Merryl Tisch to Leave N.Y. Regents After Busy, Polarizing Tenure

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 26, 2015 3 min read
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Merryl Tisch, the leader of the New York Board of Regents who oversaw the state’s transition to the Common Core State Standards, announced Monday that she will not seek another term on the board when her current one expires in March.

Tisch has served on the 17-member board, which is the state’s equivalent of a board of education, since 1996, and has led the group for the past six years. In addition to overseeing the state’s transition to the common core, which the state adopted in 2010, Tisch was also at the helm as the state (attempted, at least) to shift to new methods of evaluating teachers. And the state also created open-source academic materials aligned to the standards, under a project called EngageNY—those materials have won broad acclaim.

But Tisch, a former 1st grade teacher, also unleashed a torrent of political controversy during the state’s recent policy shifts. The backlash against the common core in New York has centered on the test, and has led to a robust opt-out movement that Tisch has struggled to tamp down. Despite several attempts to reach a cohesive compromise to teacher evaluations in the state, the process for evaluating teachers is still in flux.

And she’s also had to fight to maintain control over K-12 policy against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who wants a do-over for common core in the state. The man she helped pick to lead the state education department in 2011, John B. King Jr., was routinely and vigorously criticized by union officials and anti-testing advocates for ignoring concerns about assessments and inadequate support from his department—he left at the end of last year to become a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (King is now set to be acting secretary with Duncan’s upcoming departure.)

During her remarks announcing her upcoming departure, Tisch continued defending the policies that have polarized schools and policy leaders.

“We cannot back away from standards,” she said, according to Chalkbeat New York. “We cannot back away from assessments that give us an accurate measure of student performance and that informs instruction and curriculum. We cannot back away from the idea that a system like the one that we had for generations where the only way to evaluate a teacher was to rate them satisfactory or unsatisfactory and where almost everyone was always satisfactory can be tolerated as best practice.”

UPDATED: In an event at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington Thursday, Tisch fleshed out her views on her tenure in New York, particularly the last few years.

She spent a decent chunk of time defending EngageNY, saying that asking teachers to develop common-core curriculum materials on their own would have been unfair.

EngageNY is “deeply under-appreciated in New York state because [it] got caught up in the politics of reform,” Tisch said. “But across the country there are millions of teachers using the curriculum.”

And she waded into teacher evaluation, arguing that those who fought against evaluation in New York often made the bar for a successful evaluation system unrealistic. At the same time, she said she was “horrified” by some of the language used that she said unfairly demonized teachers. Ultimately, making student test scores 20 percent of the evaluations is the right approach.

“When we started, evaluation of teachers was part of a three-legged stool. The reason we included performance was I couldn’t look you in the eye and say, do you honestly believe you can evaluate a teacher without looking at how students are doing on an objective measure?” Tisch said. “The answer when I ask myself that question is, absolutely not. [The] fight is over how much of that measure we use.”

Photo: Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch speaks during a meeting last year, in Albany, N.Y. Tisch announced Oct. 26 that she will step down from the Board of Regents next March. Mike Groll/AP-File

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.