Over at her personal blog, Prospect alumna Dana Goldstein has a sharp post on New York City Schools Chief Cathie Black's resignation after only three months on the job. Late last year, Mayor Bloomberg had tapped the Hearst magazines executive to head the largest school district in the nation despite her having absolutely no experience in education.
It seemed self-evident that, politically, the best person for Mayor Bloomberg to appoint to be the face of his education agenda would be someone who could soothe anxieties around race, class, neighborhood autonomy, and instructional best practices. Cathie Black was, almost comically, the opposite of all that. A publishing executive with no personal or professional experience with any public school sytem--let alone with the incredibly complex New York City public school system--Black sent her own two children to private boarding school in Connecticut, and had attended parochial schools herself. As my friend Elizabeth Green just noted on WNYC, one of Black's first comments upon visiting New York City school buildings was that they seemed "clean."
Black's failure just goes to show that success in a particular private industry doesn't translate to success in government. Shockingly, running a school system requires knowing something about schools. But this line of thinking is particularly prevalent on the right: Government workers are just incompetent, overpaid bureaucrats who need efficient, results-driven business leaders to come in and clean up shop. So you get rich guys like Mitt Romney or total buffoons like Donald Trump brandishing their corporate credentials as if the government were just a big hedge fund or a reality TV show. But note that even corporations aren't this stupid: Boeing wouldn't hire a magazine exec as its leader, so why would Bloomberg? Specialized jobs require specialized knowledge, and that's something only experienced civil servants have.