Examining The State Of Our Schools

Encore: January 04, 2016

After you complete high school, you’re often expected to go on to higher education. But here in the city, the state’s top education official says many graduates are struggling to even complete a two-year college program.

“In New York City, when students graduate from high school, 75 percent of them need to be re-mediated to enter a two-year college program,” said New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

And even six years later, less than a quarter of these students manage to earn their two-year degree, setting them up for failure, she said.

“So what do they have after six years in a two-year college? They have debt, they have absolutely no capacity to earn a living because the jobs that they would have been qualified to do 10 years ago have disappeared from the economy,” Tisch told MetroFocus Host Rafael Pi Roman.

To fix this and better prepare students for the 21st-century economy, education leaders from across the country developed new teaching standards known as Common Core. The changes have not been well-received, especially in New York. Tisch, who has overseen the implementation of Common Core as Board of Regents chancellor for the last six years, admits there were some missteps in rolling out the program but insists the reforms are crucial to a student’s success in and out of the classroom.

“They ask students not to learn from rote, but to learn from meaning and to learn from their ability to interpret and use information that we need to use in a daily life,” she said. “And so they are just a set of standards that were adopted by 48 states knowing that we are a group in motion, that children are sometimes born in New York but move to New Jersey or Connecticut or out to Oregon. And the ability to have a set of standards that are national benchmarks for what our students should know, I think was really the driving impetus behind all of this, rather than have all 50 states have their own standards,” she said.

Tisch, a former school teacher who joined the Board in 1996, admits however that some of the criticism is valid. Some complaints about Common Core came from teachers because the standards were linked to a new instructor evaluation process.

“And I think it was the intra-marriage between the adoption of Common Core standards and the attempt to set up a method to evaluate teachers simultaneously that created enormous drama around the country, she added.

Tisch says identifying the best practices to identify effective teachers will still be a challenge going forward, but in retrospect, she says it would have been better if the Common Core standards were implemented first and then later followed by the instructor review process.

“I think that would’ve been preferable,” she said. “But remember public education should have a sense of urgency. Our future and our children depend on it, and for many, many years it has been apparent that the results in our schools have been not what we would hope for, and therefore the urgency, I think…created the simultaneous implementation.”

Additionally, many parents claim the new standards put too much emphasis on testing for which kids aren’t properly prepared. An anti-examination campaign actually ballooned across the state last year, leading many children to opt-out of standardized assessments based on the Common Core standards. In August, The New York Times reported 20 percent of New York’s eligible students opted not to take the state tests.

Tisch says the testing isn’t arbitrary, and serves an important purpose to identify crucial skills that incoming teachers need and highlight in what areas students’ need further instruction.

“I believe the reason you use assessments is to inform instruction,” she said. “So the assessment tells you what it is your students need to know, what pieces they’re missing.”

Still, Tisch says if she could do one thing over, she wished she had “communicated better with parents” about the need for reform. She believes many would agree with Common Core’s goals if they had a thorough understanding of how they work.

“When you explain what Common Core is and you say ‘Do you want your child to be able to interpret information? Do you want your child to be able to read from meaning?’ Every parent says yes, but it has been so misinterpreted in public space because of the politics around its implementation that we’re losing the forest through the trees and that would be tragic,” she said.

Tisch announced late last year that this will be her last term as chancellor. She will step down in March.

MORE: The Details On Common Core

Tisch and her husband James are supporters of WNET.

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