On Wealthy Charter School Chum Cathie Black, and Recent NYC School Closures

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02/07/2011 3:40 PM |


Today’s must-read is Chris Smith’s NY Mag cover story on our new Completely Unqualified Schools Chancellor, Cathie Black:

“I’m an effective manager, I’m an effective leader, I have good communication skills,” she says. “I’m a decision-maker. I’m decisive.” And: “I’m a consensus builder, I’m a listener, I’m here to reach out.”

While unambiguously painting Black as Bloomberg’s rubber stamp, Smith recounts her platitudinous rise to magazine publishing glory, and the Bloomberg administration’s fascination with management in general and charter schools specifically (Smith: “If only enlightened capitalists could wrest control of the schools from the hidebound, unionized teachers, the schools’ problems could be solved. This is a tremendously fashionable idea among the country’s business class, partly because it is so flattering to their self-image…”). Which is proceeding apace, as recent events, and their media coverage, troublingly demonstrate.

“Anybody who pisses anybody off must be doing something right” too frequently passes for a political ethos at the Barrett-and-Robbins-less Village Voice, so in the current cover story, Steven Thrasher gets his Chris Christie on, lionizing “Eva Moskowitz, a woman who inspires a remarkable loathing from New York’s teachers’ union and other advocates of traditional public education.” (And who has invested more than a million dollars of her company’s money in marketing her schools, incidentally.)

Oh, good! More anecdotal evidence proving the superiority of charter schools! (“The mother’s story belies a common belief about charters, that they won’t deal with problem children. It seems quite the contrary at Bronx Success, whose staff seemed disappointed to lose the other boy.”)

Never mind that America’s systemic and snowballing economic inequality is the single biggest factor in student underperformance, or that many of the most successful charters couldn’t replicate their results over a fuller cross-section of the student population. (Everyone should read Diane Ravitch’s “The Myth of Charter Schools,” over and over again.) Last week, at two very contentious public hearings in Fort Greene, the city voted to close not quite two dozen public schools.

But while the city is quick to shutter failing (or, if you wonder whether test scores are an accurate measure of how well schools serve often troubled or uprooted sutdents, “failing”) public schools, it’s far more lax about regulating charters. In this month’s Brooklyn Rail, investigative reporter Liza Featherstone runs down a troubling recent Office of Charter Schools report on six city charters—none of whom seem to have faced any pressure to address the concerns raised.

(Smith also points out that Black’s predecessor, Bloomberg’s first schools CEO Joel Klein, now works for noted union-buster Rupert Murdoch; the two seem to be coordinating anti-union activism and publicity, which makes the whole GOP war on teacher tenure seem, like the stoking of recession-era union resentment in general, even more nakedly an attempt by business cronies to undermined organized labor.)