Friday, April 8, 2011

Rant #480: A Black Mark On Education

The debacle that surrounded the hiring of Kathie Black as New York City Schools chancellor is over. She resigned the post yesterday, and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who has a long career in education, will take over.

Black, a former Hearst executive who had absolutely no experience in educational matters--and who sent her own children to private school--lasted barely three months in the job, and was ridiculed from the beginning of her tenure as being out of touch with the very constituents she was supposed to serve.

In a press conference on Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg--who chose Black to be the school czar--said Black's tenure had not gone as planned.

"I take full responsibility for the fact that this hasn’t worked out as expected," Bloomberg said. "The story had become about her and away from the kids.”

The news comes shortly after Deputy Chancellor John White quit. He was the second deputy chancellor to step down this week and the fourth since Black took over in the fall.

The choice was a mistake from the very beginning. Bloomberg, the Emperor of New York City, has been running rampant during his third term in office. He is making choices and approving policy that goes against the grain of the city, what makes it great, and what needs fixing.

Schools that are under-performing are not improved, they are closed. Teachers are losing their jobs by the thousands, and those still employed are often teaching subjects in which they have little or not background in.

And most of these closures are in minority areas, where schools are often the only stable institution operating in these areas.

The choice of Black just added to the problem. With no education experience, and no allegiance to public school education, she was absolutely the wrong choice to head the New York City schools.

Once the best and proudest educational system n the world, these schools have fallen into disrepair since the mid to late 1960s. When local school boards wrested control of schools from the city in the late 1960s, things began to fall apart, and Bloomberg attempted to stem the tide by retaking control of the schools.

His idea might have sounded good on paper--bring a businesswoman into the fray--and run the educational system like he runs the city.

But you can't run an educational system this large like you run New York City, and Black proved that early on.

She was attacked by conservatives, liberals and people in between. She, herself, made comments that made her sort of like the female equivalent of Bloomberg--rich, poweful, ego-driven, and totally out of control and out of touch, an elitist who is full of arrogance but not full of any ideas.

So now there is in place a person with an educational background who has firm roots in this system. His grandson goes to school in St. Albans, Queens. He is a former kindergarten teacher.

He is a perfect choice for this position, at least on paper.

The city schools are not what they once were. Everybody acknowledges that they are broken.

Can they be fixed? That will be Walcott's job.

Can he do it? We will just have to wait and see.

But one piece of advice I would give him, as a a former New York City school student and former teacher--and coming from a family of teachers, many who taught in the New York City school system--is that you don't fix schools by closing them.

You hire better personnel to make those schools better.

Leaving neighborhoods without their schools is liking taking away the heart of these communities. They may function, but these neighborhoods will be on life support.

Don't close the schools--fix them.

I hope Walcott has a lot of hammers and nails, because it's going to take a lot of elbow grease to fix something that is in such disrepair. Black's tenure put this back years--maybe he is the right guy for the job.

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