November 16th, 2010
Once the application for a waiver that would allow Cathleen Black to become school chancellor reaches Albany, who will be the decider and what kind of issues could come into play?
Officially the decision will rest entirely in the hands of one person: State Education Commissioner David Steiner.
Unlike the head of most state departments, the education commissioner operates independently of the governor. He or she is selected by the Board of Regents, who also can remove the commissioner “at pleasure,” according to state education law.
That board, in turn, consists of 17 members chosen by the legislature who serve for five-year terms. Of those 17, four are at large, with one each for every one of the state’s 13 judicial districts. This means the city has five representatives, with two of the current at large members from the city.
The chancellor of the board, chosen by fellow board members, is Merryl Tisch, who has teaching experience and an education degree — and travels in New York’s moneyed circles. Tisch has said she was “surprised” by Black’s appointment. While not endorsing it, she told City Hall News, “I would expect the fact that the mayor put her up in this role means that he has enormous regard for her, and that obviously is a very important indicator to me.”
Steiner answers to the State Board of Regents, which is appointed by the State Legislature. “So if political opposition to Black’s appointment grows — particularly in the State Assembly and especially in the office of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — there’s a possibility it could doom [Black’s] chances,” wrote Gotham Schools.
Tisch has said she would “facilitate” the waiver process, but she does not have an official role in it.
Steiner has said he will prepare a screening committee to review Black’s qualification (lack of qualifications?). So far, he has not given much indication of where he might stand on this. He has endorsed some parts of the Bloomberg education agenda — considering test scores in teacher evaluations, for one — but has a long record in education and has worked to improve teacher skills.
Tisch and Steiner are probably best known so far for their efforts to end the dumbing down of the state standardized test. Soon after she took office, Tisch demanded an audit of state test scores that showed they were inflated, had the state release data to the auditors and then brought in Steiner. Under his watch, the state has recalibrated the scoring of the tests, something Bloomberg and outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein have said they supported, but which did not make them — and their so-called reforms — look all that great.
Calling the decision “a lose-lose decision” for Steiner, Ed in the Apple wrote, “If he denies the waiver he alienates the mayor. If he approves the waiver he diminishes himself in the eyes of the educational community, both parents and teachers as well as the electeds.”
The law in question states that “The commissioner, at the request of a board of education or board of cooperative educational services, may provide for the issuance of a certificate as superintendent of schools to exceptionally qualified persons who do not meet all of the graduate course or teaching requirements of subdivision one of this section, but whose exceptional training and experience are the substantial equivalent of such requirements and qualify such persons for the duties of a superintendent of schools.”
Steiner himself has apparently never had to act on a waiver. Klein — received one in 2002 but a number of observers have noted Klein’s application seemed stronger than Black’s. “A review of Klein’s August 2002 waiver shows it was approved in part because of qualities that are absent on Black’s resume — including a strong record in public service and a master’s degree,” according to the Post.
Meanwhile more politicians are coming out to oppose Black’s waiver. A dozen members of the legislature’s black, Latino and Asian caucus wrote a letter to Steiner expressing “serious reservations” about Black who they called “a media mogul.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio urged Black, who has been all but incommunicado for the last week, to meet with average New Yorkers. “[We must] give public school parents and all New Yorkers a clear understanding of how she will grapple with the tremendous challenges facing the city’s public schools,” he wrote in a letter to Bloomberg
Brooklyn Assemblymember James Brennan joined the list of opponents, writing in a letter to Steiner, “We need a chancellor who can hit the ground running and who comes well-steeped in an understanding of how education policy is experienced ‘on the ground’ by the principals, teachers, families and most of all the students for whom it is ultimately intended.”
At the same time, the mayor seems to be getting some support for his nominee. Marty Markowitz, a frequent Bloomberg ally, said New Yorkers should give Black a chance. Former chancellor Harold Levy, who also had no education experience when he got the job, extended his backing — even though he does not know Black — saying ” the mayor should be entitled to appoint who he wants.” (Levy was chancellor when Bloomberg became mayor and decided the school system was failing New York’s children, leading to mayoral control and where we are — for better or worse — today.)By Gail Robinson on November 16, 2010, 4:44 pm
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