New Regents members reflect change in education philosophy

Mar 11, 2016

Three new Regents elected by the legislature this week are expected to help lead an on-going reversal in education policy in New York, to less emphasis on controversial standardized tests.

The exit of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch could start a major shift in the state's education policy.
Credit WBFO News file photo

The vote to elect Nan Mead, Luis Reyes and Elizabeth Hakanson to the state Board of Regents means that the majority of the 17 member board now disagrees with the direction of the previous leadership under outgoing Chancellor Meryl Tisch and former Education commissioner John King.  They tried to fast track the new Common Core learning standards and rely more heavily on standardized tests to evaluate students and their teachers. That led to sometimes tumultuous meetings with parents, a poor relationship with the teachers unions, and a boycott movement that led to 20 percent of students last spring opting out of the tests.

Luis Reyes, a Spanish language professor at the City University of New York,  was backed by leaders of the opt out movement. Reyes has worked for the rights of bilingual immigrant children,  and represented Manhattan on the New York City Board of Education for eight years.

“I certainly support the right of parents to opt out,” Reyes said. “I believe that the Regents and the commissioner should take seriously why there is an opt out movement. Because it is growing throughout the country.”

Reyes says he does not expect his election, and that of the other new Regents, to immediately quiet the movement.  He says the board has to “win the trust” of the public again.

Lisa Rudley, a founding member of the opt out movement group New York State Allies for Public Education, says she’s encouraged by the election of the new regents, and board turnover that’s resulted in the exit of half of the Regents who backed the fast tracking of Common Core .

But she says the state will still be giving students basically the same exams this spring as last spring. The state’s new education commissioner Mary Ellen Elia has shortened the tests and will give students more time to complete them. But Rudley says she wants to see a deeper  analysis of Common Core and what went wrong, as well as a better plan for the future  before she and others are ready to buy back in to any standardized tests.

“ I can’t predict what the numbers will be ,” Rudley said. “What I can tell you is that opt out is definitely not going away.”

Governor Cuomo, who does not directly control the education department, has nevertheless been active at times in steering policy. Last year, he convinced state lawmakers to put in the state budget a provision to rely more heavily on test results to evaluate teachers. Since then, the governor appointed a commission that reversed that policy, and recommended a four year delay on using the test results to rank teachers or students. The Regents quickly adopted that.

Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan says she knew the plan was not “sustainable."

“In the end, cooler heads do prevail,” said Nolan. “That doesn’t mean we’re off the hook, though. The issue is still out there.”

Nolan says while she doesn’t always see eye to eye with the opt out movement , she says it’s encouraging  to see how much parents care about their children’s education.

“It’s exciting, isn’t it?” Nolan said.

Meryl Tisch, who’s been Chancellor for seven years, and on the Regents board for two decades, decided not to seek another term. The other two vacancies were created by the Vice Chancellor, who also decided not to run again, and one other Regent.

With Tisch leaving the board, a new chancellor will be chosen at the next meeting. The front runner is Dr. Betty Rosa, who has served in many posts with the New York City Department of Education, including overseeing all public schools in the Bronx.

Reyes says he’s backing Rosa as Chancellor, whom he calls a “colleague” and an “ally.”

“I look forward to her leadership, should she be voted in,” Reyes said.

Reyes will not get to vote on the selection, since he and the other new Regents do not officially take up their posts until April. Under long standing tradition, the Regents leadership vote will take place one month earlier, at the meeting starting on March 22.