Q&A

In their search for Tisch’s replacement, lawmakers ask, Did you teach?

Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly education committee.

Asher Mansdorf is the son of an immigrant restaurant worker, attended New York City public schools, and today serves on a Long Island school board.

But his bid to join the state’s education policymaking body could hit a road block: He’s a dentist.

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On Wednesday, legislators vetting candidates for the Board of Regents seat that Chancellor Merryl Tisch will vacate in March paid careful attention to whether applicants were current or former educators. During the interviews, non-teachers were asked if their occupations posed a disadvantage, and at least one former teacher was pressed to explain exactly how many years he spent in the classroom.

“Do you think not having the experience in the classroom has helped or puts you at a disadvantage?” Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder asked Mansdorf. He repeated a version of the same question to Regent candidates throughout the day.

It’s unsurprising that legislators would ask candidates, who could soon help oversee the state’s K-12 and higher education systems, if they have classroom experience. But the special emphasis reflects legislators’ concern about the recent backlash in much of the state against state testing, teacher evaluations, and the rollout of the Common Core standards.

With the future of those standards and the state’s future teacher evaluation system now in the hands of the Regents, lawmakers appeared eager to find candidates with experience working with parents and teachers.

“It helps to have people who have been in the classroom who have that perspective,” said David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.

If the legislature selects another educator, it will continue a trend started last year. Three of the four new Regents chosen last spring were former district superintendents. The board, which has also drawn members from fields like medicine and business, now has six career educators among its 17 members.

Those new Regents have been part of a shift away from Race to the Top-era policies, including teacher evaluations tied to state test scores. All four of the newest Regents signed a letter last year opposing a teacher evaluation law that increased the weight given to state test scores.

Some of the educators interviewed Wednesday appeared to share that philosophy.

Carol Mikoda, a former English teacher in Windsor, New York, told legislators that state test scores should count for “zero percent” of a teacher’s evaluation until changes are made.

“I would not want to base anyone’s evaluations on a flawed instrument,” Mikoda said. Mikoda has been endorsed by New York State Allies for Public Education, the group that has encouraged the statewide movement to opt out of state tests.

After one candidate discussed how test scores could be used in teacher evaluations to indicate how educators could improve teaching certain concepts, at least one lawmakers indicated that he was looking more specifically for someone who rejected the usefulness of test scores altogether.

“Kids are more than numbers,” Assemblyman Al Graf from Long Island burst out. “Kids are more than statistics.”

The opt-out movement also came up directly Wednesday. Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel asked applicant David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Grad Center, if there was a way to bring opt-out parents back into the fold.

Bloomfield said yes, by making changes to the tests themselves.

“The opt-out parents don’t want to be opting out,” he said. “They feel driven to that.”

The legislature will select two new Regents in a joint session on March 8.

As for Mandorf, the Long Island school board member, he’s hoping that lawmakers consider more than the fact that he’s never been a teacher.

“I’m certainly not going to say it puts me at a disadvantage,” Mansdorf quipped. “I might as well as say goodbye and leave.”

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.