Controversial NYC Schools Chancellor Cathleen Black Resigns

Apr 20, 2011

When Cathleen Black was appointed chancellor of New York City public schools last year, many observers were critical of the hire. Citing her lack of education experience, analysts suggested she was ill suited for the role. Earlier this month, critics were proven right when Black was forced to resign after only a few short months on the job.

By Douglas Fehlen

A Miscast Chancellor

Cathleen Black is a veteran of the publishing industry, where she was a high-powered executive with a reputation for getting results. She took on a new role when New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed her chancellor of NYC public schools in November. Bloomberg believed her management experience made her the perfect candidate for carrying out reforms in his city's troubled school system. But even as the mayor lauded Black's readiness for the job, others pointed out that she had no real experience in education.

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Black's tenure as chancellor was rocky from the start. A series of high-profile incidents very early on led to considerable public criticism. At a task force meeting on overcrowded schools, Black joked that a simple solution would be wider use of birth control. And at a meeting with parents in which she was heckled, Black taunted the crowd in return, further harming her reputation. At the time of Black's resignation earlier this month, her approval rating among the public was at a dismal 17%.

But it was not only a poor rapport with the public that ultimately led to Black losing her job. Many in the city's Education Department complained that she demonstrated an utter lack of familiarity with city education and funding procedures. Despite Black's sincere attempts to get up to speed on important public school matters, she wasn't able to overcome her lack of education experience. When high-ranking officials around Black began resigning en masse Mayor Bloomberg felt he had no choice but to replace her.

A More Experienced Successor

Dennis Walcott's appointment to succeed Black was announced at the same news conference at which her resignation was made public. The new appointee is someone who does have experience with the New York City schools. First and foremost, he is a product of the nation's largest school system. Walcott attended public schools in New York City and is a graduate of the system.

Walcott has also spent time in NYC classrooms as an adult. The former kindergarten teacher has the classroom experience that Black did not. Additionally, Walcott has plenty of experience with the political and budgetary machinations of City Hall and the Education Department. Prior to his appointment as chancellor, Walcott was a deputy mayor who advised Bloomberg on city education programs.


At the announcement of his appointment as chancellor, Walcott expressed appreciation at having the opportunity to help improve the education of New York City's 1.1 million students. Budget deficits and a series of half-implemented reforms are certain to make his tenure challenging, but he fully recognizes the importance of performing that work well. In Walcott's estimation, 'The great equalizer in society is ensuring that every child receives a quality education, especially a quality public education.'

New York City public schools may be struggling in many respects, but the system is doing at least one thing fairly well: Lunch. NYC schools are among the nation's best when it comes to serving students healthy food.

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