RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The nations largest school system is getting a new leader - the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, Cathie Black. She will become chancellor of New York City's Public Schools after weeks of controversy over her qualifications. Much of that controversy swirls around the fact that Black has had a long career in publishing but shes never worked in education, nor had much contact with public schools. As Beth Fertig of member station WNYC reports, Mayor Michael Bloomberg got the person he wanted but at some cost to his reputation.
BETH FERTIG: Mayor Michael Bloomberg is fond of telling the public that hes the one accountable for the city's schools. But when Bloomberg named 66 year old publishing executive, Cathie Black, to replace outgoing chancellor Joel Klein a few weeks ago, the move still took the city by surprise.
Bloomberg apparently considered no one else for the position. Parents and politicians questioned putting someone with no experience in education in charge of a system of more than a million students. Bloomberg argued that given the sheer size of the school system, and the prospect of more budget cuts, a professional manager would be most qualified.
And on Monday, the mayor finally prevailed. But only after the state education commissioner forced him to hire a chief academic officer to work alongside Black. Bloomberg needed a waiver from a state requirement that school leaders have certain credentials. If installing an educator was a compromise though, the headstrong mayor didnt see it that way.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): There will be one person in charge. Make no mistake about that.
FERTIG: But the fact that Blacks appointment caused so much trouble shows how a mayor, who made billions from his media company, isnt always successful in winning public approval. More than 13,000 people signed an online petition opposing Black as chancellor. Justin Wiedes, a former teacher, collected those names and delivered them to the state education commissioner.
Mr. JUSTIN WIEDES: And this is not an attack against Cathie Black. She may be wonderful person. Unfortunately we havent heard much from her. Wed like to. But the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of educators who are also excellent managers already in our city and the job should go to one of them.
FERTIG: A recent poll found more than half of city voters didnt think Black had the right experience to be chancellor. That figure was significantly higher among parents of public school children. With the issue resolved, the mayor said its time to put politics aside in the interest of children.
But that might not be so easy, says Joyce Purnick, a former New York Times columnist who wrote a book about Bloomberg called "Money, Power and Politics."
Ms. JOYCE PURNICK (Author, "Money, Power and Politics"): I think he ultimately got what he wanted, so Id have to call it a win. But he lost some credibility, he was embarrassed, and I think that his reputation for being out of touch and being an elitist was reinforced by the way he handled this.
FERTIG: And while Bloomberg got his choice of chancellor, his education record is still the subject of great debate. High school graduation rates did increase as did scores on state math and reading tests. But the pass rate on those tests fell tremendously this year after the state raised the bar, acknowledging its exams had gotten too easy.
That all happened under the leadership of departing Chancellor Joel Klein, a lawyer who also needed a state waiver because of his slim experience in education.
With Klein moving on after eight years, Bloombergs new chancellor has a tough sell. Now that shes convinced the state to give her a chance, shell have to convince the public that shes right for the job. She takes over in January.
For NPR News, Im Beth Fertig in New York.�
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