more of the same change

What Tisch’s departure will, and won’t, mean for New York education debates

To editorial writers at the New York Daily News, Tisch leaving is “a perilous setback.” To the more optimistic state teachers union, it’s a chance to forge “a new direction in education policy.”

“Clearly everything is beginning to shift,” said Jeannette Deutermann, a co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, a parent group leading the state’s growing movement to boycott state tests. “The key question is whether it will shift enough to satisfy parents and education activists.”

Deutermann’s view isn’t the only one. But the imminent departure of Merryl Tisch, who became chancellor in 2009 and moved swiftly to establish new student learning standards and overhaul the ways teachers get certified and evaluated, has raised alarm bells for both supporters and critics of Tisch’s tenure.

Their question is, will her aggressive policy agenda survive the transition? And where does this leave New York’s education debates?

This week, both sides acknowledged that her exit in five months poses some threat to policies Tisch implemented, like teacher evaluations linked to student test scores and New York’s adoption of the Common Core. But current and former education officials said that momentum and the state’s political dynamics would ensure that the most important elements of their policies would endure.

“I see this less as an end of an era and more as a phase two,” said Kristen Huff, New York’s testing czar during much of Tisch’s tenure.

For one thing, they say, it would be hard to change some things back.

“A lot of the stuff is enshrined in statute,” said Julia Rafal-Baer, a former assistant commissioner for the State Education Department.

The most obvious example is the state’s teacher evaluation law, which has been heavily debated since it was first passed in 2010. But five years and several edits later, the law’s main components — particularly that student performance be a significant factor in evaluations — have not been watered down.

That teacher evaluation law helped spark anti-testing backlash that officials in the post-Tisch era will have to deal with. When she leaves in March, students will be about to take state exams, which one in five eligible students opted out of in 2015.

Still, two of state government’s most powerful officials — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan — tend to align with Tisch’s agenda.

It’s also significant that Tisch was able to lead the search for a new state education commissioner this year. Her choice, MaryEllen Elia, is aligned with Tisch on key issues like the importance of the Common Core standards.

Elia is also taking steps to address the concerns about an over-emphasis on testing. She is planning to review the “growth” methodology through which student test scores factor into teacher evaluations, and announced plans to develop a new set of state assessments.

Deutermann said her group won’t be satisfied until state test scores are completely removed as a factor in a teacher’s rating — a change that Elia has not committed to.

Others familiar with the political dynamics on the Regents said that big changes were, in fact, likely, but that they might not take place until well after Tisch departs.

Most of the 17-member Board of Regents are still considered allies of Tisch. That could change in 2017, when three — James Tallon, Andrew Brown and Charles Bendit — will see their terms end. Harry Phillips, a former Regent, said that could tip the balance more in favor of a group of seven dissident Regents who vote in a bloc.

“Then it will be a totally new ball game,” Phillips said.

Still, former education commissioner David Steiner said Tisch’s effects on the tenor of education policy debates will be lasting.

State test scores soared in the second half of the 2000s, reaching nearly 80 percent proficiency in English and 86 percent proficiency in math. But student performance according to other measures, like on national English and math exams and on college-readiness metrics, told a far more dismal tale.

One of Steiner’s first moves as commissioner, with Tisch providing political cover, was to show how inflated those numbers were and recalibrate the tests to reflect higher passing standards. Steiner said Tisch’s insistence that the Regents focus on those achievement numbers changed the conversation in important ways.

“Successors will no doubt take up such issues as testing and teacher evaluations and move them in different directions, but the landscape and basic assumptions have been deeply altered,” Steiner said.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.