It doesn’t augur well for excellence when the new chancellor of the state Board of Regents all but encourages parents to opt out of state assessments. It doesn’t even augur well for orderliness.
Betty A. Rosa stopped just short of advocating educational disorder, but it doesn’t take a high school graduate to understand what she means when she said to reporters: “If I was a parent, and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time, yes.”
Rosa, who may or may not be a shill for the state teachers unions, was the unanimous choice of the Regents to succeed former Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch. The difference could hardly be more stark. Tisch was a passionate advocate for high standards and the tests that are necessary to measure them. Rosa professes to be interested in “equity and social justice,” which are important concepts, to be sure, but empty ones if they don’t help children of all descriptions to succeed in an ever-more competitive world.
It seems plain that Rosa and the Board of Regents as a whole are backing away from high expectations of New York students. If there is a glimmer of hope, it may be in another comment by Rosa, who allowed that, “We have to rebuild a sense of confidence. We have to rebuild a sense that we’re in this together, that this is not about ‘we have the answers and you have to challenge [them].’ ”
That, indeed, is how Rosa’s performance should be evaluated. It’s not enough for her simply to sanction mass desertion of state tests. Indeed, it’s an irresponsible position for one of the state’s leading education officials to take.
She needs to rebuild that confidence, not only in the content of tests – which have demonstrably improved, but could probably be made better – but in the fundamental importance of fair and accurate evaluations. How else will parents and teachers know how well their students are learning? How else will taxpayers, who pay through the nose for education in New York, know if schools and teachers are performing as well as they need to be?
The question is what Rosa plans to do to accomplish that. With her fingerprints all over the opt-out movement, she now needs to put them on the solutions to the problems she sees – solutions based on an expectation that students and teachers must perform at high levels, and that parents must perform their roles better, too.
If the state, including the Regents and State Education Department, helped bring about these problems by introducing the Common Core Learning Standards and teacher evaluations too hastily – and they did – then Rosa has to take on the task of accounting for those missteps. But she can no more abandon those essential programs than a teacher can abandon teaching the multiplication tables to unprepared students. The need remains.
What is necessary is to retrench, recalibrate and renew the effort in a way that overcomes the resistance of parents who have either bought into the overblown complaints of the teachers unions or who feared new ways of teaching old concepts. But education cannot remain static. Just as new medical technologies and techniques improve on old ones, the work of educating the state’s children must be subject to improvements.
As a former school superintendent in the Bronx, it is fair to presume Rosa wants to see that children are educated and that she understands a lot about how that works. It remains to be seen, though, if she is interested in ensuring that the bar is raised high enough that children are challenged to do their best and that teachers are prepared to help them succeed at it.
New Yorkers have to hope there will be more to her chancellorship than endorsing resistance.