Are We Handing Education Over to Corporate America?

Posted by Nikhil Swaminathan


The shocking resignation of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and the subsequent announcement that Mayor Michael Bloomberg was bringing on former Hearst Magazine President Cathie Black as the new chancellor has put new focus on the relationship between business and education. 

At the moment, it appears that the corporate world is fully encroaching on education: Klein was a publishing executive and Justice Department official with no public education experience—aside from being a product of Brooklyn public schools. Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates is pouring money into education reform through he and his wife's foundation. Accountability is being demanded at all levels, especially of teachers, with economic-type models (like value-added data) being used to assess their performance. Cities are introducing performance pay systems. And hedge fund executives have taken a shining to charter schools as benefactors of their extreme wealth.

Into this brave new educational world enters Black who has spent the majority of her career in media and publishing. Like Klein, she has no experience in education; unlike Klein, she's never worked in the public sector. She attended parochial schools all her life, and her boys attend a private boarding school in Connecticut. (She has, however, sat on the board of the Harlem Village Academies charter schools—perhaps proving her corporate bona fides.)

All of these factors add up to an understandable amount of outrage. 

Alex Pareene at Salon's War Room blog was among the most outspoken in his befuddlement. Of Bloomberg's steadfast belief in a good businessperson being able to fix previously intractable problems:

The fantasy of the superstar CEO who can parachute into any company—in any industry—and right the ship through time-tested management techniques is common in corporate circles, but so are books of New Yorker cartoons about golf. Only the sort of lucky billionaire convinced of the moral superiority of the financially successful would assume that a random executive with no education experience could manage the New York city public schools better than someone who... you know, has experience managing public schools.

Dan Collins, New York editor-at-large at The Huffington Post, asks what Bloomberg was thinking with the Black hire:

The state legislature gave Bloomberg control over the city schools reluctantly, and under the assumption that he wouldn't run them like a high-handed dictator, a la Rudy Giuliani. This is a big decision that looks pretty arbitrary. While God knows the state legislature couldn't be expected to do it better, Bloomberg owes it to the city to answer a lot of questions about why he picked Black.

Guest-blogging on Ezra Klein's blog, education reporter Dana Goldstein names some education up-and-comers who might have made more sense:

What’s more, with a new generation of aggressive education reformers reaching maturity—folks like Teach for America founder and chief executive Wendy Kopp and New Leaders for New Schools co-founder and chief executive John Schnur —one wonders why it would be necessary for someone with Bloomberg’s policy priorities to turn to the corporate world to fill an education executive position.

But, Bloomberg insists Black is the best manager he knows and rumor is she's more diplomatic than Klein and has a track record of dealing successfully with people known for their egos. Still, is this the right move for New York City schools? 

Photo via Flickr user nycmayorsoffice