Cathie Black Steps Down

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Chancellor Cathie Black, after touring Medgar Evers Prep in December 2010 (Beth Fertig)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC reporter Beth Fertig, Gotham Schools reporter and editor Elizabeth Green, and political analyst and Mayor Bloomberg biographer Joyce Purnick react to the news that Schools Chancellor Cathie Black is resigning today. 


The Cathie Black era is over.

Appointed just last November, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black will be replaced today by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott. Walcott was the deputy mayor for education throughout Mayor Bloomberg’s administration.

WNYC reporter Beth Fertig said Black’s resignation, though surprising, doesn’t come as a complete shock.

I would have expected that she wasn’t doing very well. The poll numbers confirmed that. She was obviously struggling in this job, but Mayor Bloomberg is a very stubborn person and when he is sure of something he’s sure of it. So I guess what I’m surprised by is that he would admit defeat, because it’s only been three months and he was insisting all along that he wasn’t appointing an educator, he was appointing a manager. So for this to happen so swiftly is what is stunning to me, because he could continue to argue that she’s a manager, and the public still doesn’t even really know her very well. I find it very surprising that a mayor who is so committed to his vision, to saying that it’s all about being a good manager, would retreat from somebody who he said epitomized that.

Fertig spoke with Black two weeks ago.

I said, do you plan to be here three years from now, and she said ‘absolutely’, and she told me what her goals were… she seemed very committed to it when I saw her last. But I did get the feeling that it was not a very good job fit, that she was not a person who seemed… passionate about education, that it was not an area that she knew much about, and so she was doing a lot of catching up on it. That’s not to say she couldn’t have grown into the job, but when I saw her, she did seem quite awkward in her interactions with the students in the school that I attended, in questions that she responded to ..she stayed very much on script. But that’s also a political strategy that City Hall was orchestrating.

Elizabeth Green, reporter and editor for Gotham Schools, said she had already spoken to some people inside the Department of Education.

My sense is, the decision seems not to have come from the Department of Ed[ucation] but from City Hall. Everybody who worked at the top levels with Cathie Black… as recently as yesterday they were planning events with her for today, so this was... surprising... At the same time I’m hearing a lot of relief. I’m hearing people saying that there’s a lot of work to be done and it seems like she was becoming a distraction. Her low public approval ratings, and her gaffes, and the politics that were beginning to surround her relationships with the community were becoming a distraction from the work that the Department wants to carry on.

NY1 and Marist conducted a poll recently which found Black's approval at 17 percent. In addition a number of high-profile resignations had plagued Ms. Blacks recent tenure. While there is no inherent reason someone could not go from a business background to competently running city schools, as evidenced by Michelle Rhee, Green said Black just didn’t work out.

I think that one sentiment around Cathie Black is that there’s this desire for these transformative school leaders in districts across the country…. But how can you get someone who can both manage the large complicated system and has educational expertise? The criticism of Cathie Black from the start was that she doesn’t know anything about education when she starts. She walks in, having not ever set foot in a public school building… her learning curve was tremendous.

Green said many school districts see high turnover in school superintendents.

The new thinking is maybe we can find people who have both education expertise and management expertise, and, interestingly, that is what Dennis Walcott offers.

Joyce Purnick, political analyst and Bloomberg biographer, finds this a potentially embarrassing moment for the mayor.

It’s probably not his strongest, on the other hand it reminds me.. of something that [former Mayor] La Guardia said, which is ‘when I make a mistake, it’s a beaute.’ He’s done a very quick turn around on this. It was a mistake, it was a big mistake. I don’t think there’s any doubt. And he hasn’t stuck with her. His ability to turn around, after making a mistake, I guess we all have to respect.




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Comments [4]

Richard from PA

The evidence of the failure of the business world taking over education has been clearly demonstrated in San Diego and in New York. The education of kids is not a business. Education should be the goal of education, not test scores. If we educate our kids, the test scores will take care of themselves.

Apr. 08 2011 08:20 AM
laszlosevrance from Manhattan

I'm native to the NY metro area, have a graduate degree in English from an Ivy League university and worked in Manhattan for 25 years, one-third of the time as a print journalist and in advertising/PR as a copywriter. Last Summer, I applied to the NYC DOE as a substitute teacher. After getting the runaround for five months, and given the clear message that I was not "qualified enough," I gave up on being a babysitter in one of the worst school districts in the country.

Now, I see someone with no background in education, someone with merely a B.A. who never went to a public school, hand-picked as Schools Chancellor by Bloomberg because she was one of his rich buddies, who didn't last 100 days after four of the eight Deputy Chancellors under her resigned. I aimed too low. I should have applied for the top job. I was better qualified than this schmuck.

Apr. 08 2011 07:26 AM

Dennis Walcott is a YES SIR MASTER house boy to King Bloomberg. Check out his record re: school closure. At recent PEP meetings he hides in the background. Another puppet for schools chancellor who will not make a decision on education without permission from the King.

Apr. 07 2011 09:19 PM
Peter from Queens

I don't understand why WNYC is holding Michelle Rhee up as an example of a business manager becoming a successful urban education chief. She stepped down after what was widely interpreted as a referendum on her administration's shortcomings in the DC primaries, and everything she's ever claimed to have accomplished is currently under investigation. Even her alleged success in the Teach for America program. USA Today just published a huge article exposing widespread cheating on standardized test scores under her watch.

As for Cathie Black, let her serve as (further) evidence that mayoral control and business management strategy cannot save public education. What we need is equitable funding, a more democratic system, and a serious examination of the teaching profession in this country.

Apr. 07 2011 04:04 PM

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