Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Question of Credentials

Last week Michael Bloomberg nominated Cathleen Black, a well-noted publishing executive, to be the city’s new school chancellor after Joel Klein left the post. The nomination has raised the issue of credibility in that Mrs. Black has no direct educational-related credentials to demonstrate that she would be a competent chancellor, let alone a high quality chancellor. Some argue that Mrs. Black’s lack of educational experience invalidate her ability to be an effective chancellor. An adjunct to this argument is that even if she could develop into a quality chancellor in time, the appropriate amount of time to foster this development is not available amid the current financial crisis facing the education sector as well as the complexity surrounding the educational reform movement.

The other side argues that Mrs. Black’s success in the publishing industry should demonstrate that she has the necessary raw skills to succeed as chancellor after ironing out some of the rough edges. These individuals believe that the chief element required to be chancellor has nothing to do with teaching experience, but instead the ability to manage and delegate. Individuals that hold this view also add that current teacher training and accreditation have been suggested to be an ineffective methodology for the current education requirements and climate. However, unfortunately for Mrs. Black supporters but not surprisingly, the changes that are suggested from these evaluations, which focus on more in-class training and experience over educational theory to develop more relevant skill sets are also not possessed by Mrs. Black, thus even mentioning these new required skills is completely irrelevant. Sadly such a strategy is commonplace in what society wants to refer to as ‘debating’.

Discrediting the legitimacy of educational experience is a desperate strategy because Mrs. Black supporters do not seem able to provide elements in her character or experience, which will translate to a high probability of success for her potential career as the chancellor. Instead they attempt to devalue the credentials of possible adversaries thus reducing the debate to ‘well she is just as good as that person because their educational credentials are not valid.’ Unfortunately this strategy is flawed because teaching methodology is not the only useful characteristic that can be derived from teaching and educational administration experience. There is something to be said about understanding the nuances that go into teaching and how effective management and emotional linking can facilitate more streamlined changes within schools. Basically without hands-on experience it is difficult to empathize with the difficulties, joys, frustrations, etc. experienced by a teacher, thus impacting the ability to drive necessary changes. Look at it this way, if the ‘right’ way to do something was always effectively implemented simply through a logical perspective and argument a vast number of the problems facing society today would not exist.

Other Mrs. Black supporters cite the fact that Mr. Klein needed to acquire the necessary ‘experience’ waiver to take the position in 2002 and his efforts dramatically changed public education in New York for the better, right? While the purpose of this post is not to rationally evaluate the tenure of Mr. Klein as chancellor, the overall conclusion of how effective his tenure was seems to highly diverge based on whether one speaks to a Klein supporter vs. a Klein detractor. Normally such a divergence is to be expected, the fact of the matter is that most of the points raised on both sides have some kernel of truth, but the overall impression left on a neutral arbitrator is the testing inflation scandal which reported artificially increased test scores making New York public schools ‘appear’ at a higher quality level than they actually were.

With all of that said the biggest problem is that people continue to speculate on what strategies Mrs. Black would undertake to improve the educational environment in New York instead of simply asking her. Clearly Mrs. Black has to have some level of interest in becoming the chancellor or she would have simply turned down the offer for the position. If she is interested then it makes logical sense that Mrs. Black would have some well thought-out proposals regarding what changes she would like to see in the educational sector, what benefits those changes would bring relative to their detriments and what methodology she would implement to bring about a reasonably smooth transition from the current system to her envisioned system. This being the rational order of events why not ask Mrs. Black what these ideas are before issuing the waiver? If the ideas are of merit then she will have afforded herself the opportunity to attempt their implementation to see if they are as effective as thought and if they are not of merit then she should not be given the opportunity, for the implementation of bad ideas simply wastes time and resources.

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