ALBANY – The state’s leading education policymaker says she is giving up her position after years of battling teachers, parents and politicians over the controversial Common Core standards.
Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, told her colleagues during a board meeting Monday that she will not seek re-election when her term expires in March and will leave the board.
In a bow to the swirl of controversy over education policies in New York, Tisch said she will use her remaining time on the job to “calm the waters.” It is a task she has not been able to accomplish in recent years, especially among parents and teachers of public school children who have protested the Common Core standards.
Tisch has her detractors and supporters for backing efforts, prodded by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to link the higher learning standards for students to a job performance evaluation system for teachers.
Tisch has been an activist member since joining the education policy-setting Regents in April 1996. Members of the Regents voted her in as chancellor in 2009, which made her, along with former Education Commissioner John King and new Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, among the top faces in New York’s public education.
During her tenure, Tisch defended the state’s push to toughen learning standards, which she said were needed to help a generation of students who increasingly were not adequately prepared to enter college or the workforce.
“We disrupted complacency,” Tisch told her fellow Regents on Monday morning in Albany, She said the decisions taken in the area of Common Core standards and teacher evaluations were “critical steps to reignite” the state’s education system across 700 school districts.
“Beneath the noise, the protests, beneath the politics, there are changes taking place in classrooms across this state that will lead to new, better and more equitable opportunities for all our children,” Tisch said.
Critics of Tisch and the Regents are many: from Cuomo, who has lashed out at the way the panel rolled out Common Core, to the New York State United Teachers union, which has been among the leaders in pushing back against standardized student testing and major parts of the teacher evaluation system.
Tisch’s decision to step down comes days after the Obama administration said it had heard the criticism of standardized tests. Among its new plans is a call that students spend no more than 2 percent of their school year taking tests.
Parents and teachers have complained of plummeting scores on tests based on Common Core and what critics say is a worsening teach-to-the-test system. Things came to a boiling point earlier this year when, in a move that rattled politicians and education officials, the parents of 20 percent of New York’s public school students refused to let their children take Common Core-based tests in the third through eighth grades.
The reaction to Tisch’s decision, and her work, was sharply varied. Karen Magee, president of New York State United Teachers, said that New York can now “move past an era that put far too much emphasis on standardized testing and, too often, dismissed the concerns of parents and educators.
“The mistaken direction in state education policy led to a serious erosion of trust and confidence,” Magee added.
A group whose members include community groups, charter schools and business organizations, such as the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, took a different tack. High Achievement New York said the education system under Tisch has already made significant changes to the Common Core standards and assessments, such as reducing the amount of classroom time students spend taking tests. “Merryl Tisch has always made the future of New York’s children her top priority by demonstrating a steadfast commitment to higher standards even in the face of opposition that often resorted to personal attacks over substantive debate,” the group said after Tisch’s announcement.
Tisch, a former first-grade teacher who is part of a prominent and wealthy New York City family, was praised by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Education Committee Chairwoman Catherine Nolan.
Heastie and Nolan, in a joint statement, said Tisch had “prioritized equitable funding” for the state’s poorest school districts, and has been “a principled leader who stood up for New York’s struggling schools and (has been) a tireless advocate for higher standards that better prepare our children for future achievement.”
The Assembly Democrats, given their numbers compared to Republicans, control the selection process for the Regents.