Monday, January 10, 2011

Become a School Leader. No Educational Experience Required

Mayor Bloomberg steamrolled Cathie Black into the system as our new chancellor seeming to give little credence to the concern educators and parents have regarding her lack of educational credentials. Black addresses this concern in her first outreach to her staff sharing that she’s visited more than 20 schools and says, “
“I’m seeing what makes an effective classroom, what makes a great school leader, and how a strong school culture can contribute to learning. But more than anything, these visits remind me why I’m here: to bring the opportunities made possible by an excellent education to every one of our students; to keep their dreams alive, or to ignite their dreams.”
The reaction of many educators and educational administrators is this.
Whoa! Two weeks of visiting schools certainly doesn’t enable you to see what makes an effective classroom. These schools put on a show for their special visitor. An hour or two in a school gives you no insight into what it was that made that school effective. Beyond that, there is resentment from educational administrators that while she was just handed the key card to her new digs, they were required to jump through all sorts of hoops, pay for the privilege to take tests to get certified, pay for teaching and administration licenses, put several years into the classroom before being able to be licensed as an administrator, and pay in cash and time for their masters degree and educational leadership certification...all of which we are told is necessary to be qualified.

They wonder...
Why isn’t she working to get her masters degree then specialized certification while also working full time like the rest of did or still must do. Why doesn’t she have to take the tests we had to pay to take and pay to apply for her ed licenses? Maybe she could be required to teach a class in the school at Tweed so she has a sense of what it is really all about. Educators wonder why on earth their boss, who is charged in part to enforce this process, is being given a pass on ALL OF THIS?

In short, in a system of accountability and standardization, why isn’t it necessary for the person in charge of all the schools to be held to the same standards as those running them?

The reason Ms. Black isn’t held to the same standards as her staff is simple.
We are tied to vague and unclear titles. If Mr. Bloomberg had simply changed the titles to accurately reflect the duties of the new Chancellor he’d likely receive less backlash. He also would have likely been perceived more favorably. One thing educators know is that often, a great educator is not always a great business manager. Anyone who has worked with me knows I’m a case in point. While their are exceptions to this, many school leaders know this is the case and now have business managers, director of operations, or a similar title for someone who runs that side of the affairs while the principal or superintendent serves as educational leader.

The reality is that according to Bloomberg, we needed a strong manager and it seems Cathie Black is indeed uniquely qualified to effectively run a large organization. Should her title be Chancellor, a title that most view as educational leader, even though she has no such background? The reality is that Bloomberg hired Black to be the Chief Operating Officer or Director of Business Management, titles that make sense given her background and duties. Since he didn’t give her an appropriate title, he was required to give Shael Polakow-Suransky the title of Chief Academic Officer serving as second in command. This begs the question, should the educational leader be the second in command to the person who is the business management expert? Why not have the Chancellor aka business expert as first in command when it comes to business decisions, and have the educational leader first in charge of education decisions. This would clear up a whole lot of unnecessary political mumbo jumbo and the reality is that the two positions are usually necessary to effectively run schools.

Most recently, New Jersey’s Governor Christie shared a sentiment that other political leaders are echoing around the nation.
“It’s important that New Jersey public schools recruit and hire the most experienced, talented managers possible,” Mr. Christie, a Republican, said in a statement. “In large, state-run districts, or in schools that have failed our children for generations, we especially need leaders who know how to manage thousands of employees in districts that spend hundreds of millions in tax dollars.”
Understandably educators, parents, and others do find it offensive when politicians declare we need talented managers with no educational experience to run our schools. Yes, we understand we need a uniquely qualified person to "manage" tax dollars, but that is not the same person that knows what is best for our students. What politicians like Christie and the rest need to realize is what Mayor Bloomberg was forced to acknowledge. There are two types of people necessary to run schools today. Let’s stop insulting the intelligence of Americans and start recognizing the importance of both roles necessary to effectively run a school system putting each in charge of their area of expertise.


  1. I've spent the day learning about the hoops I have to jump through -- a 2nd master degree, for one -- to be certified as a school librarian. Oh, and I have until August to get 18 of the 36 required credits if I want to be able to do the job I'm doing now next year. I think our chancellor should have the same opportunity I have, get half her credits for her education leadership degree to be allowed to continue to do that job past Labor Day.

    If I worked at an elementary school it would not be an issue but certified librarians are required at all secondary schools. That I've done more in one month in and for the library and the students and teachers who now can use it than the certified librarian(certified in 1956, btw) did in the past six years is apparently not as important as having that piece of paper. That I can teach the students and teachers about technology and how to use it effectively and safely where the certified librarian thinks the electric typewriter is a threat to society is not as important as having that certificate.

    If the certificate is that important for me, shouldn't the chancellor have one, too?

  2. Hi, thinking about this post from my little window on the world (higher ed, small liberal arts college) I agreed a team administered approach was smarter. Academics have no business being Administrators, that is they don't understand business. Then, equally so, business people do not understand education--combining these talents in a dual leadership team makes a lot more sense. But interestingly enough, while K-12 teachers need extensive certification, at the college level you are qualified to teach with a degree in the topic, but no knowledge or experience of teaching. Faculty produce faculty, and then these people are magically able to teach teachers and students? Doesn't make any sense. In my little experience my observation is that the higher the degree the worse the teacher. I am instinctively mistrustful of teachers with PhD's. So then how can we expect the students of these degree holders to be teachers of our youth? I see this as a hold over from the monastic and industrial era and a root issue with the educational system in education. The education system is designed to perpetuate itself--that is what an institution is about. Disruptive innovation is aggressively stamped out. It remains an issue of power, not learning. This is evident in the 'corporation' mentality and the excessive salaries paid to CEO's and Chancellors, Presidents, etc. What do these people really do? And is the money we spend on them worth it? Morally speaking, is the debt we enforce on our young worth the salaries (results) we pay to the so called leaders?

  3. @Jan Herder, it's funny you say that. I worked at Columbia University for there years and we'd always say that same thing! Why aren't the professors required to take some teaching classes? Makes no sense.

    In answer to your question, "Is the debt we enforce on our young worth the salaries (results) we pay to the so called leaders?" I'd say, in most cases, no sirree!