Steiner Caves: The Mayor Prevails, Is Cathie Black a Hamiltonian, With No Faith in the People, or, A Builder of a Truly Collaborative Learning Organization?

 The people are turbulent and changing …They seldom judge or determine right …Nothing but a permanent body can counter the impudence of democracy.
Alexander Hamilton, 1787.
The New York Times reports that a deal has been struck and Shael Polakow-Suransky, currently the Deputy Chancellor for Performance and Accountability and a 2008 Broad Fellow will become the Chief Academic Officer, a new title. The Times sees this as a major concession.

 The move is a major concession from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who typically resists any intrusion into his management of city agencies.

Shael was the founding principal of Bronx International High School and in his role as Deputy Chancellor has been the manipulator of the ever-changing School Progress Reports.

Speculation abounded that the Chief Academic Officer would be a recognized educator with extensive experience at the superintendent level.

If my email inbox is an indicator the public sees Commissioner Steiner as folding, giving the Mayor exactly what he wants, Cathleen Black as Chancellor without ceding any power or authority.

How this position differs from the current position held by Eric Nadelstern is unclear.

It looks like the Klein-Nadelstern team will be replaced by the Black-Suransky team.

Bloomberg sees the position of chancellor as equivalent to a city commissioner, with the primary qualification being total and unquestioned loyalty to the Mayor.

Bloomberg v. Steiner was simply power politics, an exercise in which the Mayor both thrives and enjoys. Steiner, the classically educated scholar-commissioner abjured the conflict and caved quickly.

Although Meryl Tisch has been silent, and the Regents have no formal role, this has the look of a compromise engineered by Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents. While Steiner will “take the heat” in the short run he also distances himself from the problems of the city.

This is a deal that will make no one happy (except the Mayor).

In spite of numerous highly critical NY Times articles, a negative Quinnapiac poll and opposition by Bloomberg supporters the Mayor did what he does best, bullies and fights, no matter the opposition, no matter the view of the public.

The Mayor is a faithful disciple of his fellow New Yorker Alexander Hamilton. Both came from humble origins and rose to positions of great power. Bloomberg a Boston boy, with a BS in electrical engineering from John Hopkins and an MBA from Harvard amassed his fortune by creating Bloomberg LLP.

Hamilton, born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, Hamilton’s mother was Rachael Levine, of French Huguenot descent. Ms. Levine left her husband and was later divorced from him, under Danish law, (the court ordering the divorce) Ms. Levine was forbidden from remarrying. Thus, Hamilton’s birth was illegitimate. Hamilton emigrated as a teenager to New York and graduated from King’s College (now Columbia University).

At a speech at the Constitutional Convention Hamilton argued,

All communities divide themselves  into … the rich and the well born and the masses of people. The voice of the people has said to be the voice of God, but this maxim is in fact not true. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right.Can a democratic assembly, who annual revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed to steadily pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can counter the impudence of democracy.

For the Mayor, the modern day Hamiltonian, the people “seldom judge or determine right,” school systems are institutions that must be run by managers, not “head in the clouds” educators.

Bloomberg may be a billionaire, he may have built a financial empire, being rich does not a management expert make, in fact, his view of management is antithetical to the views of experts who  have had a major impact on the business side.

Peter Senge, in the Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1993), tells us,

Our traditional view of leaders – as special people who set the direction, make key decisions, and energize the troops – are deeply rooted in an individualistic and nonsystemic world view … leaders are heroes – great men (and occasionally woman) who ‘rise to the fore’ in times of crises. Our prevailing leadership myths are still captured by the image of the captain of the cavalry leading the charge to rescue the settlers from the attacking Indians. So long as such myths prevail, they reinforce a focus on short-term events and charismatic heroes rather than on systemic forces and collective learning. At the heart, the traditional view of leadership is based on assumptions of people’s powerlessness, their lack of personal vision and inability to master the forces of change, deficits which can be remedied only by a few great leaders.

The new view of leadership in learning organizations centers on subtler and more important tasks. In a learning organization, leaders are designers, stewards and teachers.They are responsible for building organizations where people continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision and improve shared mental models- this is, they are responsible for learning.

Joel Klein was a failed leader, he tried to be the “captain of the cavalry,” leading the charge to rescue schools, if he glanced over his shoulder he would have noticed, no one was following.

Great schools require great leaders and great school systems require great school system leaders. I am not wedded to the idea that a great school system leader must have the requisite courses, or that it is essential that they worked their way up through the system.

In fact, a great school system leader might be Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, his core values,

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Sounds like core values that I could embrace.


6 responses to “Steiner Caves: The Mayor Prevails, Is Cathie Black a Hamiltonian, With No Faith in the People, or, A Builder of a Truly Collaborative Learning Organization?

  1. We’ve gone from a factory model to a business model. Will we ever have an education model? Or is that just for private schools for the wealthy, not public schools for the masses?


  2. Disappointed? You bet! I stand by my previous comment except for the part where I said I take solace in this compromise being a rebuke to the Mayor. This is nothing but a “cave in” that maintains the status quo. Yes, we need someone to lead, not “run” the schools. Yes, forget the factory and business models. We need an educational model and there are many good ones out there to emulate. But first you need people in charge who recognize the need – and what we have here are people in charge whose vision is narrow and self-serving. The needs of our school children are not being met, nor will they be as long as the Mayor is in charge – surrounding himself with rubber stamps. Such is not a leader.


  3. Retired- No longer Public Enemy No. 1

    Imagine the folly, say the masters of the universe, of having an EDUCATOR be in charge of the schools! What ARE we “smoking?” What could an educator POSSIBLY know about schools?

    To be consistent, the State should at once remove doctors from controlling the medical societies, and forbid attorneys from having any control over the State Bar Association. Lawyers could control doctors, doctors could regulate auto mechanics, and educators could (at least possibly be allowed to) control cesspool cleaners. Oh, sorry- those are not certified. Maybe in the world to come… .


  4. In re-reading Ron Chernow’s excellent (particularly well documented) biography of Alexander Hamilton, I find no basis for a comparison of Hamilton–his life; his achievements; his very words–to the current mayor of New York or to Miss Black.
    I am brushing up on long division as there is a good possibility that I will be home schooling my very young grandaughter in a few years.


  5. I disagree with your identifying black and bloomberg with alexander hamilton (read ron chernow’s wonderful hamilton biography) but do agree that Steiner caved! i tried to write him an e mail telling him so and that his humanities education was a total waste if this is his idea of an ethical decision after much meditation on the Greek philosophers. But I could not find a way to e mail him. no wonder, another example of unreachable public servants – hah!


  6. An updated version of the old holiday favorite:

    POLAKOW- WHO? IS #2,



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