Insider or Outsider? : Superintendents in Big Cities
In Los Angeles Unified School District, the school board appointed an insider–Michelle King–superintendent earlier this year after a string of prior superintendents came from outside the district.
In New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio appointed an insider–Carmen Farina– Chancellor in 2014 after Mayor Michael Bloomberg had appointed three outsiders since 2000.
These appointments of insiders to big city districts, people who spent their careers within the district as teachers, principals, and district office administrators, are the exception, not the rule. For large urban districts the rule has been appoint outsiders who promise major changes in course to solve serious problems.
Why is that?
Outsiders have been appointed time and again in these districts because the unspoken and strong belief was that the serious educational, social, and political problems besetting the schools needed an innovative, energetic, outsider, unbeholden to those inside the district. An outsider, policy elites assumed, would shake the system by the scruff of its neck in turning around a failing district–disrupt is the fashionable word today. Insiders who had risen through the ranks would prize stability while looking for incremental improvements. Insiders have been immersed in a network of relationships with peers and subordinates would be reluctant to disturb bureaucratic procedures, rules in effect for decades, and bonds of affection and respect for long-time peers and subordinates. Insiders would be loath to importing new staff and innovations from elsewhere. They would rather seek new ideas and programs from sharp, knowledgeable insiders.
These strongly held beliefs about insiders and outsiders have shaped the appointment of superintendents to big city posts for well over a half-century.
In brief, the folk wisdom surrounding superintendents or chancellors heading urban districts says to appoint insiders if you like what has been happening in the system under the exiting superintendent in order to extend and protect what is working well for students, teachers, and the community. Stability and tweaking what works is the order of the day when insiders are appointed school chiefs. However, if you dislike what has been happening in the system, the dysfunctions, Insider or Outsider? : Superintendents in Big Cities | Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice: