Black Smoke, White Smoke: Waiting for Mayor-elect de Blasio to Select the New Chancellor.

Thousands of teachers and parents huddle outside of the de Blasio residence each evening staring at the chimney – will the smoke be white or black? Will a chancellor be selected?

Not really – although it seems that way.

For fifteen years New York City has not had an educator as a chancellor.

Harold Levy was an attorney – within days of his selection he raced out to a district in Brooklyn to congratulate a superintendent, the state test scores were announced and the scores soared, of course, no one bothered to tell Levy that the five lowest performing schools were moved to the Chancellor’s District – addition by subtraction.

When Joel Klein was selected by Mayor Bloomberg the response was, “Who?”

At a recent retrospective interview with David Steiner Klein lauded himself. Fair Student Funding and Open Market transfers achieved the opposite of the intent – rather than driving experienced teachers to high needs schools it facilitated higher achieving teachers to move to higher achieving schools.

In the last decade more than half of middle school teachers have left within their first three years.
(Read “Why They Leave” Report here)

Klein alienated teachers and supervisors, totally disempowered parents and seems have seen disruption as a goal.

Unfortunately, to quote Woody Guthrie, “From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,” we can’t find a urban superintendent who is not a clone of the Duncan-Broad playbook: school closings, Common Core, testing, testing, more testing, test score-driven accountability, anti-tenure, merit pay, etc.

de Blasio’s campaign was the antithesis of the big city superintendents.

In city after city the reform mayor and the reform superintendent tried to drive the flavor of the month down the throats of parents and teachers.

The editorial writers look for answers: should we emulate Finland (with the population of Brooklyn), or, South Korea, or Poland? Today’s editorial in the New York Times looks around the world for “solutions” to mediocre PISA scores, and Diane Ravitch chides the editorial writers,

The Times blames teachers for the U.S. scores on PISA. And once again, the Times assumes that the scores of 15-year-olds on a standardized test predict the future of our economy, for which there is no evidence at all.

Where does de Blasio find this Moses-Muhammad-Christ-like figure?

David Tyack and Larry Cuban in Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1995) warn,

Why were the start from scratch innovations proposed by outsiders mostly short-lived? Innovators outside the schools who wanted to reinvent education were often skilled in publicity and the politics of promising and claimed to use the latest models of rational planning but they rarely factored into their plans a sophisticated understanding of the school as an institution or insight into the culture of teachers. … Outsiders who tried to reinvent schooling rarely understood the everyday lives of teachers, their practices, beliefs and sources of frustration and satisfaction.

Mayor-elect de Blasio is entering the mayoralty with wonderful approval numbers,

The poll shows that 73 percent of city residents, across all demographics, are optimistic about the next four years, and 65 percent of New Yorkers say they think the new mayor will make substantial changes in the way the city operates.

de Blasio needs a chancellor with equivalent popularity ratings among parents and teachers. A school system with large percentages of teachers leaving, a school system populated by teachers who feel unappreciated, a school district leader who appears aloof, or worse, who appears to be an enemy, will never gain the respect of teachers and supervisors.

de Blasio needs a chancellor who both respects parents and is respected by parents; not only the middle class activists of Brownstone Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, de Blasio needs a chancellor who can relate to the parents who have been disrespected. Parents in the poorest neighborhoods who worry about putting food on the table and paying the rent.

de Blasio needs a chancellor who can walk the hard scrabble streets of the South Bronx, of Rockaway, of East New York, who can invigorate, who can give hope to those who have had little hope.

We need a chancellor who understands that teachers buy coats for the kids huddling in thin jackets, who too frequently are the only consistent parents in the lives of kids. A chancellor who has visited homeless shelters, a chancellor who parents and teachers feel is in their corner.

It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had a chancellor we can be proud of.

6 responses to “Black Smoke, White Smoke: Waiting for Mayor-elect de Blasio to Select the New Chancellor.

  1. ,


  2. New York City is home to SEVERAL major Schools of Education– universities whose reputatuion in the field are very high nationally and even internationally. Columbia, Forham, Etc. And we also have CUNY and SUNY and yet we can find no educator to serve as chancellor. Looking in corporate board rooms instead of in university classrooms is the crux of the problem.


  3. I agree with the commenter above. The United States has a depth of talent that has not been tapped. I am hopeful that the new mayor will hold to the promise he made at the UFT Spring Conference to appoint an educator as chancellor when elected.


  4. Marc S. Korashan

    The next chancellor has the unenviable task of rebuilding a school system that has been systematically stripped of real educators. The best and brightest in the system have limited resumes and all their experience has been uder the Duncan Broad model of test scores uber alles.

    To rebuild the system the Mayor-elect needs to find an educator in whom teachers have confidence who is also a good manager and someone with experience in large organizations. These skills don’t often come together.

    Maybe deBlasio should look backwards to schools Chancellors from the past like Fernandez or Crew who were driven out by politics but whose instincts were basically sound when it came to creating curricula and understanding the complexities of teaching.


  5. Carole Silverstein.

    Good luck! Maybe he will consult with Michael and Randi so the members can teach and be good social and academic providers.


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