Is corporate accountability right for public schools?

The recent appointment of Cathleen Black’s as head of the new York school district got me thinking about putting corporate leaders in charge of a public institution like a school.  Below is piece I read in LearnBoost this morning about the situation and my corresponding response.

Corporate governance

Over the last month, talk of Cathleen Black’s appointment as Chancellor of New York schools has sounded through all the major media. Some people rally behind her no-nonsense focus on the bottom line, but others worry that with her utter lack of ties to public education, she cannot possibly help students succeed.

As Joel Klein makes his exit from education into the media arena, Cathleen Black is stepping in straight from the corporate world. Eli Broad, education philanthropist and businessman, recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post exalting the appointment. He noted Black’s outstanding performance in management and track record for holding herself and others to high expectations.

Without a doubt, leadership ability is a top priority, but is it really possible to be a great leader without any experience in a given field? Black has no teaching experience. What’s more, neither she nor her children attended public school. I have no doubt that Black will be able to make shrewd decisions to help the ed system stay on budget and take measures to improve the efficiency of the system. Having had a high up boss without teaching experience, though, it worries me that Black may place unfeasible demands on educators.

Below is my response:

Education seems to be a magnet for new leaders to come in and ‘shake things up,’ epecially with the inevitable saber rattling that will occur after yesterday’s world student test results hit the airwaves.

Unfortunately for teachers, being on the front line, they have to endure the brunt of the change sword. But by no means are they the only factor in a child’s education. And this comment isn’t meant to get them off the hook.. In reality, running a school district isn’t a lot different than running company. There’s different inputs and different outputs – but it still comes down to creating goals and picking and motivating a team to achieve those goals.

Maybe having a history of accountability as Cathleen Black has had, at least according to Eli Board (for whatever that’s worth), might work out. But unless the teachers buy into the goals and strategy she sets up … it will not work out. Student success is a direct result of teacher engagement and their desire to go that extra step to get their ‘kids’ engaged. If the teachers come in in the morning with a chip on their shoulder – this engagement chain won’t happen.

While I truly believe that the far majority of teachers really care about the future of their students … I don’t believe that is the case with their union. The extra flexibility needed in any modern day organization, in all facets of the process (yes pay included), is tantamount to the success of its, especially one the size of the New York School District. But will the union allow this flexibility? We can only hope.

Black’s success will be dependent a lot on how she is accepted going in. If the rank and file are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and choose to band together with her for the greater good, the students … then maybe it just might work out.

If they don’t, then – well … it won’t. Teaching isn’t turning bolts in in car plant. All the processes in the world won’t produce a product that is ready to go out and change the world.

Just some thoughts …


You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg.  If you like this post then please forward it on to your friends.


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