State Education Chancellor Defends Teacher and School Evaluations

November 22, 2013 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—Merryl Tisch, chancellor of New York State Board of Regents, defended current evaluations of teachers and schools, speaking at an event organized by Philanthropy New York on Nov. 21.

The evaluations include holding teachers accountable for their students’ performance on tests aligned to Common Core standards for ensuring college readiness.

The state adopted both Common Core and the evaluations in exchange for money from a federal grant program called Race to the Top.

Tisch was worried the new administration, starting in New York City this January, might dramatically change the playing field.

“When you change the administration, you don’t want [to throw the] baby out with the bathwater,” she said. “We cannot have the implementation of Common Core that is isolated from an accountability system.”

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio supports Common Core, but criticized judging teachers on students’ Common Core test-results while teachers are still learning the standards. “It’s not the fault of the teachers. They haven’t been given what they need to succeed, and they’ve been under attack the whole time,” said de Blasio, according to a Nov. 8 Washington Post article.

The city’s teachers union, United Federation of Teachers, shadows that position. But it is not clear what exactly de Blasio wants to do about the teachers’ evaluations, as they are mandated by the state.

He could nix the school evaluations though. One of the major points of de Blasio’s campaign was to abolish the current A–F grading system for schools—the basis for holding schools accountable under mayor Bloomberg, who would close schools that were rated “F” two years in a row.

Offering Suggestions

The event was put together by major New York City philanthropies, including the Ford Foundation and the Altman Foundation, to offer suggestions to the new mayor’s education plan. It included a panel discussion moderated by David Steiner, dean of Hunter College School of Education and former city’s school chancellor.

One of the panelists was Shael Polakow-Suransky, deputy education chancellor of the New York department of education. He defended the letter grading of schools, saying it identifies failing schools, which receive “robust” amount of support and are shut down only after that fails. He acknowledged though they need to make the grade report cards more lucid.

The de Blasio campaign website says the grade reports would still be available. But they wouldn’t be used to close schools. In fact, he announced no schools would be closed until a new or revamped evaluation system is put in place.

Another panelist, parent leader Ocynthia Williams of the Coalition for Educational Justice, recognized Common Core as the way to go, but she would push the accountability up, rather than down, saying it “has to start on the central [level]”— something she said was missing with the current administration.

Garth Harries, superintendent of New Haven public schools, saw the problem in the way the administration communicated the changes to the schools and parents. He managed to raise graduation rate in his district by eight percent in the last four years, partly thanks to a concept of “no-fault problem solving,” meaning focusing on solutions, rather than looking for the guilty. He said he saw a lot of blaming on all sides in the city.

Pedro Noguera, professor of sociology at New York University, would agree. He said he never heard “honest communication about the ongoing challenges” from the mayor. “We’ve got to change the narrative,” he said. “’We made progress, but we have a long way to go.’”

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