The contest to head New York’s Board of Regents and lead a new era of state education policy is heating up.

Regent Betty Rosa from the Bronx said she wants the job, while Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island said he is not actively campaigning, but would like the position. Lester Young, a Regent from Brooklyn who has been at the forefront of an effort to improve education for young men of color, has also been floated as a potential candidate.

How does this process work?

  • The 17 Regents will select the next chancellor from amongst themselves.
  • They typically pick a new leader in March, though some Regents would like to see the vote pushed to April. That would allow the vote to include the two new Regents who will take over for Tisch and Vice Chancellor Anthony Bottar, who is also stepping down.
  • Those seats will be filled by the legislature. Some have indicated that David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Grad Center and frequent commentator on city and state education policy, is interested in an open seat. Bloomfield declined to comment.

Together, they represent the directions the state’s education policymaking board could take after Chancellor Merryl Tisch steps down in March after six years of leadership — a period that saw sweeping changes to the way students learn and teachers are evaluated.

The new chancellor will wield considerable influence over a reboot of the Common Core learning standards, a changing teacher evaluation system, and the way officials intervene at the state’s poorest-performing schools. The growing public backlash against standardized tests helped push new members onto the board last year who want to see many Race to the Top-era policies edited or rolled back.

But exactly how far the state strays from Tisch’s vision will be influenced by the group’s new leader, who will have to win the support of at least some colleagues eager to push the board in a new direction.

“The policy direction has been set. It’s just a matter of who’s going to be the lead person to implement that,” said David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association. But, he added, “Could we get a chancellor who’s very aggressively pursuing action above what the task force recommended? Certainly that’s possible.”

Betty Rosa
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At the moment, former Bronx superintendent Betty Rosa is the only Regent actively seeking the chancellorship. Compared to Young and Tilles, she is the loudest critic of Tisch’s policies and would represent the most radical shift in leadership.

Her policy priorities include encouraging the education department to find alternative graduation pathways for students who struggle to pass five Regents exams. As chancellor, Rosa said she would also support developing alternative assessments, which state officials have said they might explore in place of traditional state standardized tests.

She’s also been in touch with the zeitgeist as public opinion of state tests and the current teacher evaluation system fell sharply.

Rosa was one of seven Regents who signed a position paper last year opposing the state’s teacher evaluation law. Last summer, she also voted to make it easier for school districts to delay overhauling their evaluation systems. The vote was taken at a charged meeting in June in which some Regents, charged with implementing the evaluation law, invoked the civil rights movement as they discussed when it was appropriate to break it.

“She’s been the dissenter for a long time,” said Lisa Rudley, a founding member of the New York State Allies for Public Education, which organized a mass boycott of state tests last year and recently endorsed Rosa for chancellor. “And actually she was right.”

That endorsement raises questions about whether Rosa could straddle the line between responding to parent concerns and overseeing the state education department, which administers the state tests that still underpin the state’s school accountability system.

For her part, Rosa said the endorsement simply shows that she’s attuned to parents’ concerns.

“I think their endorsement to me personally is saying, we know that you understand what’s going on,” she said.

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Roger Tilles

Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island offers more compromise.

Tilles, who says he is “not actively seeking” the chancellorship but would accept the position if it’s offered, sometimes voted for Tisch-era policies and sometimes dissented.

In 2011, he was one of three members of the board, along with Betty Rosa and Regent Kathleen Cashin, to oppose a measure that allowed districts to increase the weight of standardized tests in teacher evaluations.

“While any teacher evaluation system must include a measure of growth of student learning over time, a snapshot of a student’s skills, understanding and content knowledge doesn’t give a true picture of a teacher’s performance,” he wrote in a 2011 Newsday op-ed.

But his dissent had limits. Last June, he was not one of the seven Regents who signed a position paper opposing the new state law that increased the weight of state test scores in teacher evaluations. (He says he went on to vote for the evaluation changes to ensure districts received needed state funds.)

He voted against Tisch last December in favor of a moratorium on the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations. Tisch was the only dissenting vote.

Tilles, a former real estate developer who has served on the board since 2005, has other education policymaking experience. He has served on the Michigan State Board of Education and as the chair of Long Island University’s board of trustees. When Tisch announced her plans to resign, a three-term former Regent, Harry Phillips, offered an early endorsement of Tilles as the next chancellor.

Tilles has recently advocated for alternative graduation pathways for students with disabilities and co-chaired a commission seeking to expand arts curriculum in the state.

Lester Young, Jr.
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Several advocates said that Regent Lester Young, another representative from New York City who champions struggling schools and students of color, may be seeking the position. But choosing Young would represent the least dramatic shift from Tisch-era policies.

Young is currently chairing the working group to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color, which unveiled a $50 million set of legislative budget requests to boost educational outcomes for young men. They included investing in teachers of color and in career and technical education.

The “uproar” around testing and standards is not representing students in urban schools, he said last year, as reported in the Democrat & Chronicle.

“When it was only the children in our urban communities that were struggling with state assessments, you didn’t hear a word,” he said. “No one said anything.”

Young has served on the board since 2008, and is the former superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 13. Like Tilles, he makes himself heard at Regents meetings, but isn’t a loud voice.

Young voted with Tisch on teacher evaluations both in 2011 and last June. He voted to approve a moratorium on using state tests in evaluations this December.