With his new pick of Cathie Black for school chancellor in New York City, Michael Bloomberg has reaffirmed the bizarre ideology that you don’t need to be an expert on the things you lead. You don’t need to be an educator to be in charge of an education system. You don’t need to have spent time with teachers and students to be in charge of teaching and learning.
By this logic, an anointed upper tier of the business sector is qualified to do literally anything. Since Cathie Black ran a media corporation (like Bloomberg), here are some other ideas for her after her time with NYC schools is over:
- Lead the American Bar Association
- Lead the American Medical Association
- Become Secretary of Agriculture
- Become a White House adviser on Iraq
- Become an executive for Rupert Murdoch (*again following in Joel Klein’s footsteps)
Do the first four suggestions sound comical and impossible? If they do, it’s because it is crystal clear that specialized knowledge and experience is indispensable to perform them capably. And yet, drafting Black to lead over a million students and 1,600 public schools with no education experience apparently works in politically invincible three-term Mayor Bloomberg’s universe. (She doesn’t even get a star for sending her kids to public school—they went to private schools.)
You can’t swoop in from the publishing industry and take over schools and expect to do a better job than a well-chosen education expert. Maybe education is so disrespected because everybody has experience in classrooms— as students. But it’s really not good enough. Ideology (especially placing high-stakes testing above all) inevitably fills the expertise vacuum. It’s discouraging for people who understand schools on a firsthand level.