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Regents need to resist pressure to reverse course on reform efforts

Change appears to be on the way in New York State education and there is reason to worry that it is the kind of change that will harm, rather then help, students who will eventually compete for jobs against those who are the product of environments that value excellence.

It may not turn out that way. After all, Betty A. Rosa, who is expected to be named chancellor of the state Board of Regents, is a former Bronx superintendent who joined the unanimous vote to hire reformer MaryEllen Elia as education commissioner. Yet, it is clear the Board of Regents is changing, and in a way that pleases such constituents as Philip Rumore, the stuck-in-the-past president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.

Following up on the State Assembly’s unfortunate refusal to reappoint Robert M. Bennett of Tonawanda to the Board of Regents, there is reason to worry that the Regents are turning into a special interest organization, concerned as much with serving the powerful unions that represent teachers as they are with educating New York’s students. It is they who deserve to be the focus of attention, as well as the state’s taxpayers, who deserve excellence for the enormous sums they pay for public schooling.

The pending change, expected to occur during the Regents meeting March 21-22, is worrisome for other reasons as well. Rosa would be succeeding Merryl H. Tisch, who has been committed to education reform in New York and who has been closely aligned with Elia, who has taken a firm interest in reforming the Buffalo School District. How Elia will be affected by the changes on the Board of Regents is unknown and unsettling.

What is more, as a member of the Board of Regents – and, therefore, a presumably responsible advocate for eduction – Rosa nonetheless supported, and thus encouraged, parents and teachers who pushed the opt-out movement that threatened to wreck the assessment system. Tisch supported the tests consistently.

It is, in some ways, no surprise that these kinds of changes are occurring. The State Legislature elects members of the Board of Regents, and many of its members live in the pocket of the teachers unions. There have been some legitimate criticisms of the rollout of the Common Core standards and of the teacher evaluation system, but the fact is that both are important components of turning out students prepared to succeed in an ever-shrinking world.

It will be one thing if the newly constituted Board of Regents takes a different approach to implementing the programs meant to improve the education provided to the children of New York, and something else altogether if it backs off or reverses course. With its obligation to education, the Regents have an obvious duty to take into consideration the concerns of teachers, but their loyalty has to be first and foremost with students.

That will be the test going forward, one that can be applied to every decision the board makes: Who is it seeking to serve, the power brokers with money and influence or the students whose future success the Regents will do much to undermine or promote?

It could go either way but it will be up to New Yorkers to make sure their representatives know what they think about the direction that education is taking. Politics is often a squeaky-wheel business and only adults can make enough noise to make a difference.