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Saturday, November 27, 2010

NY State Ed Commissioner Caves In To NYC Mayor Bloomberg And Says OK To Chancellor Cathie Black

In what may be the single most outrageous opposition to public demand seen in recent United States history, New York State Department of Education David Steiner says "yes" to the waiver for noneducator Cathie Black, at the insistence of NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Cathie Black in as schools chancellor; deputy named
By YOAV GONEN, NY POST, 7:19 PM, November 26, 2010

She's in.

City and state officials reached a deal today to allow Hearst Magazines chairwoman Cathie Black to become the city’s next schools chancellor, an official with knowledge of the agreement told The Post.

As part of the agreement, veteran educator Shael Polakow-Suransky will serve as her second-in-command as the city's first-ever chief academic officer.


The deal stemmed from an offer from State Education Commissioner David Steiner earlier this week that sought a middle-ground to either denying or approving a waiver for Black — a publishing executive who lacks the education credentials required of superintendents in New York.

Mayor Bloomberg made it clear he supported the arrangement by submitting a new waiver request letter for Black yesterday that included her intention to appoint Polakow-Suransky her "senior deputy chancellor and chief academic officer."

The letter says Polakow-Suransky would be directly supervised by Black, but with "the broadest scope for the exercise of independent initiative and judgment."

Polakow-Suransky is a longtime city educator who has worked as a middle school teacher, founder and principal of a high school as well as chief academic officer for a subset of schools.

"This is the product of extensive discussions between the state and the city to address the concerns the commisioner raised and the feel is that it substantially addresses those concerns," a senior State Education Department official told The Post.

But the deal may not quiet many of the critics of Black’s appointment, who have objected to a non-educator running the nation’s largest public schools system.

November 26, 2010
Deal for Deputy for Academics Clears Way for Schools Chief

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg reached a deal Friday to save the tottering candidacy of Cathleen P. Black to be the next chancellor of New York City schools, agreeing to appoint a career educator who started as a classroom teacher to serve as her second in command.

As a result, the state education commissioner, David M. Steiner, has agreed to grant Ms. Black, a media executive, the exemption from the normal credentials required by state law for the position, according to a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

The move was a significant concession by Mr. Bloomberg, who has often resisted efforts from outside City Hall to meddle in his affairs.

The mayor’s hand was forced on Tuesday when Dr. Steiner questioned her readiness for the position. Ms. Black, the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, has spent a lifetime in the media business, does not hold any advanced degrees and has had little exposure to public schools.

The controversy over Ms. Black, 66, had become a liability for Mr. Bloomberg, and a poll released on Tuesday showed that a majority of New Yorkers did not think Ms. Black was qualified to serve as chancellor.

After several days of talks with state officials, Mr. Bloomberg agreed to create the position of chief academic officer to oversee curriculum and testing at the city’s Department of Education. Under the deal, that job would go to Shael Polakow-Suransky, a former principal of a Bronx high school who is a top official at the city’s Department of Education.

But exactly how much authority Mr. Polakow-Suransky, 38, will wield is unclear. A job description prepared by the city said he would have “the broadest scope for the exercise of independent initiative and judgment” and listed 25 duties, including many that would normally fall to the head of a school system. But Mr. Polakow-Suransky will still report to Ms. Black, who is accustomed to setting the agenda in the rough-and-tumble world of corporate culture.

Ms. Black and Mr. Polakow-Suransky have met several times over the past week to discuss how they will divide authority.

Ms. Black is scheduled to take office Jan. 1 after the resignation of the current chancellor, Joel I. Klein. She will oversee the nation’s largest school system, with 1.1 million children, 135,000 employees and 1,600 schools.

Natalie Ravitz, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said on Friday, “As an experienced C.E.O., Ms. Black recognized the need to have a senior deputy with specific expertise in academic matters.”

Dr. Steiner, who declined to comment on Friday, is expected to announce his approval of a waiver on Monday. On Friday, Mr. Bloomberg submitted a letter making the case for Ms. Black and her new deputy. A mayoral spokesman declined to comment but did not dispute the details of the agreement. Mr. Polakow-Suransky did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, who played a central role in brokering the deal, also declined to comment. Referring to the position of chief academic officer earlier in the week, she said, “The issue for us is, ‘Can we create credibility around this position?’ ”

The deal reached Friday capped a week of frantic talks between the city and the state. Mr. Bloomberg, who was given control of city schools in 2002, has said that transforming the school system will define his legacy as mayor.

Mr. Bloomberg viewed Dr. Steiner’s challenge as a critical test of his authority over the school system. The mayor told people involved in the negotiations that a rejection of Ms. Black would undermine the model of mayoral control and set a dangerous precedent.

At one point while the negotiations were under way, Mr. Bloomberg said publicly that the law requiring the schools chancellor to hold education credentials was obsolete and should be abolished.

