all before 9 a.m.

Tisch fans rumors of mayoral bid, calls test errors "inexcusable"

Teachers from New Rochelle wore custom shirts designed to mock a state test question to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch's breakfast talk today.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch fanned interest in a possible mayoral bid by refusing to deny her interest in the position at a breakfast hosted by Crain’s New York today.

Crain’s NY editor Erik Engquist’s first question for Tisch was about the persistent rumors, first aired last fall, that she might be considering running to succeed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Everything I have to say on that subject I think I’ve already said,” Tisch told Engquist.

What Tisch has said in the past hasn’t been entirely consistent. When GothamSchools broke the news about the mayoral murmurings in October, Tisch told us, “I am absolutely, positively not going to run.” But appearing on Inside City Hall the next month, she was less definitive.

“I have an obligation that I am fulfilling right now and I am very happy in my work,” she said. “And I know there is a really crowded field out there of very eager people and I am sure they will emerge and one of them will serve the city very well.”

Host Errol Louis pointed out that Tisch hadn’t actually said she wasn’t considering running. “I’ll take that as a ‘I’m thinking about it,'” he said. She answered, “That’s what you said.”

A mayoral bid appears unlikely — but is by no means impossible — with the campaign in official kickoff mode and six Democrats angling for the nomination. But allowing the rumors to persist could work to Tisch’s advantage as she works to advance the Regents’ agenda even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo works to advance his own similar but not identical agenda.

For example, the Board of Regents added passing the DREAM Act, legislation that would give children brought to the country illegally by their parents access to financial aid for state universities, to its legislative agenda this year. Tisch today urged audience members to press lawmakers to pass the bill — but so far Cuomo has stayed mum on the topic.

Tisch was more forthcoming today when offering advice for the city’s next mayor, saying, “I would say to anyone who runs for mayor that the education system is something that they’d better know inside out — first of all because it is the heart of economic development for this city, second of all because a huge part of the city budget goes towards it, and third of all because the public is paying attention to education and its outcomes as never before in our history. Study up, guys.”

Tisch was also forthcoming when discussing problems with this year’s state tests, which she called “inexcusable.” The criticism started over a seemingly nonsensical and ultimately spiked story on the seventh-grade reading exam — referenced on the t-shirts of some teachers who attended today’s breakfast — and have picked up steam in the weeks since the tests ended. The latest mistakes to be revealed are more than 20 translation errors on foreign language versions of the exams that made some questions unanswerable.

“The psychometricians have assured us that the reliability and validity of the exams … is not contaminated by these errors,” she said. “What does drive my anxiety is [test-maker Pearson’s] ability to deliver on the contract. The mistakes that have been revealed are really disturbing. I don’t think children should sit in an exam and be confused about the exam. I think testing needs to be as straightforward as possible.”

Tisch said she has warned Pearson officials to consider how this year’s exam snafus have eroded the general public’s confidence in the tests at a critical time.

“I would suggest to Pearson that they take this very seriously, because next year we are moving to the Common Core standards and those tests are going to be harder still,” she said. “What happens here as a result of these mistakes is that it makes the public at large question the efficacy of the state testing system.”

Changes to the tests that are on the way should restore some of that confidence, Tisch said, and she suggested that Pearson speed up the test scoring to counter objections to the state’s testing program.

“The purpose of these tests is not to play gotcha with school districts. The purpose of these tests is to inform instruction,” she said. “If we can’t get the results back to districts in a time frame in which they can actually use these measures to inform instruction, then you’re just testing for the sake of testing, or for some federal accountability system.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.