Out of the Crisis: Where’s the New Commissioner of Education in New York?
by Michael Hynes, Ed.D.
Public education in New York State has a serious crisis on its hands. Has there ever been a time when the schools in our great state have been devoid of leadership at the three highest levels: Governor, Chancellor and Commissioner? To this date we do not have a Commissioner of Education. The Governor and the Chancellor (neither of them are educators) are making significant decisions without a sitting Commissioner of Education present. How is this possible? How come nobody else is shouting from the rooftops that this is not in the best interest of our children? Does anyone else wonder who the next Commissioner will be? What does the candidate pool look like?
The truth is, I’m still trying to come to grips with Governor Cuomo stating we shouldn’t be worried about the Common Core assessments in ELA and Math, “Because the tests are meaningless and won’t count against your children.” That statement alone should make people scratch their head and wonder what Mr. Cuomo is thinking. This is a slap in the face to our students, our parents and our educators. According to our Governor, our students shouldn’t waste time taking the tests and teachers shouldn’t waste their time teaching the material. I find it amazing that our parents already knew what the Governor meant, that’s why so many parents opted their children out of the state assessments.
Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor for the New York State Education Department offered a delay for teacher evaluations for a year in some districts, on a case-by-case basis, or to exempt high-performing districts. This is what the State Education Department calls leadership? What would the new Commissioner say? What do the other Regents think? We have little to no communication, and when school districts do receive any information…it’s in a memorandum full of directives that offer very few answers. For the Chancellor to not offer solutions regarding how poorly the tests are constructed, how assessments are used against teachers and most important; how often our students are tested is where I have lost faith in this leadership black hole, or as I see it, The New York State Bermuda Triangle.
As Diane Ravitch stated, “I think it is accurate to say that the leaders and decision-makers in Albany, including the Governor, his staff, most of the Regents, and those at the top of the State Education Department are wedded to an agenda that confuses test scores with education. There is also, at the highest level, an inexplicable contempt for the work of teachers and principals. And your children suffer for their ill-conceived policies.” That says it all. As Winston Churchill said many years ago, “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” It is time someone in SED stepped forward and rise against this gale force sweeping across New York. The optimist in me hopes our new Commissioner will rise against the wind, but I won’t hold my breath. As W. Edwards Deming stated in his book Out of the Crisis, “Measures of productivity do not lead to improvement in productivity”. I pray that our new Commissioner believes this as well. The realist in me will just have to hope for a new Chancellor in the very near future.