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merryl tisch

On The Postponement of Common Core Accountability

by Jose Vilson on February 11, 2014

in Jose

On Monday, New York State found out that its Board of Regents, the governing body for education policy in NYS, decided to postpone accountability measures for teachers and schools in all of New York State, paving the way for educators to get their Common Core ducks in a row. The five-year postponement came at the recommendation of Regent Merryl Tisch, who said,

This report is designed to make significant and timely changes to improve our shared goal of implementing the Common Core. We have heard strong support for higher standards, but we have also heard a desire for more time. The Regents work group put together a series of strong adjustments that will help improve implementation without sacrificing the high standards we’ve set for our students. These changes will help give principals, teachers, parents and students the time to adjust to the new standards without stopping our progress toward the goal we all share: college and career readiness for every student.

Of course, what I failed to include was the part where she (and NY State Commissioner John B. King) mentioned that they listened to the concerned parents and educators yadda yadda yadda. Because, until now, people thought direct protests, letter writing, and meeting interruptions wouldn’t actually make anything happen. To the contrary, this proves that all the interruptions en masse can affect change.

For moderates who prefer not to rock the boat too much, they think, by making logical arguments and talking about things over tea, we can come to a peaceful agreement, and that those in power will somehow relinquish it since they’ll have “seen the light.”As if good graces were enough to shift the locomotive of the CCSS implementation.


We needed a plethora of methods for dissent in order to push back against such powerful reformers. The advocacy, the protests, the social media knocking, the letters to our elected officials, and the changing of the guard in NYC all came from a movement from people. Obviously, the work continues as we need to hold elected officials accountable, but, from my purview, it seems that this was a solid victory in the way of true reform.

Now, if I don’t get all the way through my curriculum, I won’t be too worried. I think I can teach much better this way.



Chancellor Dennis Walcott Visits School of the Future

To Chancellor Dennis Walcott, David Coleman, Merryl Tisch, and McGraw-Hill Publishers:

First, I’ll mention that, since the discussions of the Common Core Learning Standards came to the fore, I’ve had a plethora of chances to immerse myself in the new vision for a quasi-nationalized education paradigm. In NYC, as usual, education policy makers feel the need to set the standard for the nation, from Bloomberg’s mayoral control dictates to the plethora of interim, field-testing, and high-stakes standardized assessments from third grade onwards. On the surface, one might think I’m at the forefront of the work done around the Common Core.

Yet, my earlier concern about the chaotic approach to transforming education via the Common Core concerns me still.

We can obviously start with Dr. Diane Ravitch’s contention that we haven’t actually field-tested whether the standards would actually get our students “college and career ready.” From a teacher’s perspective, I’d like to get more focused, coherent, and yes, rigorous about my argument.

We can talk all day about these standards and the three tenets of focus, coherence, and rigor, but without the means to make pedagogy more viable and focused on the whole child, we miss out on yet another opportunity to do something important: growing better people.

For instance, yesterday and today, New York City elementary and middle school children had to take an English-Language Arts and Math test (respectively) as part of the NYC Benchmark Assessments, with the assumption that these tests will give stakeholders a chance to see how much students learned in the past few months.

After a careful glance of the material along with conversations with students and teachers, these assessments seem to do more to assess what students don’t know than anything else.

If the intent is to help teachers, principals, and others get a feel for the tests in April / May, then why not let these parties into the assessment process rather than excluding them? If the intent is to show growth from today to the tests, then why give a test where you know the majority of students haven’t even covered all of this material? If the intent is to signal to everyone that they must raise their expectations, then why must we let them down so frequently with our lack of clarity?

From people I’ve spoken to throughout the city, we’ve had almost three re-arrangement in priorities in the last five months. At first, people thought we would have to address both New York State and Common Core Standards, specifically because the Common Core in New York State’s eyes was a draft. Then, people thought we would teach according to the first testing schedule given sometime in late August / early September.

For eight grade teachers, that meant we would teach exponents first. Sometime last week, however, the state sends out a document shifting priorities on topics again, giving some topics greater emphasis over others after almost three months of teaching.

