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The Appointment of Cathie Black and Bloomberg's Abuse of Power

Cathie Black's appointment has provoked a firestorm of controversy, with the entire city waking up to the way in which the mayor's has used his power to disregard the normal rules of civil conduct.
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The appointment of Cathie Black, a magazine executive who sent her children to private schools and has no education background, as NYC schools chancellor is an important turning point in the history of the Bloomberg administration. Why?

It has provoked a firestorm of controversy, with the entire city waking up to the way in which the mayor's has used his money, power and influence to disregard the normal rules of civil conduct. An editorial in El Diario is good example of the widespread discontent.

This citywide moment of clarity has occurred only two times before during his administration: in 2004, when he fired three members of the Panel for Educational Policy who disagreed with him immediately before a critical vote, called the "Monday Night Massacre," and in 2008, when he overturned term limits.

Parents and education advocates have long known and their kids have long suffered from the way in which the mayor treats the New York City public schools are his personal fiefdom, to do with whatever he wants, regardless of what research shows and how parents and educators feel. Finally, New Yorkers as a whole are realizing the potential damage resulting from his autocratic behavior.

Joel Klein, also a corporate manager with no education background to speak of, has left our schools in chaos and disarray, with a legacy of classroom overcrowding, communities fighting over co-located schools, Kindergarten waiting lists, unreliable school grades based on bad data, substandard credit recovery programs spreading like wildfire, and our children starved of art, music and science - all replaced with a steady diet of test prep. (More on Klein's resignation at the NY Times, Associated Press, NY1, NBC News, and Education Week).

Instead of the rosy picture of achievement gains claimed, NYC Black and Hispanic students have fallen further behind their peers in other cities tested since 2003 in the national exams known as the NAEPs. The achievement gap has not narrowed in any grade or category, and1 we are the only city in the nation in which non-poor students now have lower average test scores on the NAEPs than in 2003.

It would be a difficult hole for any successor to dig out of -- especially for someone with no educational background or expertise to speak of. The State Commissioner of Education has to grant Ms. Black a waiver if she is to become the next Chancellor, given her lack of qualifications.

Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and Michael Meyers, director of the NY Civil Rights Coalition, have written a letter to Commissioner Steiner, urging him to reject the waiver, and pointing out how the mayor's selection of Ms. Black, done in secrecy and without any public process, is inconsistent with the principles of equal employment which have governed candidate searches in the public and private sector for more than three decades -- procedures created to ensure that qualified individuals with diverse backgrounds were fully considered before making any final choice.

If you agree that Cathie Black is unqualified to run the nation's largest school system, you can sign onto the NYC Kids PAC petition to the Commissioner Steiner and Albany decisionmakers here.


Dear Commissioner Steiner:

We the undersigned concerned citizens, parents of public school students, and current and former public school students and teachers of New York City are outraged by the recent action of Mayor Michael Bloomberg in announcing his choice for the next Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, one Cathleen P. Black, without even having conducted a public search for the best qualified candidates. It is shocking to us that his choice, Ms. Black, appears to lack not only teaching experience but is lacking any of the educational credentials and qualifications for the appointment to the major post of a school superintendent in New York State.

Because the leader of the New York City Schools is critical to the raising of academic achievement levels of our children, and because we believe in equal opportunity as the best process for recruiting and evaluating competitive candidates for a job that deserves excellence--consistent with your own efforts to raise standards for teachers, staff and students--we respectfully and strongly urge you to hold the Mayor's appointee to the standards and qualifications set out in the statute for school superintendents. Accordingly, we urge that you deny the City's anticipated request on behalf of Ms. Cathleen Black for a waiver from these qualifications.

We stress the impropriety of there being no public search whatsoever for this top educator's position. On the very day and at the very hour that incumbent Chancellor Joel Klein's resignation was announced, Mayor Bloomberg announced Mr. Klein's successor. Hence, there was no opening that was advertised; no recruitment period for applications; and no equal opportunity process for qualified candidates of any race and both genders to apply and to be considered for this top educational post.

The fact that Mayor Bloomberg did not undertake a public search in accordance with equal employment opportunity principles in itself raises significant public policy issues, as well as the specter of cronyism. How can it be that the position of leader of one of the nation's largest school systems can be filled in such a cavalier manner--without any kind of notice or recruitment period for the consideration of capable and talented individuals--persons who are educators, who have the statutory qualifications and certification, and the requisite experience and skills to understand the best practices of pedagogy? The school superintendent for the New York City School District should have knowledge of curriculum and instruction and assessment, as well as extensive teaching experience.

At a time our school children deserve only the best qualified people at the top of the school system and throughout the ranks of the teaching, supervisory and administrative staff of our public schools, at a time minority group children in particular are not performing at grade levels much less with proficiency in core subjects, and at a time this city is mired in disputes as to the accuracy of testing data and about appropriate educational strategies, it is especially important that we have someone at the helm who can deal with these issues with expertise and authority.

Given that the city school system is rank with systemic segregation by race and ethnicity--and Mayoral control has been sharply criticized for inattentiveness to due process, and for refusing to provide for meaningful parental involvement in decisions affecting the welfare of their children, it is even more necessary for the citizens and parents of New York City to be confident that the next Schools Chancellor is the most capable and qualified person available for the job, and that the process was open to all segments of the population and not just a crony of the Mayor.

In these circumstances, and because we are shocked and appalled that no public search for qualified candidates was even conducted, we urge you to reject the City of New York's request for a waiver for Ms. Black, thereby forcing the City to conduct a real search and to consider diverse candidates for this top educational post. That is how you got your job--and it is how the next Schools Chancellor--whoever he or she may be--should and must earn this City's top educator's post.

A nationwide search for capable candidates will undoubtedly produce qualified persons worthy of meeting the challenges of reforming the New York City public school system and capable of bringing into existence a system of high expectations and achievement for students, teachers, and staff. Excellence has to be the standard for all "stakeholders" in our school system--students, teachers, their supervisors, administrators, and school superintendents alike.

We urge you to do the right thing; reject the waiver request and give clear instructions and guidance to the City of New York that you will not consider candidates for this post that have not been recruited and vetted through a genuine search process in which all qualified applicants may be considered and evaluated on their merits.

Norman Siegel, civil rights attorney
Michael Meyers, Director , NY Civil Rights Coalition

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