Fade to Black: The Education Controversy

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Cathie Black during a news conference at City Hall in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    Perhaps what the new schools chancellor needs most is a course on the First Amendment. Like the man who appointed her, Mayor Bloomberg, so far Cathleen B. Black has shown little respect for a free press or free speech.

    That’s especially ironic since both have made their mark -- and considerable money -- through the right of a free press and free speech.

    Bloomberg often seems to regard the press as a collection of pesky insects prying into his private business. The other day, Chancellor-designate Black was confronted by reporters as she was leaving her Park Avenue apartment house. 

    As The New York Times describes the meeting, she had her trench coat tightly buttoned as she headed for a taxicab.  “Can we ask you a few questions?” a reporter asked.  And Ms. Black replied:

    “No, you can’t.” The cab door slammed shut.

    Ten minutes later, reporters were waiting outside the Hearst Building on West 57th Street, when she arrived at her office.  The reporters’ cab drove faster than hers. At the building entrance they were surprised to find Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and City Hall Albany representative Micah Lasher.

    A reporter tried to ask a question. She explained that she had been waiting for Ms. Black to arrive since 5:15 a.m. 

    As she walked into the revolving door, Ms. Black replied: “Great.”  She didn’t answer several other questions, as she got on the escalator. Then a softball question from a reporter when Ms. Black was about halfway up: “Are you excited for your new job?”  Ms. Black, didn’t turn around but answered: “Very.”

    There is no lack of questions to ask the new Chancellor:  Do you believe test scores are the best way to judge teachers and their pupils? Do you see any weaknesses in the way we’ve applied test scores to education? Will you allow the practice of teaching to the tests to continue? Will you continue to bar parents from discussions about educational policy?

    What would you do about teaching children science, art, music? Will you visit schools frequently to see what teachers and students are doing?

    Are you satisfied with the progress we’ve made in the last nine years? How do you define education? Does it involve getting teachers who are involved deeply with their pupils’ learning? Do you think teachers and principals are sufficiently collaborating with parents to make the system better?

    Do you think your lack of a superintendent’s credentials will hamper you in the new job? Will being a good CEO [at Hearst] help you to meet the needs of 1.1 million school children?

    New Yorkers shouldn’t be satisfied with true or false, and yes or no answers. This is an essay test. But we don’t expect either Mike Bloomberg or the chancellor-elect to take it.

    A parent leader, Leonie Haimson, of Class Size Matters, told me: “I feel a little sorry for Ms. Black. She has been put in the middle of a ruckus she didn’t start.”

    So far, Ms. Haimson said, “Ms. Black has given one interview, to columnist Cindy Adams, in which she said the Mayor offered her the job suddenly, without an exhaustive interview or other preparation.

    “He treats everybody with disdain. Even his own people weren’t told of his choice for chancellor until the last minute. And people, including reporters, parents and educators, are waking up to the fact that this is the way he operates.”

    But this won’t faze City Hall.

    As Voltaire’s Pangloss put it [and Bloomberg insists it is], “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”