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Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

Posted: November 28, 2010 02:14 PM

It was business as usual on Friday as David Steiner apparently has agreed to provide Bloomberg with the waiver he needs to appoint Cathleen Black as the new chancellor of education for New York City.

Cathleen Black is as embarrassingly ignorant of education as sure-to-be presidential candidate Sarah Palin is of national and geopolitical issues. Steiner, though should know better.

Unfortunately, although steeped in philosophy and educational theory, he shares Bloomberg's corporate ideology, and apparently is ultimately a political animal. He thinks John Dewey was wrong-headed and that he recanted his life's work. Instead of blaming exploding rates of inequality, concentrated poverty, and unemployment for the plight of inner-city youth, he blames progressive educators--progressive both in the Deweyian sense of "child-centered" and in the sense of "left-liberal".

Educators should be clear that this decision is not a compromise. Creating a new #2 position of chief academic officer was a ploy to make Steiner's decision seem more palatable in the face of significant public opposition. Shael Polakow-Suransky is already a top official at the city's department of education, and would be available to Ms. Black anyway. Giving him a new title will make little difference; it will only make the Tweed Hall administration even more top heavy. Good superintendents, and even high school principals have long worked as teams, meeting regularly with colleagues and pooling their knowledge. But this is not the kind of corporate management that Bloomberg has brought into public governance, nor unfortunately is it Cathleen Black's management style.

What was heartening was the immediate outcry and organized opposition to both the candidate and the non-process. In spite of buying off opponents, including the teachers union and nonprofits, Bloomberg's political machine is showing some cracks. For one brief moment, when his advisory panel, packed with members linked to Bloomberg, wavered in their support, I thought David Steiner might do something heroic and democratic. But it is now clear that behind the scenes (and the public's back) Steiner and the real players (apparently including Arne Duncan) were scrambling to shore up the damage caused by Bloomberg's secretive and impulsive appointment.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, aware that the new #2 position was really political spectacle, asserted, "The issue for us is, 'can we create credibility around this position?' "

Clearly the "us" she is referring to is not the citizens or teachers of New York City. Sol Stern, a conservative commentator with The Manhatten Institute perhaps put it best when he said that Mr. Polakow-Suransky will be treated as a "gofer" by the mayor and Ms. Black.

Mr. Polokow-Suransky is an educator and has a graduate degree from Bank Street College of Education, one of the best and most progressive Educational Leadership programs in the city. One can only speculate why Mr. Polakow-Suransky would go along with what appears to be a political charade. He is also a graduate of what the Wall Street Journal called the "prestigious" Broad Superintendents Academy. I don't want to engage in guilt by association, since it is possible that Mr. Polokow-Suransky's Bank Street education inoculated him against the Broad Academy Kool Aid. But, it is worth taking a look at the ideological tenets of the Broad Superintendents Academy and its impact on the current cadre of corporate thinking superintendents around the country.

Eli Broad, a Los Angeles-based venture philanthropist, has for two decades bankrolled the corporate education of current superintendents and the retooling of business and military leaders to be superintendents. A recent press release for the Broad Superintendents Academy proclaims that Broad graduates filled 43 percent of all external superintendent openings in large urban American school districts last year. Not only is Broad selling a corporate management model, he is recruiting future urban superintendents from the ranks of the military. According to the same press release:

This year's class also includes high-ranking Army and Air Force leaders, including a major general who oversaw 45,000 combat soldiers in Iraq and led officers of 26 nations to coordinate efforts in Afghanistan, a brigadier general who led the Army to create and deploy a 4,000 man organization into combat anywhere in the world within 96 hours, and a colonel who created nationally recognized business practices to better utilize the skills and talents of 60,000 Army officers (Broad Center Press Release, 2010, paragraph 6)

If a corporate model seems top-down and undemocratic, imagine leaders used to a chain of command organization! I am not against cross-sector borrowing of evidence-based and appropriately applied ideas. In my last post I elaborated on why worn-out ideas (mostly ideologies) from the corporate closet have had a devastating effect on public education. But do you suppose there has been a nuanced discussion of the cross-sector borrowing from the military to education?

Speaking of cross-sector borrowing, a group of teachers from the Green Party will be applying for Ms. Black's position at Hearst magazines. They will bring books about the publishing industry and ask them to have patience while they "get up to speed." What do think their odds of getting hired are? Apparently cross-sector borrowing is a one-way street.