New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to Step Down


New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch has announced that she is resigning her position when her term ends in March.

The former teacher and member of a well-known New York family oversaw significant changes in the state’s education policy as the state’s highest education official beginning in 2009. The shifts included the start-up of Common Core standards and the ensuing period of significant controversy.

Elizabeth A. Harris, writing for The New York Times, says Dr. Tisch ushered in not only the Common Core standards meant to prepare students for college but also introduced more difficult licensing exams for teachers after concerns that schools of education were graduating less-than-competent teachers.

“Some people say it was too much at once,” Dr. Tisch said during her announcement of the changes made during her tenure. “Some people say it was implemented poorly. I say we disrupted stagnation. We disrupted complacency, and we tried to imbue the system with urgency.”

Many parents were angry after scores across the state fell because of the new student tests. As a result, a movement led by parents and union activism was followed by 20% of state students opting out of the third- through eighth-grade exams. But Tisch insists that the state should not retreat from the need for higher standards.

Tisch has more opponents than supporters at this point. The State Department of Education is reviewing the Common Core because of a legislative directive, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has issued an assessment of the new standards and tests. The Board of Regents has also seen a change in composition that brings in more members who disagree with Dr. Tisch.

Although Tisch says she will continue to be a voice in policy matters after she steps down, she also stated that she respected the tradition that chancellors frequently move on after two years of service, writes The Wall Street Journal’s Leslie Brody.

On Saturday, to the disappointment of the chancellor, the US Department of Education, which has supported using test scores for teachers’ evaluations, said there was too much “unnecessary and redundant testing.” The department now says there should be no more than 2% of class time spent on statewide standardized testing.

Over the last year, Tisch lost some influential colleagues such as former Commissioner John B. King, Jr., who will be the new US Secretary of Education, and several regents who were supporters.

The chancellor has been a strong supporter of charter schools and oversaw the significant increase in the publicly funded, privately managed schools.

Education reformers are concerned that Tisch’s exit will make the Board of Regents reverse the move toward more rigorous standards and clamp down on school choice.

Regents are not appointed by the governor, but by the state Legislature. Democrats in the Assembly, who are largely pro-union, will have the most influence over the selection of a new chancellor, according to Carl Campanile of the New York Post.

Jenny Sedlis, director of StudentsFirstNY, an organization active in promoting higher standards and increased teacher accountability, said that she and her organization were saddened to see Tisch leave her post. She pointed out that Tisch had served the students of the state with integrity and courage, yet managed to remain disconnected from personal interest-centered education politics.

Tisch was also the leader in acquiring state intervention in the struggling East Ramapo schools and in pushing for a change in state school funding which she saw as unfair to many disadvantaged areas.