An Open Letter to Commissioner David Steiner

By: Inez Barron | 4/12/2011, 5:30 p.m.

Dear Mr. David M. Steiner, Commissioner of Education,

I urge you deny the request from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to grant a School District Administrator certificate to Ms. Cathleen Black. Mayor Bloomberg is seeking to place Ms. Black as Chancellor of the New York City school system, even though she does not have any of the essential credentials enumerated in the Commissioner's Regulations that demonstrate competency in educational leadership. Thus, the Mayor's need for a waiver. The latest addendum to this scheme, that a deputy with experience in education be named to scaffold the shortcomings of Ms. Black, is equally deficient. Who is in charge? De jure or de facto? To have the public believe and accept that the certification of one person can be attributed to another by proximate position is not logical. Would you entrust your child to board an ocean liner with a person at the helm who was uncertified to take the wheel, and needed to depend upon someone else's experience to command the ship? I trust not.

The Mayor has suggested that Ms. Black's experience as a media mogul is adequate for the management of New York City's school system. The corporate world of profits is not akin to the realm of education, which is rooted in public service. The skills of managing an educational setting as presented in coursework at noted colleges and universities is markedly different from the business model. Ms. Black's background offers no substantive parallels for any of the requirements codified in the law.

At the core of the education process is an effective instruction process, the teaching/learning exchange and its reliance on teacher preparation and on-going staff development. Ms. Black has no experience in assessing instruction, offering teaching strategies or evaluating the performance of supervisors. She has no acknowledged intellectual dialogue on any of the theories explaining how children learn. There is a grave danger in allowing someone who does not understand children and learning to head the education system. To illustrate the point, on a radio program in 2008, the unqualified Joel Klein, who required a waiver to become Chancellor, attempted to justify the overemphasis on testing as a means of assessing a student's ability to read. Mr. Klein said that it is very important to make sure that children are able to read because, "Creative thinking can't happen, if children can't read." I was shocked. Perhaps if he had taken the course requiring observations of children at play and engaged in collegial analysis of child behavior, he would have been aware of the numerous ways that children manifest their creativity, prior to being able to read.

Perhaps it was also the lack of understanding of testing and assessment that allowed the leadership of the New York City school system not to heed the indicators that there was something amiss with the test results, as indicated by the broad discrepancy between the State and the National Assessment and Evaluation scores.

There are many who hold the mistaken assumption that teaching is easy. Consider George Bernard Shaw's phrase, "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." This notion certainly belies any understanding of the art and science required to be an effective teacher. Albert Einstein more appropriately stated, "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."