At a panel discussion Thursday about education policy in New York, Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the Board of Regents, called the court’s decision to invalidate elements of a recent Regents vote on teacher evaluations a “setback.” The day before, a New York State judge had ruled against the Regents’ new state education regulation, which would have allowed students’ test scores to be the only determinant in a teacher’s performance review.
The decision, by Justice Michael C. Lynch of State Supreme Court in Albany, offered a victory for the teachers union, which had challenged the Board of Regents’ interpretation of the new law, the New York Times reported.
Leo Casey, vice president of Academic High Schools for the city’s teachers union and one of the eight speakers at Thursday’s panel, agreed that teachers need to be accountable for their work. But he refuted the notion that success can be evaluated by students “filling out bubbles on a test, one day out of the year.”
Casey added that as the city and the union go into contract negotiations (the teachers’ contract expired nearly two years ago) they are going to “fight back against the narrowing of curriculum when state tests become the sole measure of student learning.”
Tisch insisted that testing would continue to be part of the system: “Pick your test…[but]standardized tests need to be part of the evaluation system.”
Other panelists attributed the recent cheating scandals, which have entrapped school systems across the nation, to the “Race to the Top” style of education reform that relies on high-stakes test scores to determine everything from teacher bonuses to school closings. Annual allegations of educators tampering with tests and changing grades have more than tripled since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took control of New York City’s school system, according to the New York Times.
The city’s Deputy Chancellor & Chief Academic Officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, claimed that only a small number of the alleged cheating cases have been substantiated.
Stephen Lazer, a Social Studies and English teacher in Brooklyn, said the city needs an alternative assessment model that puts “trust and autonomy” in the educators. Lazer said that, “we need to invest in our teachers” by providing comprehensive professional development and creating pathways for career development.
Lazer added, that current Regents exams are not accommodating towards students with special needs or second-language learners.
Parents and advocates pushed the panelists on other key issues, such as mayoral control and community involvement. Both of these issues have been big-ticket education news items, particularly this past winter when the city held a series of public hearings on its plan to close failing schools and increase the number of charter schools.
Joseph Viteritti, a public policy professor at Hunter College, said that parents do not have a voice in making policy changes. But he added that, the switch to Mayoral control during Bloomberg’s first term brought more attention and funding to education, City Hall News reported.
“There needs to be more input from other people,” Viteritti said. “Part of it is style, not structure. You have to respect the spirit of the law, and that hasn’t been there.”
Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of the Success Charter Network, also spoke on Thursday’s panel. This summer two judges ruled in favor of the Success Charter Network on two separate lawsuits — both sought to prevent the co-location of a charter school in an existing public school.
Across the city, schools are being asked to trim an average of 2.4 percent from their budgets. And with the first day of school just around the corner, there is little time to plan for the city’s latest decision to layoff nearly 800 public school workers.
Councilman Robert Jackson, who sits on the education committee, thought he had an easy solution for budget shortfalls: “Tax the millionaires,” he yelled out when the issue was raised.
Highlights from the panel discussion on the state of education in New York City hosted by City Hall News. Panelists included former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch, education policy experts, teachers and charter school professionals. Click here to watch the complete discussion.