This statement was written by Katie Zahedi and Bianca Tanis.
Katie Zahedi is principal at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY, and serves on the administrative panel for NYSAPE.
Bianca Tanis is a public school parent in the Hudson Valley as well as an elementary special education teacher and a co-founder of NYS Allies for Public Education.
We ask that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Board of Regents act to reform hiring and appointment procedures for employees and new regent members. The lack of professional and scholarly input has produced many of the problems with the failed Regents Reform Agenda. Constituencies in education have historically guarded against governmental involvement in education, yet there are unprecedented requests of the legislature for protection from the corporatized dismantling of public education by NYSED leadership.
Our comments embody attempts to advocate for a secure future for public schools and do not represent their respective school districts.
Bianca Tanis and Katie Zahedi, a teacher and a principal are asking that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Board of Regents reform hiring and appointment procedures for employees and new regent members. A lack of professional and scholarly input has produced many mistakes and a failed Regents Reform Agenda. Constituencies in education have historically guarded against governmental involvement in education, yet there are unprecedented requests of the legislature for protection from the corporatized dismantling of public education by NYSED. Their comments constitute advocacy for a secure future for public schools and do not represent their respective school districts.
NYSED has been enforcing standards based evaluations for teachers and principals, despite the absence of consistently used standards and protocols for hiring or evaluating NYSED. The current commissioner’s performance program is not public, though it was under Commissioner Mills. As such, schools are held accountable to increased standards under a department that is violating the state labor contract. The commissioner was hired without a formal search or established criteria. There are unqualified “fellows” hired as “consultants” who are doing work not appropriately linked to approvable expenditures for consultants or accountable to any public entity because they are privately funded. There are postings for temporary employees to evaluate APPR plans, with a pre-requisite “one year of relevant professional experience”. The Regents’ appointment process is in need of review, while the NYSED has allowed corporate know-nothings to design curriculum that is being forced on our schools.
Are these inappropriate hiring practices at NYSED upholding flawed policies that waste time, public money and hurt students? Are we comfortable leaving implementation of education reform to unproven methodologies managed by private consultants who are unaccountable to the public? The two images depicted here include: 1) an advertisement for temporary employment seeking applicants with minimal qualifications (one year of relevant experience) to evaluate the compliance plans of New York School districts to the SED’s directives, and 2) a FOIL submitted by the Professional Employees Association (PEF) at the NYSED for what they believe may be the illegal relocation of their work, which is currently being done by others in private offices under the direction of the questionably hired fellows.
Some professionals are rendered speechless at the chagrin of what is happening in full public view. Those who are able to respond to the overbearing conditions have written to leadership, requested meetings, spoken at forums all over the state, and pleaded with elected officials to intervene in the troubling course. Has the time yet come to turn the APPR (teacher and principal evaluation system) around? If so, we encourage policy makers on the Board of Regents and SED executive staff to reflect and consider their performance on a state HEDI band. In case you don’t know what we mean, are they “Highly Qualified”; “Effective”; “Developing”; or “Ineffective” as leaders of the NYSED?
The Regents oversee education but the board is presently populated with few individuals possessing experience or expertise relevant to educational governance at the state level. With four seats open on the board, we encourage hiring and selection criteria for all appointments based on professional expertise and related criteria. The best candidates will have backgrounds in education, with increased representation from stakeholder groups such as experienced K-12 practitioners, parents and advocates of students enrolled in public schools and scholars of education history, policy and practice.
The NYSED has only grudgingly listened to educators. They have resisted input from scholars who have sought to assist with analysis of reform efforts and systems of implementation now under review. NYSED leadership’s almost fetishistic obsession with data in the absence of substantive analysis of the efficacy of high-stakes tests and test scores vis-à-vis their meaning or relevance to school improvement and student learning has effectively obscured any focus on reforms that might actually work. Innovation, at the heart of American success, doesn’t appear to be tightly coupled with an ability to answer fact-based questions correctly. What if social emotional learning, creativity and relationships are more relevant to success than test rankings? Who will be accountable for RTTT if it cripples student progress?
While NYSED is preoccupied with unreflective implementation, even scant effort would yield local assistance. For example, at the Department of Education Administration and Policy Studies at SUNY Albany, within a half an hour of the commissioner’s office, are experts who can assist them with a better understanding of the macro-factors contributing to comparatively lower scores of US students on the Program for International Students Assessment (PISA) league tables. Lower international rankings are driving RTTT, so understanding causality is critical to the design of appropriate solutions. Perhaps the Board Secretary might order a few copies of Pisa, Power, and Policy and the Globalization of Educational Governance, written by experts at SUNY, Albany. Editors, Meyer and Benavot, scholars at the State University of New York (Albany), may be willing to drive across town to help them understand faulty assumptions driving RTTT that has shaped the policies that are creating havoc in New York schools.
APPR and CCLS, as formulated, are crumbling. We suggest that APPR with number grades for teachers that are tied to student test scores, be scrapped and the CCLS be left to the states and districts for review. Meanwhile, SED mandates should cease until our leadership is properly reviewed and a higher standard is applied to their hiring and evaluation. The public will soon be asking who is going to be accountable for the billions of dollars wasted on systems that were imposed on schools against the earnest advisement of professionals in the field.
We want to acknowledge that the Regents are public-minded in their service as volunteers and thank them all for their efforts. Commitment and devotion are respected, but we call for standards guiding the Regents selection process. While it may be difficult, we are asking for decision makers to vote for what is best for schools and children even if it means that the calls for “change” that have been enacted on schools are now applied to themselves. They will know what is best by speaking with actual school leaders, not policy entrepreneurs!
Heinz-Dieter Meyer & Aaron Benavot. Introduction. PISA and the Globalization of Education Governance: some puzzles and problems. OXFORD STUDIES IN COMPARATIVE EDUCATION
PISA, Power, and Policy. The Emergence of Global Educational Governance
Edited by HEINZ-DIETER MEYER & AARON BENAVOT (Benavot, 2013)