Mr. Bloomberg had initially believed he could build enough public pressure to force Dr. Steiner to approve Ms. Black, according to the person with knowledge of the negotiations. Business executives, former mayors and celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg flooded Dr. Steiner’s offices with messages in support of Ms. Black.

But Dr. Steiner remained skeptical, and he said on Tuesday he would consider her appointment only if Mr. Bloomberg installed an educator at her side.

The talks with the mayor about that possibility grew more serious after an eight-member panel advising Dr. Steiner on Ms. Black’s qualifications on Tuesday mustered only two votes unconditionally in support of her, unexpectedly throwing the selection process into disarray.

Mr. Bloomberg typically loathes intrusions into his management of the city. But throughout the negotiations for the waiver, he showed an unusual willingness to compromise to preserve Ms. Black’s candidacy. To the surprise of his own associates, he held his tongue in public, refusing to challenge Dr. Steiner and the panel that rebuked his choice for chancellor.

The reaction to the deal, and to Mr. Polakow-Suransky’s appointment, was mixed on Friday.

State Assemblyman Hakeem S. Jeffries, a Democrat who has helped coordinate the opposition to Ms. Black, said he would pursue a legal challenge, arguing that the appointment of a chief academic officer does not compensate for Ms. Black’s lack of educational experience.

Sol Stern, an education researcher at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research group, said he thought that the deal was a victory for Mr. Bloomberg, and that Mr. Polakow-Suransky’s appointment would not be a serious check to Ms. Black’s authority. “He will be treated by the mayor and Black as a gofer,” Mr. Stern, a frequent critic of the mayor, wrote in an e-mail. “This is a farce.”

Underscoring the high-stakes nature of Ms. Black’s fate, even the federal secretary of education, Arne Duncan, spoke to both Dr. Steiner and Mr. Bloomberg during the negotiations.

On Friday, Mr. Duncan praised the outcome. “Can anyone do this alone? Of course not,” he said. “This is a monumentally tough, complex organization.”

Michael Barbaro contributed reporting.

The Man With Credentials To Complement the New Boss’s
 FERNANDA SANTOS, NY TIMES, Published: November 26, 2010

But if his selection to be the department’s chief academic officer offers any hint of the direction of the city’s schools, one thing seems certain: Mr. Polakow-Suransky will continue the same kind of data-driven reform embraced by Joel I. Klein, whom Ms. Black is expected to succeed as the city’s schools chancellor.

As the system’s second-in-command, he will oversee teaching, learning and accountability, which is where much of his experience at the Education Department has been centered.

After James S. Liebman, the architect of the city’s test-score-based accountability methods, left the department last year, Mr. Polakow-Suransky took over, carrying on the system that tracks student performance in minute detail and the A-through-F report cards through which teacher bonuses are granted and failing schools are tagged for closing.

In an interview, Mr. Liebman called Mr. Polakow-Suransky “very much a systemic thinker and a very good manager and implementer of ideas,” but also someone who is aware of the way changes affect principals, teachers and students.

Aaron Pallas, a professor of education at Teachers College of Columbia University and a frequent critic of the accountability system, said that while Mr. Polakow-Suransky’s tenure as a teacher and a principal lend him credibility, his years as part of Mr. Klein’s inner circle “will leave other people skeptical that he can show independence.”

Mr. Polakow-Suransky, 38, spent six years teaching math in middle school and high school in Manhattan before becoming assistant principal at Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School in Harlem. In 2001, he became founding principal of Bronx International High School, a dare-you-to-beat-the-odds school for poor immigrant students, which went on to receive some of the best scores among peer institutions in the city.

He was born in South Africa, where his parents were anti-apartheid activists who fled in 1973 and settled in Michigan. He is widowed — his wife died of breast cancer last year — and has no children.

His younger brother, Sasha, said that the struggles of the apartheid regime shaped their childhood and Mr. Polakow-Suransky’s years in public high school in Ann Arbor. He organized a survey about racism in the school district, then founded a group to fight racism through workshops for sixth and seventh graders.

“He has been very passionate about education and equality since those days,” Sasha Polakow-Suransky, an editor at Foreign Affairs, said in an interview.

Shael Polakow-Suransky has a bachelor’s degree in education and urban studies from Brown University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Bank Street College of Education. In 2008, he was a fellow at the Broad Superintendents Academy, a training program founded by the philanthropist Eli Broad that has been a catalyst for the new wave of education reformists. He also has helped oversee the creation of a number of small high schools, another of Mr. Klein’s signature policies.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 27, 2010, on page A15 of the New York edition.

From Betsy Combier: Nat Hentoff got it right in 2003, I think:

For the Children—Klein Should Resign
Where Was the UFT? And the Principals’ Union?
by Nat Hentoff, tuesday, Sept. 9, 2003

In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again. —James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Public education is each and every American's birthright. —Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, PBS, September 30, 2002

At a Stan Kenton record date years ago, I watched a trombonist who kept hitting clinkers on his solo. It went on for some 12 takes, and he never did get it right. That memory of invincible incompetence came to mind as I was reviewing the series of damagingly false notes Chancellor Joel Klein has hit since he took office heralding "Children First: A New Agenda for Public Education in New York City." Klein was the choice of our chronically self-satisfied mayor, who pledged when campaigning, and ever since, that his administration must be judged on what the public schools will be like when he comes up for re-election.

So much further harm has been done to this city's long-failing system by Bloomberg's crucial first mistake—bringing in Klein—that the chancellor should resign before more damage is done. But he is not likely to be gone until and unless there is a new mayor, and I expect that aspirants eyeing City Hall are keeping a detailed account of the Bloomberg-Klein team's serial record of misjudgments.

I will not focus here on Klein's ingeniously confusing changes in the reading and math curricula. James Traub has already clearly and devastatingly illuminated how Klein's choices guarantee more dropouts by teachers as well as students in the Education Life supplement of the August 3 New York Times ("New York's New Approach"). See also the valuable Sol Stern's "Bloomberg and Klein Rush In," City Journal, spring 2003.

As for the Bloomberg-Klein enthusiasm for the all-gay high school, segregation ineluctably leads to further stigmatization. Thurgood Marshall knew that. Moreover, to relieve the school system of accountability for the bullying and other cruel harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students—including the many who will be left behind and unprotected anyway in the city's schools—reveals how simplistically myopic the mayor and chancellor are.

Relentless pressure should be on the principals who don't stop this viciousness. When I was covering Frank Macchiarola during his chancellorship, I went with him when he became principal of a high school for some time so he could find out what was going on in the trenches. Put principals like Frank in the high schools now, and there'd be no need for an all-gay school. A principal who cannot end bigotry of any kind in a school should be removed.

But the chief indictment of Klein's chancellorship was displayed for all to see in the July 31 and August 1 New York Times front-page stories "To Cut Failure Rate, Schools Shed Students" and "High School Under Scrutiny for Giving Up on Its Students."

The ever vigilant Carl Campanile of the New York Post broke the pushout story last November 9. The Times should enter its pieces by Tamar Lewin and Jennifer Medina for a Pulitzer, and the Post should submit Campanile's reporting as well.

I hope there will be further and frequent team reporting in the Times on what Klein—as long as he's supposedly in charge—is going to do about this pernicious and pervasive "pushout" educational malpractice that can place so many youngsters in quicksand for the rest of their lives.

And this discarding of students is also a severe test of such civil rights organizations as the NAACP and the Urban League. They ought to be conducting their own investigations of the many thousands of students being pushed out of this city's public schools because their scores make the principals' and superintendents' records look bad. Is the Urban League protecting alumnus Dennis Walcott, now at Bloomberg's side? Great credit is due Advocates for Children of New York for filing a lawsuit on this betrayal of kids—and for calling attention to this and other malpractices in the system.

What the Times series reported in harrowing detail—including testimonies by pushouts—is that "growing numbers of students—most of them struggling academically—are being pushed out of New York City's school system and classified under bureaucratic categories that hide their failure to graduate." And "students [are being] shunted out at ever-younger ages."

I heard anecdotal evidence about the pushouts last October from Noreen Connell, executive director of the Educational Priorities Panel, but Klein was silent about this disastrous covert policy until the Times series forced his hand. Now he has told the Times (July 31) that he's going to do something about it because "you're never going to change the system unless you're brutally candid."

To be brutally candid, there is this report in the same issue of the Times: "On June 30 [Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum] wrote to Mr. Klein to express 'strong concern' over the high school discharge tracking system recounting her office's request last September for a breakdown of high school discharges, which was forthcoming only after a nine-month delay—and then yielded what she said was inadequate information." (Emphasis added.) Gotbaum estimates 160,000 pushouts between 1998 and 2001.

How could Joel Klein not have known? He also didn't know about the Advocates for Children lawsuit filed in January? He didn't know that the pushouts and their parents were not being told that under New York state law, students have the right to remain in school until they are 21?

Klein, of course, is not the only one who must be held strictly accountable. Where were the United Federation of Teachers and its members, as well as the principals? Are they still targeting pushouts?

Parents and others concerned with the future of the city should get "Pushing Out At-Risk Students: An Analysis of High School Discharge Figures," a report by Gotbaum and Advocates for Children. Also, the court papers in the series of class-action lawsuits filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, by Advocates for Children of New York (151 West 30th Street, fifth floor, New York, NY 10001; 212-947-9779 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 212-947-9779 end_of_the_skype_highlighting). They truly are advocates!

The Times should make the pushout series—with testimonies from some of the pushouts—available in pamphlet form, and, if possible, free. That'll more than make up for Jayson Blair.

On August 3, Daily News columnist E.R. Shipp reported that Mayor Bloomberg, speaking to educators in Queens, said: "The best is yet to come." He is his own blackout. To be continued, including a smoking gun the Times left out.

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