Chancellor Merryl Tisch Out-Spins Herself in Capital Pressroom Interview


Board of Regents Merryl Tisch outdid herself in an interview today with Capital Pressroom’s Susan Arbetter. Despite her conciliatory and concerned tone, the Chancellor’s attempt to make the unreasonable sound reasonable was an epic failure.

In her interview, Tisch states in no uncertain terms that she will be voting to permanently adopt current APPR regulations passed on an emergency basis last spring.

Doing her very best to sound fair-minded, Tisch informs Arbetter that there are a number of things that need to be adjusted and that under her guidance, the Board of Regents have made adjustments based on public comment. However, the only adjustment Tisch cites is a new process for educators to appeal their effectiveness ratings.

Chancellor Tisch must have missed the fact that 220,000 parents refused to participate in test-based accountability this year.  Since NYSED has not posted all public comments to their website, it is difficult to say just which comments Tisch is responding to. However, based on the explosion of test refusals and comments such as this one, it is a safe bet that if Merryl Tisch is listening to the public, she is also ignoring them.

In what comes across as a poor attempt at humility, Tisch admits that in hindsight, she would never have coupled the introduction of new learning standards with the introduction of test based teacher evaluations. However, Tisch follows this admission by reiterating her commitment to flawed and damaging education policy, stating that she stands by use of test scores for teacher evaluations.

When asked by Arbetter to respond to warnings by the American Statistical Association (the largest organization in the United States representing statisticians) that the formula used to turn student test scores into objective measures of teacher effectiveness is flawed and invalid, Tisch attempts to rationalize this junk science. She asserts that some “psychometricians say otherwise” and that anyone with an opinion can find someone to agree with them. There are those who still believe that the earth is flat, and probably some that will agree with them. By the Chancellor’s logic, perhaps New York State should rethink its geography standards. 

Whether one chalks this response up to arrogance or ignorance, it is certainly disturbing to hear such “head in the sand” rationalizing from an individual tasked with creating and implementing responsible education policy.

Tisch pushes the envelope and veers into fibbing territory when she claims, “This is about districts who have struggled in large urban settings and making sure that they too have the benefit of getting highly qualified teachers because right now, the way this system is rigged, the lowest performing school districts get the neediest teachers in the system.”

Although Chancellor Tisch places a great deal of value on the data derived from NYS testing, it appears that she has not read it. Thankfully, retired principal Carol Burris has. In her research, Burris found that according to 2014 test-based growth scores, 19% of teachers in the high performing Scarsdale school district were “ineffective” while the Rochester City School District, a district with 14 schools deemed “struggling” or “persistently struggling”, has only 4% of their teachers rated ineffective. This is not an isolated example. You can read more  here.

Pretend for a moment that these scores are not meaningless and volatile. Even if NYS test-based growth scores were considered a valid measure of teacher performance, the Chancellor’s argument that this measure will ensure struggling school districts have highly qualified teachers is simply not borne out by the data. Somebody forgot to do their homework.

But perhaps the most jaw dropping statement in the interview was when Chancellor Tisch said:

“This whole effort is not about the high performing school districts who quite frankly do not need the state of New York telling them what to do.”

According to data, Chancellor Tisch’s statement seems to assert that if you are a school district comprised mainly of white, affluent students, you should be immune to the capricious test and punish system espoused by the Governor, the Chancellor and many of her colleagues on the Board of Regents.

Since its inception three years ago, the NYS Common Core testing program has disproportionately labeled students of color, students living in poverty, English language learners, and special education students as failures. The majority of schools labeled as “persistently struggling” based on these test scores serve disproportionately higher percentages of vulnerable students. The Chancellor’s indifference to the inequitable manner in which these discriminatory assessments are used to punish, close, and privatize community schools is staggering.

 At the conclusion of the interview, Arbetter asks Meryl Tisch if she can think of any legislative changes that she would like to see to which Tisch responds:

“I always felt that the evaluation system created in the last budget session created a very big problem for a lot of school districts”

She goes on to say:

“Constant changes to the evaluation system, constantly moving the bar, constant redesign creates confusion and wasted resources in school districts.”

Note that Chancellor Tisch is careful to omit that in December of 2014, she bypassed her fellow members of the Board of Regents when suggesting to Governor Cuomo that he enact the very same “redesign” and “changes” that she laments to Arbetter.

Finally, Tisch suggests that the public “Just settle in.”

I suggest that Chancellor Tisch stop insulting the intelligence of the public and consider that by her own admission, her leadership has led to “confusion and wasted resources in school districts.”

This interview only underscores what parents and educators have known for quite some time – Chancellor Tisch must go. It is critical that parents, educators, and concerned community members contact their local legislators and urge them NOT to appoint Merryl Tisch to the Board of Regents when her term expires this year. New York public school students deserve responsible and informed leadership that will ensure equitable, community-driven, and child-centered education for ALL children.