preference he has for business executives to head city agencies.  Black is a proven CEO and publisher, and we all are hoping that this translates into effective management and smart decision-making on some of the major policy issues that will soon come before her.  Education, certainly, is about the future, and today Bloomberg noted Black’s record in creating jobs as partial qualification for her to pursue this opportunity.  Is education about jobs?

From Gotham Schools: He said the new chancellor’s expertise needed to be dealing with the tough economy. ”Jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s exactly what Cathie Black knows about,” he said.

Big changes going on here in New York City.  Anyone with any insight into Cathie Black and her plans for the DoE?  For now, it looks like the game is wait-and-see on her.  As for Joel Klein, the epitaph on his tenure is yet to be written, but we think his move to News Corp says it all.  He was never truly an educator, and this lack of expertise and experience showed through during his time at the helm of the city’s schools.  He never understood the complex forces affecting public education, and his blind support for expanding charter schools and accountability (i.e. closing schools) left many who have spent their lives in education feeling disenfranchised and bitter towards his administration.

With Michelle Rhee’s unintended departure–forced with the electoral rebuke she and outgoing Mayor Adrian Fenty received from D.C. primary voters–we now have two big names in education reform who are heading in new directions.  There’s still no word on where Rhee is headed next, but Klein’s exit from the education world will be a loss that is acutely felt by some of his biggest boosters.  Are there specific lessons to draw from the dramatic changes happening at the top tier of leadership in two of the cities biggest, most influential school districts?  Klein and Rhee both championed closing ineffective schools and firing bad teachers in pursuit of greater accountability.  With a corporate executive replacing him, it looks as though Klein’s legacy on accountability measures is fairly safe, but right now, anything is possible.

We believe that education is about questioning evidence, thinking critically about your role and your impact, and reflective practice.  Here’s hoping that Cathie Black brings these values and her excellent management skills to Tweed in a big way.  Best of luck too to Joel Klein as he pursues more lucrative opportunities in the private sector.

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