An Open Letter to Commissioner David Steiner

2 Dec

Dear Mr. David M. Steiner, Commissioner of Education,

I urge you deny the request from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to grant a School District Administrator certificate to Ms. Cathleen Black. Mayor Bloomberg is seeking to place Ms. Black as Chancellor of the New York City school system, even though she does not have any of the essential credentials enumerated in the Commissioner’s Regulations that demonstrate competency in educational leadership. Thus, the Mayor’s need for a waiver. The latest addendum to this scheme, that a deputy with experience in education be named to scaffold the shortcomings of Ms. Black, is equally deficient.

Who is in charge? De jure or de facto? To have the public believe and accept that the certification of one person can be attributed to another by proximate position is not logical. Would you entrust your child to board an ocean liner with a person at the helm who was uncertified to take the wheel, and needed to depend upon someone else’s experience to command the ship? I trust not.

The Mayor has suggested that Ms. Black’s experience as a media mogul is adequate for the management of New York City’s school system. The corporate world of profits is not akin to the realm of education, which is rooted in public service. The skills of managing an educational setting as presented in coursework at noted colleges and universities is markedly different from the business model. Ms. Black’s background offers no substantive parallels for any of the requirements codified in the law.

At the core of the education process is an effective instruction process, the teaching/learning exchange and its reliance on teacher preparation and on-going staff development. Ms. Black has no experience in assessing instruction, offering teaching strategies or evaluating the performance of supervisors. She has no acknowledged intellectual dialogue on any of the theories explaining how children learn. There is a grave danger in allowing someone who does not understand children and learning to head the education system. To illustrate the point, on a radio program in 2008, the unqualified Joel Klein, who required a waiver to become Chancellor, attempted to justify the overemphasis on testing as a means of assessing a student’s ability to read. Mr. Klein said that it is very important to make sure that children are able to read because, “Creative thinking can’t happen, if children can’t read.” I was shocked. Perhaps if he had taken the course requiring observations of children at play and engaged in collegial analysis of child behavior, he would have been aware of the numerous ways that children manifest their creativity, prior to being able to read.

Perhaps it was also the lack of understanding of testing and assessment that allowed the leadership of the New York City school system not to heed the indicators that there was something amiss with the test results, as indicated by the broad discrepancy between the State and the National Assessment and Evaluation scores.There are many who hold the mistaken assumption that teaching is easy. Consider George Bernard Shaw’s phrase, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” This notion certainly belies any understanding of the art and science required to be an effective teacher. Albert Einstein more appropriately stated, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

The requirements of the Commissioner’s Regulations include successful completion of the educational coursework that usually includes the preparation of a well-researched, lengthy thesis on a relevant education topic, critiqued by a mentor and reviewed by a panel of experts.

To grant certification to someone who has not demonstrated any affiliation for the craft of teaching and learning, studied the acknowledged experts in the field or produced a worthy body of work that is accepted in the discipline, is to deny students the full benefit of those qualified to lead the system and demeans all those who have labored, fulfilled the required fieldwork hours and met the stated requirements.

Ms. Black does not have any substantial firsthand knowledge or understanding of the educational challenges we face, and can offer no reasonable course of action based on any relevant education leadership experiences. New York City is entitled to have a leader who has taken the theoretical pedagogy and successfully applied it in the education setting. We have already seen that “reorganizations” do not meet the true measure of “reforms.” It is also very telling that there has been a constant turnover in the secondary management at Tweed. Deputy Chancellors with extensive education experience, who moved over to Tweed and assumed significant responsibilities, have not remained under the leadership of a person who is unqualified.

As we are faced with the need to improve the education that we provide to our students, we must be sure that we send a clear message that we are genuine in all of our efforts to upgrade the education system that serves 1.1 million students; 135,000 employees; 1,700 schools; and has a budget of $23 billion. As a legislator and having served 36 years in the New York City Board of Education, in the positions of teacher, administrator and principal, I implore you to deny the request for a waiver.

After due consideration of the application and following the guidance which you gave the panel about the questions it should consider in reviewing the application and materials, not one member of your advisory panel recommended that a waiver be granted.
To empower an individual who has not a scintilla of credible experience in education and lacks status among educators would be a sham and a shame and a disservice to our students and their parents.
Sincerely,
Inez BarronMember of the Assembly, 40th District

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