We’re almost begging for schools to fail.

Even when schools had a clear roadmap like in the state of Kentucky, schools still dipped by as much as 35% in scores, and for good reason. Anyone familiar with the standards already sees the forestand the trees.

But we continue to perpetuate the myth that higher accountability will improve schools, no matter what the cost. After today’s interim assessment, I am convinced that, if we cannot make our school system more focused on children and their communities’ needs, we will continue to fail them, with or without a state test.

We can do better.

I’m not angry; I’m simply seeking answers. While I don’t speak for all teachers, I do speak because of them, and a plethora of other concerned citizens. Hope to hear from you soon.


Jose Vilson


New York's City Hall

Amazing that, in the midst of getting ready for school, I had enough time to get in an important policy panel today. Before it started, there was already lots of controversy, primarily with the preliminary list lacking teachers of any variety. Eventually, rumor had it that education professor Diane Ravitch declined her invitation to the panel because of the lack of teacher voice. After including Leo Casey and Stephen Lazar, there was further discussion about Educators for Excellence’s Sydney Morris’ presence, drawing attention to what many of us feel is a right-of-center lean for Gotham Schools. Others saw the panel as a way for City Hall News to put themselves at the center of the debate for NYC education. As for me, I came in hoping not to say a word, as I’ve probably said far too much this summer and didn’t get to listen enough.

Full disclosure: Stephen Lazar himself invited me as his guest to the panel yesterday.

These were some of my big takeaways from the panel. I didn’t put them in any particular time order. That’s why I blog and not “report.”:

1. Every time I think I know enough of the “important” people in education, I see a whole new set of people I didn’t consider in this conversation. Out of the 60-80 people who went, I probably knew eight on some level besides the panelists. NYC has its own set of politics that isolates New York from the rest of the state and the country in ways they’re probably aware of.

2. Only one of the panelists (former Comptroller / President of NYC Board of Education and probable mayoral candidate Bill Thompson) was of color. No Asians, Latinos, or indigenous people were included in the panel otherwise. To wit, when Thompson walked into the building at the same time I did, they either didn’t know who he was or thought I was part of his entourage. Was it that I was well dressed? -ahem-

3. Despite the balanced panel of divergent thinkers on education, the audience appreciated UFT VP of Academic High Schools Leo Casey (who got the first round of applause), teacher Stephen Lazar (who got the second round of applause), and chancellor of the NY State Board of Regents Merryl Tisch (who got the third round of applause). Leo’s round of applause came from acknowledging and proffering that teaching is itself a difficult job, so we need to respect that. Stephen got his from saying that teachers don’t get that trust and respect as professionals when some of the state oversights indicate that they can’t re-check state tests, for example. Merryl Tisch said, in response to Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky, that just because students are graduating at higher rates doesn’t make them readier for college. They’re more in need of remediation, and going to two-year colleges to finally get ready for college. Speaking of which …

4. A couple of people commented to me in private that some of these politicians were really liberals at heart, to which I responded that it’s important to look at their actions. Merryl Tisch, for instance, said some really awesome things today about concentrating on core curricula as the center for the classroom and not an assessment. Yet, the teacher evaluation model the Board of Regents has proposed (and was eventually struck down by the courts yesterday) indicated a lack of continuity on that ideal. How do we bridge that gap between ideals and action?

5. I believe Sydney Morris got one question directed to her throughout the panel, and she probably participated four times in the panel, much fewer than Stephen, and far less than everyone else. The panel was politics driven, with Bill and Shael debating and Merryl commenting passionately as well.

6. CEO of Success Charter Network Eva Moskowitz mentioned that the politics in education is formidable, and she thought that she left politics to get into education. I questioned under my breath whether she realizes that her skills as a politician enabled her to move her agenda in a neighborhood like Harlem. She also clumsily walked away from Leo Casey’s argument that privatization is ruining public education as a public good. She had one good thing to say today around making principals into instructional leaders in her schools. I just wonder what might come of some of the coverage around teacher and principal attrition at her schools. Then again, she left before people could ask questions of her, indicative of what people see as an aloofness on her part.

