It didn’t take long for Roland G. Fryer, a black Harvard economist and recently named “chief equality officer” of New York City public schools, to begin stirring trouble in the nation’s largest school district. Cell phone usage in schools has been a contentious issue in districts across the country, but Fryer is proposing a plan to use cell phones as a reward for good schoolwork. He still needs Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to approve the proposal. But Bloomberg has long been opposed to cell phone use in schools, despite pleas from parents for him to consider otherwise. Chancellor Joel Klein, who hired Fryer, has opposed the measure as well. The two met at a dinner party hosted by former Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers several years ago.
Fryer’s work on the causes and consequences of American inequality was highlighted extensively in the best-seller Freakonomics. As a 30-year-old black economist at the nation’s top school, Fryer has garnered national attention for saying things that most white scholars wouldn’t dare.