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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Leanna Lansmann On Cathie Black's Business Acumen

The underlying premise of Leanna Landsmann's argument is that successful business leaders can turn around the absolute failure of public education in America due to the inefficient mangerial skills of educators.

Dont believe this gobblygook.

Professional businesspeople are also parents, teachers, and others in the workforce who are never asked to manage a public school system because they dont buy into "The agenda" as touted by The Broad Foundation, Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg, etc. What better way to reform the education system as it now stands than to have a parent and/or teachers from the very system that needs reform, hired to 'fix' problems that he/she/they is/are familiar with after having been on the front line, watching and getting involved first hand?

What is going on is that political forces are choosing local administrators who will govern our public schools in such a way as to benefit them, not necessarily the children in the system.

Betsy Combier
How Cathie Black can leverage her business acumen to improve the schools
By Leanna Landsmann, Thursday, December 9th 2010, 4:00 AM
When Cathie Black, soon-to-be installed schools chancellor, was asked in a recent interview to name a teacher who had influenced her, she said there was "no one who was transformative." Many parents, educators and business and civic leaders don't believe Black will be transformative, either. One influential New Yorker told me last week, "I wish her well, but she has no clue what's she's in for."

That may be, but those of us who have followed her career know she has formidable talents to bring to Tweed far beyond the mundane "managerial skills" Mayor Bloomberg continues to tout. If Black is smart, she'll start playing to her strengths.

Here are three things she should be able to do better than anyone, regardless of their credentials:

Sell a big idea. Black's success in advertising sales is legendary. She's known as a remarkably persuasive pitch person. One idea that New Yorkers - and lots of "ed reformers," frankly - still haven't bought is that student achievement doesn't take place only in the classroom. Family and community culture either reinforce or weaken high expectations, academic achievement and college-readiness.

Black needs to make the case. For help in doing so, she might add Temple University Prof. Laurence Steinberg to her kitchen cabinet. He's the author of "Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Can Do." His research with thousands of teens shows just how strongly influences outside the classroom shape student performance.

The successful KIPP charter schools also understand the leverage of parental and cultural commitment to school success. They help families set high standards, limit media time, enforce homework policies and insist on developing the habits of mind that support scholarship. If New York students are going to do better academically, Black must sell this brand of family, community and school accountability throughout the city schools system.

Build bridges. Second, Black understands how to form and sustain functional partnerships. Hearst Magazines' work with Oprah Winfrey when Black was chairman there is a brilliant example that can be a model. In 1994, I pulled together a group of executives to launch the Principal for a Day program for then-Schools Chancellor Ramon Cortines. The goal was to get civic and business leaders involved with public schools. The response was so strong that in 1995 we launched PENCIL, which stands for Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning. Today, there are PENCIL partnerships in nearly 300 schools.

Black can encourage many more to step up - to help teachers see how classroom learning translates to the workplace; arrange internships so students see why algebra is a useful tool in a job; mentor gifted kids; finance after-school programs and training programs, and provide scholarships for the many poor yet highly motivated seniors who won't get to college without them. Other partnerships might beef up ways for students to use the rich resources of the city's underutilized cultural institutions or support the work of school-focused groups like City Year New York and Learning Leaders.

Call in chits. Third, Black has a killer Rolodex and knows how to use it. I'm betting that on her mobile device there are contacts for hundreds - maybe thousands - of the city's movers and shakers who admire her, and maybe even owe her one. She shouldn't hesitate to call in those chits now. Those of us who have been involved in school improvement for a long time know it's a hard slog. It's not the stuff of "Dancing With the Stars."

But with the help of some bold-faced names who were born, bred and educated in the city, Black can make it cool to be smart in school. She can communicate both the strengths (and there are many) and challenges of New York's public schools to a broader public.

These skills alone won't by themselves enable the new chancellor to master a complex and unwieldy system many still consider unmanageable. State Education Commissioner David Steiner was smart to suggest that Black's chances for success are better served with a strong partner who understands curriculum and instruction.

But no one should undervalue the importance of selling the city's parents, students, residents and business and civic leaders on ways they can accelerate school improvement and help students meet high standards. In a city of high achievers, it shouldn't be that hard to market the notion that it takes a village as big as New York to educate every child well.

Landsmann was founding president of TIME For Kids, volunteer director of Principal for a Day and co-founder of PENCIL with Lisa Belzberg. She is co-chairwoman of and author of "A+ Advice for Parents."