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December 06, 2010 3 min read


Bloomberg’s Lousy Solution

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stumbled into a truly ludicrous solution to the “who will succeed Joel Klein” question.

He put forward publishing executive Cathie Black—without ever really explaining why her skills or experience equip her to run N.Y.C.’s hyper-political $20 billion-a-year school system—only to get slammed by community backlash and doubts about her suitability. So, Bloomberg created a position, chief academic officer (CAO), to oversee curriculum and testing in the N.Y.C. Department of Education (NYCDOE). He promptly named 38-year-old Shael Polakow-Suransky, a former principal of a Bronx high school and a top official at NYCDOE, as CAO.

There’s no evidence that Black knew Polakow-Suransky, wanted him as a deputy, or feels confident she can work with him. There’s no evidence these two are on the same page or have a shared vision. And this shotgun marriage means it’s hardly reasonable to hold either accountable for the decisions of the other, creating vast opportunities for conflict and blame-shifting.

Why Cathie Black would want the job on these terms is beyond me, and I’m surprised that Bloomberg would so casually jeopardize his K-12 legacy in the rush to resolve a short-term political problem. I sure don’t envy NYCDOE staffers or school leaders who have to wonder whether they’ll be getting conflicting direction and, if so, what to do about it. —Rick Hess


Bill Gates Listens To the Wrong People

The struggle for control of American education continues to evolve at a dizzying pace. I read that Bill Gates advised the Council of Chief State School Officers to eliminate seniority and tenure and recommended that schools stop spending to reduce class size and stop giving teachers extra money for master’s degrees. He wants teachers to get paid based on “performance” (i.e., their students’ test scores). I guess we are now seeing a full-court effort to impose the corporate model of school reform.

Since Gates is a multibillionaire, he can’t possibly understand what it means to work in an environment where you might be fired for disagreeing with your boss. He can’t imagine that school is different from Microsoft or other big corporations. Let’s be honest. If he didn’t run the biggest foundation in the world, if he wasn’t one of the richest men in the world, would anyone care about his opinion of education? Really, who would care what he said if he were the chairman of the Whatzit Corp. and sold widgets?

Teachers are the people on whom our public schools depend. They care deeply about their children, their communities, and their public schools. They don’t get to speak to the Council of Chief State School Officers. They don’t control billions of dollars. They won’t be quoted in The New York Times. But these are the people who make our country work. I wish Bill Gates would get out and listen to them. They could tell him a thing or two. —Diane Ravitch


Whither Public Schooling?

I know the rationales for the get-tough (actually, get-brutal) perspective on what to do about public schools in America. I know people who think calling them “government schools” is the height of hip sophistication, an Ayn-Randish kiss-off of education as community rather than commodity. I’m thoroughly familiar with real and massaged international test numbers, dropout rates, and the SAT scores of people who choose to become teachers.

But here’s what I don’t get: Who benefits when there’s a concerted effort to paint a bedrock-of-democracy institution like free public education as massive failure?

Positioning public education as hopeless doesn’t leave room for honest solutions—or allow time for investments in quality to pay off. Schools and teachers become scapegoats, rather than partners in solving an intractable problem.

One of the first lessons I learned as a novice teacher was that punishing all my students for the academic lapses of a fraction of a few was a futile and counterproductive exercise. —Nancy Flanagan