US education chief meets NYC's future chancellor

Cathie Black and Joel Klein during a news conference at City Hall in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010. ((AP Photo/Seth Wenig))

December 10, 2010 3:53:07 AM PST
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday that incoming New York City schools Chancellor Cathie Black "has the potential to be a fantastic leader" and he will do everything he can to support her.

Duncan met later with Black, a publishing executive who has been a controversial choice to lead the nation's largest school system because she has no background as an educator.

City Department of Education spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said the two discussed a number of education issues, including the city's plans to implement the state's winning Race to the Top federal education reform grant proposal.

"I think she's going to do a great job, and I'm going to do whatever I can to be a good partner and to help her be successful," Duncan said before the meeting.

Duncan, who led Chicago's public school system before President Barack Obama tapped him for a Cabinet post, was in New York for an announcement about an initiative to improve GED programs.

Asked whether Black would be handicapped by her lack of conventional education credentials, Duncan said, "There are challenges whether you're conventional or unconventional. Anyone coming to this job has a huge learning curve."

He added, "In Chicago I worked for the previous superintendent before I got the job. ... I sort of thought I knew it, and when I got there I had no idea how big my learning curve was."

Duncan said he is "a huge fan" of outgoing New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who's leaving next month to take a position with media company News Corp., owner of The Wall Street Journal and Britain's biggest daily, The Sun.

Black, 66, is the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, one of the world's largest magazine publishers, and is a former publisher of USA Today.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg lauded her as a "world-class manager" when he announced her appointment last month.

The appointment required a waiver from state Department of Education Commissioner David Steiner because Black is not an educator.

Steiner granted the waiver on the condition that she appoint a seasoned educator as chief academic officer.

Three lawsuits have been filed seeking to block the waiver. Two have been consolidated.

"This case is about the rule of law and holding government officials accountable," said lawyer Norman Siegel, who represents plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits, filed Wednesday.

Siegel argued in the lawsuit that the law that says the commissioner may grant a waiver to candidates with experience that is "substantially equivalent" to certification as a school administrator does not allow for the qualifications of a deputy to be substituted.

Ravitz said Wednesday that parents should "set all of the politics and rhetoric aside."