New York City has the largest school district in the country, with 1.1 million students. Unfortunately, as the experience of Cathie Black shows, having a good record in business is not enough to be a successful chancellor.
You have to understand something about teaching and learning, how to listen to stakeholders, and how to work collaboratively with communities to move their schools forward. Joel Klein came in with an attitude that he knew best, that the schools were his fiefdom to control, that parents had nothing of importance to communicate, and proceeded to make one disastrous policy mistake after another.
He coasted for many years on effective public relations, increased budgets and test score inflation. When he started cutting school budgets and the test score bubble burst, he had nothing left to rely upon and departed for greener pastures.
Cathie Black came in and inherited a huge mess. One-fourth of all elementary schools have waiting lists for kindergarten because of overdevelopment and incompetent planning. One-tenth of eighth graders were not admitted to any of their high school choices. In a system supposedly based on expanding choice, this administration has taken away the most basic choice of all: to be able to send your child to a neighborhood school.
Class sizes are larger in the early grades than they have been in more than a decade, schools have lost art, music and science, and are forced to focus on test prep; and parents’ desire that their schools be helped to improve, rather than threatened with closure or lose precious space to a charter school is routinely ignored.
Dennis Walcott has a big job ahead of him. He clearly has more experience and political skills than Ms. Black. But what he needs to do is convince parents that he cares about their priorities for their children, show teachers that he knows something about the challenges they face every day, and demonstrate to all New Yorkers that he is ready to take the school system in a new direction. Whether that will happen is unlikely; but one can always hope.I'm going to save this for the end of Chris Christie's term as governor. I'll just have to change a few words and it will be perfect.