7. Shael Suransky assured the moderators about the oversights that NYC has for its tests, and went through an extensive list of procedures. Bill Thompson discussed the extensive audit his office did during his time as comptroller and agreed in general with Shael’s assessment. He also added that NYC needs to be careful that, in times of high stakes testing like now, there still are some gaps in these procedures. To that end, he said, NYC can’t have enough assurances to make sure that what happened in other major cities doesn’t happen here.

8. The sitting professor on the panel, Hunter College public policy professor Joseph Viteritti, did a great job of bringing context around mayoral control. He essentially said that those checks that intended to democratize mayoral control haven’t worked. “It remains to be seen” whether mayoral control has actually worked as a whole. He also questioned the extensive use of non-educators to run the largest school system in the nation. He dropped the Cathleen Black bomb (thank you), and then said, “By the time Dennis Walcott became chancellor, it was fortuitous that, while he wasn’t an educator, he had already been in the education business long enough to know the business.” Insightful.

9. One of the moderators posed the question about getting a new contract for teachers. Shael thought there would be a chance under Bloomberg so long as all parties came to the table with the same understandings. He also wondered how much anyone could really ask for in these times of economic crisis. Bill thought there’d be no chance because of Bloomberg’s attitude towards municipal workers as a whole. Plus, Bill points out the elephant in the room: union leaders feel with Bloomberg that they’d rather wait for the “next guy.” As Shael and Bill debated, Bill retorted that the current administration’s stance has taken on a flavor of “us vs. them” that wouldn’t allow for mutual respect between parties in good faith to negotiate contract. Merryl shifted the question towards finance, essentially saying that, for all the raises that have happened in teacher salaries, student achievement hasn’t changed much.

10. Overall, the panel felt informative and nuanced. I’m sure WNET, Gotham Schools, and City Hall News will have more on this. I appreciated being there if only to see the perspectives of elected officials and powerful individuals talk about their vision for education. I ignored the first icebreaker question (“What is the purpose of public education?”) because of the generic answers there.

11. While other outlets will certainly pick apart the arguments made by Thompson, Suransky, Tisch, and Moskowitz for stories, I must say I enjoyed Leo Casey’s voice. He sounded confident, calm, and on message. He tailored the message to people who didn’t get why so many of us are angry, and that’s what we needed.

12. Overall, I also must give props to the guy who invited me, Stephen Lazar. Not only did he prove that teacher voice mattered, he probably got some of the biggest reactions from the audience and the panel, an otherwise respectful and still set of individuals. When asked about retaining the best and brightest teachers, Stephen Lazar said that he would never say he doesn’t want more money, but the best way to reward the best and brightest teachers is by giving them autonomy and respect. If he can prove, for instance, that he can get students to go well on the social studies Regents exam for five consecutive years, then they should release him from the chains of those Regents so he can actually get his students to think. Some on the panel crossed their legs harder, a couple winced, and Bill Thompson’s eyes jumped out of his head with excitement.

That’s why, before this panel, I contended that it didn’t matter if we had an exact counter to Sydney Morris, because Stephen couching his arguments in policy as practice would be enough to give him leverage on the panel. I don’t know Sydney personally, but, other than the 3,000 teachers she says helped propose policy for NYC, she didn’t have much to contribute. I constantly advocate for more voices to get out there besides mine. On the other hand, panelists consistently prompted Stephen where they could. I appreciate all the panels I’ve been invited to, but I don’t always have to speak on behalf of teachers. Further, I don’t always think of the same two or three people when I consider who should speak on behalf of teachers. Even some of our activist-type groups still get stuck in the same structures we’re fighting against.

I’ve already gone way over my word count, though. Giving others equal voice matters.

Jose, who keeps it honest even with his compatriots …

p.s. – I started the hashtag #GSonED on Twitter, and others commented under that. In case you missed it, here were the tweets in real time.