JONATHAN COHN DECEMBER 10, 2010
In our latest issue, TNR’s editors vehemently criticize New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for selecting Cathleen Black, best-known as the head of Hearst Magazines, to run his city’s schools because Black has exactly no experience in education. We argue that the ideal leader of a school district should have business and educational experience—and suggest that Bloomberg could have chosen from an impressive list of education reformers who have both qualifications. We conclude, “Bloomberg’s dismissive attitude toward the idea that a schools chief needs to have a background in education … is anti-elitist in the worst possible way: It is contemptuous of knowledge.”
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Bloomberg initially offered the job to Geoffrey Canada, CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, a successful network of charter schools in New York City. Canada, whom we mention in our editorial as the sort of leader we wish Bloomberg had chosen, turned down the offer. The Times also reported that Bloomberg spoke with former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, another ideal pick.
So it appears that, at some point in the process, Bloomberg wanted the right type of schools leader. But this doesn’t absolve him of his error in ultimately selecting Black and deeming her “exactly the right person for the job”—whether she was his second choice or twentieth. There are countless education reformers whom Bloomberg could have tapped before her, and it’s impossible that he exhausted that list. (The Times’ coverage of Black’s awkward—at times painfully so—first visits to NYC public schools offers further proof that someone who understands classrooms would be better-suited for the position.)
Bloomberg’s decision was bad for his record and image as an education reformer, and bad for the broader reform movement, which has struggled to shake off critics who claim it is “privatizing” and “corporatizing” education. But, more importantly, it was disrespectful of the teachers, principals, parents, and students in New York City’s schools. They deserve a leader who is passionate about education—and knows a lot about it.