The Bloom Is Off The Rose

Friday, November 12, 2010
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's stewardship of his city's education system has taken a troubling turn. The resignation of New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein precipitated an incredibly secretive process to name his replacement -- Cathleen Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines (you know, Cosmo, Esquire, Oprah) and former publisher of that beacon of journalism, USA Today. Black has absolutely no education experience nor has she ever sent her children to public schools or herself attended public schools. In fact, Black is so unqualified for the job (she does not have three years teaching experience and did not complete graduate work in education) that a waiver from David Steiner, the state education commissioner, will be required in order for her to actually work as NYC Schools Chancellor. (A Wednesday New York Times editorial calls on Steiner to "thoroughly vet" Black "to determine if she is up to the job.") Of course, Klein himself needed such a waiver, although he came to the job having been educated in the city's schools and having been a teacher for a short period of time.

To me, the clear message that Bloomberg has sent to New York City educators and veterans of the New York City Department of Education -- and other potentially qualified candidates across the nation -- is that a complete outsider with no experience in education and no record of public service is preferable to any candidate with experience as a teacher or school administrator. The more galling fact is that no search was undertaken to fill the Chancellor vacancy. The New York Times reports that no one else was "seriously vetted or considered -- and few of the usual suspects ... were even consulted." It appears that Black was tapped to run New York City schools primarily because of her business experience and because she travels in the same social circles as the Mayor. As Black herself said, the job offer "came out of left field."

I'm not some corn-pone, but I'm just left shaking my head here. Is this really the best process to select the leader of the nation's largest school system? Would Black have risen to the top if a true search had been conducted? Is this the type of executive management that voters had in mind when they elected Bloomberg mayor?

Is the selection of someone like Black good or bad for education? Klein argued on NPR that it doesn't matter because she will be surrounded by "extraordinary lifetime career educators.... The problem with public education is it's not operated effectively. It's operated as a political organization." I imagine that it may be freeing in some sense to not be tied down by prevailing orthodoxies, but it is troubling to me to think of a leader of such a complicated system and enterprise lacking any frame of reference whatsoever, let alone any detailed knowledge.

Here are some other takes:

Foodie Finds

Last week we covered the blue. This week we cover the red.

This week's Foodie Finds features restaurants in Red States (although not necessarily red cities). Bon appetit. Wait a minute. That's French. Can't say that in Red States. Ahem. Good eatin'.

Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue - The real deal - Richmond, Virginia

Hansen's Sno-Bliz - A magical combo of shaved ice and homemade syrup - New Orleans, Louisiana

House of Tricks - Contemporary American cooking in a charming atmosphere - Tempe, Arizona

McCrady's - Sean Brock won 2010 James Beard Best Chef Southeast - Charleston, South Carolina

Salt Lick Bar-B-Que - Authentic Texas BBQ - Austin, Texas

Foodie Finds

Friday, November 5, 2010
This week's culinary offerings include some fabulous restaurants safely ensconced in Blue States and one in Canada (in case anyone is thinking of fleeing after Tuesday's results):

Delfina - Stellar neighborhood trattoria - San Francisco, California

Flour Bakery - Delicious sandwiches and to-die-for baked goods - Boston, Massachusetts

Passionfish - A focus on sustainable seafood and local ingredients - Pacific Grove, California

Saucebox - Pan-Asian dishes and cool cocktails since 1995 - Portland, Oregon

Soif Wine Bar - Surprisingly good food for a casual wine bar - Santa Cruz, California

Toro - Sorry, Jose Andres. The tapas here (not at DC's Jaleo) are transcendente - Boston, Massachusetts

Vij's - Best Indian in North America? - Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Sorry for the long hiatus. Life and work have taken over in the past several weeks and it's been hard to find time to put pen to paper put fingers to keypad.

Today is Election Day. And I am not hopeful for America.

I am fearful for our democracy and our unraveling social fabric. America's dark underbelly is exposed this election year. Fear, bigotry, and lack of empathy are rampant -- and constitute the entirety of some candidates' platforms and rationales for running for public office.

I think we should be represented by the best among our ranks, not the worst. I think we should look to leaders willing to offer solutions, not just cast aspersions and look for scapegoats ... whether the President who inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, immigrants who are trying to do the best they can for the families, or those of Muslim faith who all are branded with the terrorist label.

Sadly, this will not be the outcome or result of this election. Some true leaders, statesmen and free thinkers such as Wisconsin U.S. Senator Russ Feingold will
likely fall to defeat ... to a plastics manufacturer whose main platform appears to be that the details of policy don't matter. (In its endorsement of Feingold, the right-leaning Madison paper, the Wisconsin State Journal, said "Though likeable and impressive on business issues, Johnson was sketchy on most everything else.") Apparently, obfuscation and distraction will win the day -- and then obstruction can prevail for another two years at which point the right will be aiming for full control of the reins of government by ousting President Obama.

There has been little discussion and no serious consideration of critical issues such as historic levels of income inequality or honest assessments of the expansion of access to and improved consumer protections achieved through the health care legislation. And many of the bomb throwers and Tea Partiers who will be elected don't know and don't care about any of these issues.

What does this election mean for education? At the federal level -- possibly no significant policy action at all in the upcoming Congress; unsuccessful calls for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education; almost no new money at all, including a third round of Race to the Top (unless it can be pushed through during the upcoming lame duck session), increases in Pell Grants, and other need-based and competitive programs. In the states -- more attacks on teachers and unions; the most thoughtless kind of performance pay proposals disconnected from instruction and teacher development; school vouchers as a wedge issue; growing religiosity in public schools; and more bowing to the altar of local control without an evidential basis and regardless of its effect on outcomes.

There will be a few political bright lights this Election Day, likely in governors races in states such as California, Massachusetts and Vermont. And the most comical, dangerous, embarassing and idiotic candidates for US Senate in states such as Delaware (Christine O'Donnell who isn't a witch don't ya know?) and Nevada (Sharron Angle who is apparently opposed to maternity leave, wants to eliminate the "unconstitutional" US Education Department, but is possibly in favor of "taking Harry Reid out" through an invocation of Second Amendment rights) will likely, hopefully fall short. But pay attention to races in bellwether states such as Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Ohio for signs of what is really going on. It's unlikely to be pretty. Optimistic? Nope. Not me. Not today.