Chancellor Tisch Will Not Seek Another Term: Some Suggestions – How To Begin to Win Back Parents and Teachers

If you used the word “Regent” a decade ago I would have said one of the five exams a student needs to graduate high school in New York State. The “Board” of Regents, with origins in the late 18th century, met monthly and anonymously in Albany; the members were college professors, retired superintendents, former legislators and business leaders, who had enough political clout to be “elected” (in reality, selected) by the Speaker of the Assembly.

No newspaper stories, no blogs, no one paid much attention to the meetings and the policy determinations.

A test: who was the chancellor prior to Merryl Tisch?

The major chore of the Board was to select a commissioner, who usually was a senior, well-regarded superintendent, who ran the State Education Department.

The board is a policy board and the policy items usually originated with the commissioner.

In 2009 Merryl Tisch, who had been a board member for a dozen years, was selected by her colleagues as chancellor.

Commissioner Mills “retired,” and the Chancellor Tisch chose a new path, instead of selecting a state superintendent the board selected David Steiner, the Dean of the School of Education at Hunter College and before that the leader of the National Academy of the Arts.

The “dirty little secret,” a secret that everyone suspected, the scores on the state reading/math tests, that had been inching up every year, had been “pushed long” by the exiting commissioner.

Tisch and Steiner asked David Koretz, a Harvard professor to examine testing practices, and, yes, the testing practices that were in place allowed the scores to incrementally increase each year.

Test practices were corrected, and the scores dipped.

I was optimistic, the Tisch-Steiner team signaled a new, more open board that might actually address the major issue, the elephant in the room: a funding formula based on local property tax revenue that guaranteed that the richest districts would get richer and the poorer district poorer. It was a national disgrace.

To my disappointment the commissioner resigned, John King was appointed without a search and the chancellor did not address the funding catastrophe, instead moved down the Race to the Top, Common Core, testing and teacher evaluation tied to student growth scores path.

There is no question in my mind that the chancellor’s goal is to improve opportunities for the most disadvantaged, to drive the members of the board to adopt policies to improve futures for every child in the state. The chancellor, which had been an anonymous position, was changed into the chancellor as the driver of education policy across the state; every meeting is covered by the media. At Regents’ meetings the chancellor is frequently the kid in the class who calls out loud, who interrupts the speaker to ask a challenging question, who pushes, who cross-examines the speaker, whether a State Ed staffer or the commissioner.

To me she has been an enigma – a brilliant leader, passionately concerned about education, a champion of the disempowered, a champion of the poorest communities and the children without the power to change their own paths, a leader who somehow wandered down the wrong road.

While the state constitution designates the Board of Regents as the organization that sets policy for education in state more and more policy is set by the second floor of the Capital building – the offices of the executive – the governor. The “education governor” is now trying to repair his torn education legacy.

The NY Daily News report on a new poll,

In the poll’s education section, the Common Core curriculum got boos from respondents who believe the strict standards have made schools worse. By a 2-1 margin, voters gave Common Core a thumbs down, with 40% of those surveyed saying public education has gotten worse. Another 21% said Common Core standards have made little impact.

A year ago John King was pushed out as commissioner – the Cuomo Education Commission was reconstituted with a specific agenda, any district can receive a waiver from the new teacher evaluation plan, a teacher appeal process has been put in place, the commissioner is exploring the efficacy of the use of growth scores in assessing teachers and the governor has selected a superintendent as his chief education advisor – a superintendent who had been a sharp critic of the Cuomo policies.

The Speaker of the Assembly dumped the two most senior members of the board and chancellor chose not to seek another term.

Two Regents (Tisch and Anthony Bottar – Syracuse) terms expire and next year three Regents terms expire.

Geoff Decker, at Chalkbeat does an excellent job of tracking the rapid changes here.

The Governor selected a new deputy for education who moves from a critic of the policies of the governor and the Regents to the chief educational advisor to the governor.

Hochman has been critical of state education policies in the past. Last year, he said the Common Core has become too tied to a “culture of testing” and questioned whether it would need to be revamped.

“The whole accountability, ‘gotcha’ culture is so out of control that we need a fresh start,” Hochman told The Journal News in September of last year. “The standards are OK, but every problem is connected to the Common Core. New York needs to take a bold stance so we can focus on educating kids.”

With 200,000 parents opting out of state tests, with an angry teaching force, with nose diving polling numbers the governor is bailing the sinking ship of state.

Although Chancellor Tisch will not be seeking another term she does have five months to begin to turn around the leviathan – the education system in New York State

A few suggestions:

Reduce or eliminate the impact of Value-Added Measures (VAM) on teacher evaluation.

Whether or not the use of student growth scores are a valid, stable and reliable tool to assess teacher performance the impact has been to alienate teachers and parents and to overemphasize annual school testing. The state should begin to explore an inspectorate system, the school and teacher evaluation system used in almost all other nations. (Read about the Inspectorate System here)

Reduce the length of state tests, release more test items and release the scores earlier

While the changes I suggest are relatively minor they address the complaints of parents and teachers and are achievable for the next testing cycle. The state should begin the move to adaptive testing; the data is immediately available to teachers and parents and helps guide instruction tailored to the needs of each individual child.

Fully examine and adjust the Common Core and Engage NY Curriculum Modules

The standards are not well-written, all policies should be regularly reviewed in a transparent process, the complaints about the Common Core, for example, the inappropriateness of the early childhood standards, should be explored. The Curriculum Modules should have been constructed from the bottom up and should be constantly expanded to reflect the brilliance of teachers around the state.

Increase the role of teachers in the Common Core/Curriculum Module revision process

A no brainer: ”Participation Reduces Resistance.”

Continue to advocate changing the federal testing requirements for English language learners and Students with Disabilities.

With Arne Duncan almost out the door hopefully Secretary-Designee King will accept the New York State request to alter the cruel testing requirements now in place for English language learners and Students with disabilities.

Robert Frost mulls over “The Road Not Taken,” we have taken the wrong road – time to correct our error.

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