Big-city mayors have been turning to leaders from the business
world to push their agenda of education reform. Critics say schools
need leadership from educators.
New York Mayor Michael Bloom-berg surprised many people in early
November with his choice of successor to schools chancellor Joel
Klein, who announced he was stepping down after an eight-year tenure
in which he added charter schools, closed failing schools, and gave
more power to principals.
Cathleen Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, has no background
in education - even less than Mr. Klein had in 2002, when Mayor
Bloomberg had to make a case for his appointment - and is already
encountering stiff opposition.
But in some ways, the selection of a businessperson with little
in the way of education experience has become the expected path for
big-city mayors trying to radically shake up systems struggling with
high dropout rates and low test scores.
Meanwhile, Washington and Chicago, two other high-profile cities
closely identified with mayoral control of schools, are also losing
their superintendents this fall.
The changing of the educational guard raises questions about both
the future of the reforms in these cities and about the success of
mayoral control, touted by some reformers as crucial to effecting
"These are cities where there's been really significant, and in
many ways unprecedented, progress in improved schools and better
achievement," says Jon Schnur, chief executive officer and cofounder
of New Leaders for New Schools, which recruits and trains
principals. "This is an important juncture for each of these cities
to show that substantial progress under mayoral control can be
followed by more progress under leadership change."
New York State law requires the chancellor to hold a certificate
in educational leadership and have three years' experience in
schools; the education commissioner, David Steiner, is threatening
to deny Ms. Black a waiver unless an educator is appointed as her
Klein, who has both fervent admirers and fierce critics,
previously was a lawyer and top Justice Department official. His
education experience was limited to a very brief stint teaching math
in a public school.
Ron Huberman, who is resigning as CEO of Chicago Public Schools,
was president of Chicago's public transit system - and a former
chief of staff to Mayor Richard Daley - when Mayor Daley appointed
him in 2009. Even Arne Duncan, the CEO he replaced, had no classroom
experience. He left to become US secretary of Education.
"The nontraditional has become traditional," says Randi
Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "It's
almost as if educators need not apply." Ms. Weingarten says that
she's open to noneducators - especially if paired with top deputies
who do have strong education backgrounds - but that she worries that
always looking to business leaders will hurt the profession. …