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Dear Chancellor-Select: Not That You Asked Us, But...

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Cathie Black

Cathie Black (Edward Reed/WNYC)

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced Cathleen P. Black, the 66-year-old chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, as the next chancellor of the city’s public school system, succeeding Joel Klein.

Here, a cross-section of TC experts who are long-time observers of the New York education scene offers the incoming chancellor their unsolicited advice.

Karen Zumwalt, Evenden Professor of Education, Department of Curriculum and Teaching

Rethink hiring policies of the past two years. The desire to re-assign teachers who were being paid but not teaching understandably reduced the need for teachers new to the system.  However, to restrict new hires (in most fields) to Teaching Fellows and Teach for America recruits seems shortsighted.

Many of our graduate students—both experienced teachers and new teachers—came to study in New York because of their commitment to urban public education. As they complete their programs, it has been very disheartening to be frozen out of NYC public school jobs, while inexperienced peers who have just started their professional preparation are hired, paid while they learn on the job and subsidized in master’s programs. Many of these new hires expect to leave teaching after 2-3 years to start their “real” career.

Alternate routes such as TF and TFA serve an important function when there are shortages of good prepared, fully certified teachers who are willing to teach in hard-to-staff schools and subjects. There is likely to be a continuing need for alternate route programs. But they were not envisioned as less expensive, revolving door substitutes for fully prepared, certified teachers.  Hopefully, you can come up with new policies to hire the best teachers, regardless of their preparation route.

Although disappointed that they cannot serve in NYC public schools, our graduates do find jobs---in NYC charter, private, and religious schools and in schools outside New York City.  Disappointing for them, but how sad for the NYC public school children they might have worked with for many years to come.


Margaret Crocco, Professor of Social Studies and Education; Social Studies and Education Coordinator; Chair, Department of Arts and Humanities

1. Teachers are not the problem, but part of the solution.
2. Encourage collaborative decision making from the bottom up.
3. Education may have some of the features of business but is not fundamentally a business. Education is a public trust.
4. Pay attention to more than numbers and test scores.
5. Remember that education is about other people's children. Desire for them – and strive to give them -- what you wish for your own.


Aaron M. Pallas, Professor of Sociology and Education:

Dear Ms. Black,

Congratulations on being Mayor Bloomberg’s choice to succeed Joel Klein as Chancellor of the New York City public school system.  You are well-known in the business community as a successful executive, but, like Mr. Klein, you do not have prior experience as an educator. Your background thus will arouse suspicion among those who believe that the system should be headed by an experienced school leader.

You cannot control that, and I see no reason for you to apologize for your background and expertise. Being Chancellor is a difficult, some might say impossible, job, and inevitably many stakeholders will be unsatisfied with what you seek to do. But there are some steps that you can take to maximize the likelihood of being successful in leading the system.

First, capitalize on your strengths, and compensate for your weaknesses.  You are known as a successful leader and manager, but you have no direct knowledge of the technical core of the education enterprise: curriculum, teaching and learning.  It thus is essential that you surround yourself with people knowledgeable enough about K-12 education to advise you both on the desired outcomes and the means of achieving them. Many observers believe that a key weakness in the Klein era has been the lack of career educators who understand teaching and learning in the inner circle of leadership at Tweed Courthouse. Good managers may not be a dime a dozen, but they are in much more plentiful supply than leaders who understand how education policies can be translated into action and results.

Second, as you seek to get up to speed on the work ahead, give special attention to the study of implementation. The Klein-era reforms have had theories of action with plenty of big ideas, such as markets, autonomy and accountability. And whether or not one agrees that these are the right ideas to attend to, many would say that these reforms have not realized their promise. This is because the theories of action were not matched with a theory of implementation that created a blueprint for the steps needed to achieve the desired results. Reforms don’t implement themselves; they require extensive planning and scaffolding, and often require intermediate steps of building capacity before they can be enacted successfully. Experienced educators can advise you on how to implement new initiatives in ways that build the capacity of the many individuals and organizations in the New York City system to learn and change their practices.

Third, invest in developing new measures of the desired outcomes of public schooling.  Accountability systems often have unexpected, and even perverse, consequences when they rely on off-the-shelf measures of outcomes, rather than measures that reflect the deeper goals of schooling. The accountability system enacted in the Klein era, in the form of School Progress Reports, has relied heavily on a system of state assessments that have proven to be deeply flawed; and at the high school level, performance and progress have primarily been represented by graduation rates and the accumulation of credits, rather than the direct inspection of what students have learned in school. Don’t hitch the accountability wagon to someone else’s conception of what’s important;  engage the various stakeholders in New York City in a conversation about what the important outcomes of schooling are, and how we should measure those outcomes. There’s little to be gained by pushing forward with an accountability system which holds schools, principals and teachers responsible for the wrong outcomes

My best wishes for a successful tenure as Chancellor.

Aaron M. Pallas


Craig E. Richards, Professor of Education; Education Leadership Program Coordinator; Director, Summer Principals Academy:  

1.  Continue to work closely with strong leadership preparation programs (TC-SPA) to develop a career path to the school principalship.  
2. Continue to improve school accountability and transparency on school performance.
3.  Continue to support innovation in school design and curriculum through the new school design proposal process and charter school movement


Jacqueline Ancess, Co-Director, National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST):

1. Make an effort to include parents and community representatives in Department of Education decisions such as the location of charter schools.

2. Reward school level innovation by including it as a criterion in the DOE report card ratings of schools  For example, other than Advanced Placement courses there are several proven, school-based initiatives, such as dual enrollment  and spiraling curriculum,, to prepare students for college which are not considered by the DOE as a valid measure of success.
 
3. Fund the DYOs [schools’ self-developed formative measurements of student learning] at a higher rate so that there is parity with ACUITY [the city’s standardized assessment].
 
4. Provide incentives for intellectually challenging teaching and learning rather than test-prep by reducing the weight of standardized test scores in the evaluation of schools. Rely more on the School Quality Review to evaluate the effectiveness of schools.
 
5. Provide incentives for schools to find ways to evaluate themselves and their teachers that include indicators of student performance other than just standardized test scores.. International High School developed a very effective system nearly 20 years ago when Eric Nadelstern, now Chief of Schools, was principal.


In addition, in a column by Anna Phillips in GothamSchools, Jeffrey Henig, Professor of Political Science and Education suggested that Ms. Black should read an article he has written on parent engagement, as well as a chapter on New York City in Between Public and Private: Politics, Governance and the New Portfolio Models for Urban School Reform, the book he recently co-authored with TC’s Henry Levin and Katrina E. Bulkley of Montclair State University.
 
“My general point would be that politics is not just the thing she has to hold at bay, she’s got to understand how to build a political constituency, especially if she’s concerned with the sustainability of the reforms past the next election,” Henig said.


The views expressed in the previous article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not reflect the views of the faculty, administration or staff of Teachers College or Columbia University.

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