making friends

As opt-out debates continue, state’s top education officials work to stay united

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia visited the School of Diplomacy in the Bronx in 2015.

New York state’s top two education leaders are on the same page. They promise.

One day after Regents Chancellor-elect Betty Rosa made waves by saying she would opt her own child out of state tests, the state’s education commissioner told regional superintendents that the two had had a “productive conversation” about assessments in an email outlining their “shared view” on state tests.

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s message indicates her desire to reassure educators that the state’s top education officials are united in their quest to revamp state assessments, which one in five eligible students opted out of last year. Meanwhile, Rosa said in a radio interview that she is on board with how Elia has publicized new changes to those tests.

“It’s not a surprise to anybody that the commissioner and the department would want to refocus people’s attention,” said Jay Worona, the deputy executive director for the state’s School Boards Association.

Worona thinks the two women are more unified on test policy than the headlines from Monday’s press conference have lead people to believe. But Elia has said it is “unethical” for educators to encourage the testing boycott — though Rosa seemed to endorse the impulse earlier this week.

Elia has also been on a campaign to inspire test-taking. She often emphasizes changes the department has made to the tests in the last year, including giving students unlimited time to complete the exams and shortening them altogether.

Rosa refused to say she wanted to see the number of opt-outs decrease, but complimented Elia’s work during a radio interview this week.

“I think that this commissioner, in a short period of time, has done an incredible job,” Rosa said to WCNY’s Susan Arbetter.

The Board of Regents oversees the state education department, which means Rosa and Elia will have to work closely to overhaul the state’s learning standards and assessments. In her email, Elia said she and Rosa agree they must continue to ensure that assessments accurately measure student learning and make sure the tests are not too long or too stressful.

It also reflects a note of compromise. Elia gives a nod to parents’ right to have their children boycott the tests, but in the same breath outlines the changes that the state education department has already made.

“The decision of whether a student should take the State assessments is ultimately for that student’s parent or parents to make. But in making that decision, we want to be certain that everyone has all of the information they need to make an informed decision,” the email reads.

The email was sent to BOCES district superintendents, who sometimes act as liaisons between the state education department and school districts. Many of those officials shared the information with other superintendents and principals, state officials said.

It remains to be seen whether opt-out organizers, who have endorsed and celebrated Rosa, will continue to support her if she remains satisfied with the commissioner’s positions. They have already dismissed Elia’s testing changes as meaningless tweaks.

But so far, neither their disdain for Elia nor their confidence in Rosa has diminished.

“Under Dr. Rosa’s leadership, Commissioner Elia has an excellent opportunity to regain the trust of both parents and educators,” Bianca Tanis, an elementary school special education teacher and co-founder of the New York State Allies for Public Education, wrote in an email.

Rosa will also have to work with the city’s schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, who said earlier this year she is “not a fan” of opt-out. Education department officials said that Fariña has been in touch with both Elia and Rosa since Rosa’s election, and that the city schools chancellor looks forward to working with them in the future.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”