Merryl Tisch is retiring as Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents after trying to force Common Core, high-stakes testing, and teacher evaluations based on student test scores down the throats of the people of New York. Her efforts produced a backlash from parents and teachers including a massive opt-out campaign that helped her decide to quit. Last April, about twenty percent of the eligible students in grades third- through eighth refused to take mandated reading and math tests.
Tisch seems to have learned little from this experience. In an interview with the New York Times she argued the backlash was because she tried to do too much too fast and was "ambitious for every child." We can only hope a newly realigned Board of Regents is more responsible to parents and teachers and policies that just make sense.
Two of Tisch's main allies on the Regents, vice chancellor Anthony Bottar from upstate New York, and Manhattan representative Charles Bendit, also resigned. Last week the State Assembly elected three new Regents, including Luis O. Reyes, who was endorsed by the opt-out group NYS Allies for Public Education. The new board is also expected to elect Betty Rosa, a former school superintendent in the Bronx, as chancellor. Rosa opposes the emphasis on standardized testing and wants student test scores permanently dropped from teacher evaluations.
Betty Rosa, who has participating in a series of education forums across the state, is also unhappy with the impact of new teacher certification exams introduced under Tisch and administered by Pearson Education, a company that has drawn a lot of flack for its tests. New York does not pay Pearson to develop and administer the teacher certification exams. Pearson's profits are all from student exam fees, which means Pearson makes its money when students fail. New York State has already been cited twice by a federal court for racial bias in its teacher certification requirements because of the "unlawful disparate impact" of its teacher certification exams.
New York State United University Professions, the union that represents faculty at the State University of New York, has been trying to understand the reasoning behind these exams. They submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the State Education Department so they could evaluate the state's teaching certification exam contract with Pearson.
On March 17, 2016 there will be a town hall meeting on teacher certification held at Adelphi University on Long Island. Members of the Regents Higher Education Sub-Committee, Regent Kathleen Cashin, Regent Roger Tilles, and Deputy Commissioner John D'Agati are expected to attend. Among other issues to be discussed are new state regulations that students applying for teacher education master degree programs must have undergraduate grade point averages of 3.0 and take the Graduate Record Exam or a similar test.
In the past, Regents argued that their actions are restricted by New York State law. Last April Governor Cuomo snuck the new requirements into the state budget without discussion or input from professional educators. No one demonstrated that a 3.1 GPA makes you a better teacher than someone with a 2.9 GPA or how the tests align with performance as a teacher. The Cuomo guidelines threaten to keep minority group members who attended poorly performing high schools and needed additional time to adjust to college out of the teaching profession.
The newly aligned Board of Regents does have options. They can lobby to change the law before it goes into affect in July. They can go to the federal court judge who invalidated previous Pearson tests and request an immediate injunction against the new law on the grounds that it will have a discriminatory impact on minority group candidates. They can also refuse to implement the requirements until the suspect legislative mandate is reviewed by the courts.
The Regents have a bully pulpit to challenge Cuomo and the Tisch legacy. They should not acquiesce to patently unjust certification requirements.