THE BLOG
12/07/2010 06:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Black is In: So Much for Treating Teachers as Professionals

While I am sure Cathie Black is highly intelligent and extremely competent, I think replacing one non-educator with another sends a very powerful message to teachers: Educators cannot be trusted to run their own business. I get that the NYC Department of Education is in many ways a large corporation, but that doesn't mean that any corporate manager deserves to run the show. At a minimum, it would be nice if the person taking this post had at least attended public school (entry-level requirement), been a parent of a child in public school (mid-range credit), or worked as an educator of some kind (high marks!). As for Ms. Black, none of these apply. So, what are we in for?

From my vantage point as an educator and a parent, Ms. Black's appointment means we are about to witness more "corporatizing" of education: More testing, more metrics, more "evidence-based" instruction, more top-down reforms. It follows then that our teachers should get ready for: less autonomy, less creativity, less input. And children will sadly get fewer opportunities to do: projects, hands-on learning, art and music, collaborating. They'll get less of all the things that make learning fun and meaningful, the things that actual educational research shows as significant to improving learning and achievement (Why these items? Because you can't measure them on a standardized test).

Educators (and parents) are clearly outraged and rightly so. Why the continued misconception that non-educators are the only people who can manage or fix our education system? Just last month, Education Week published an article stating that there is little evidence to support the notion that non-educators make the best education reformers. What these "non-traditional" types do usually need -- and often get -- is a second in command who actually IS an educator to help guide them through the murky fields of mass public schooling. However, if we trust an educator to be second fiddle, why don't we just trust that they can lead? Is that a veiled insult to the education "expert"? Something akin to saying "we know you know education and teaching and classroom management (and quite possibly budget balancing, public relations and problem solving), but how can that possibly equip you for managing a system?" As if knowing about education, teaching and classroom management is mutually exclusive of also having vision, management skills and business acumen.

I see it as a tidy way of saying that educators cannot actually be trusted to educate our children, so better to farm it out to someone who can focus on 'the bottom line'. But what bottom line are we talking about? Quality education for all? Test scores? The achievement gap? Equity? Fairness? Someone, please tell me because it's hard for me to see that quality education for all is on anyone's mind, when appointments such as Ms. Black's are made.

In NYC, we are lucky enough to get a chief academic officer, who from all accounts is an excellent educator and extremely well-respected in the Department of Education. This calms me for a moment, but also fills me with more questions: Why not make him the chancellor? What role is he going to really play? Will his educational ideas even have a place in a Cathie Black-run school system? Will he even be able to have ideas that stray from the 'business as usual' that the mayor has signed us up for? This model leaves me wondering: If a non-educator is appointed to run the "business" of our schools, where do the educators fit in and will their voices even be valued, since they were left out of the conversation, decision and even the running in the first place.