Fresh from her superb leadership in appointing the state's new education commissioner, David Steiner, Tisch is now paradoxically picking a fight with the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan and his boss, President Obama. She told Ms. Green: "I am willing to debate the president and Arne Duncan in public space at any time of their choosing on the impact of this [tenure] law in New York State."
Them is fightin' words from New York State's education chancellor!
Some background. The Race to the Top program was included in the federal Stimulus Law and consists of grants from the U.S. Department of Education, totaling more than $4 billion, to be awarded among eligible states. To be eligible for this funding, which could amount in the hundred millions for a single award, states must have policies that encourage education reform and innovation, rather than stifle it. For states that do not, this funding program is designed to encourage them to change their laws.
Back in March, President Obama, in his marvelous speech on education, included three salient policy points, among several: 1) states should "reform their charter rules, and lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools;" 2) use data as "a resource that can help us improve student achievement, and tell us which students had which teachers so we can assess what's working and what's not;" and 3) "states and school districts taking steps to move bad teachers out of the classroom."
In June, Secretary Duncan openly questioned whether New York State would be considered for grants since it has a law that prohibits the use of student test scores to influence determinations for awarding teacher tenure. In addition, New York State has a cap on the number of charter schools, which is likely to be reached by 2011, if not sooner.
Which brings us back to Chancellor Tisch. Rather than take the lead of the president and the education secretary by advocating for reform and change in New York, Tisch instead has chosen this rhetorical Do-You-Know-Who-I-Am posture of challenging them to a public debate. No doubt she's trying to make a serious point, but it comes off as self-important and unproductive.
Leadership Opportunity for Change
Chancellor Tisch has the opportunity, with the backing of the Obama Administration, to call for reforming tenure and removing the charter cap, among other bold policies. Other states, including Tennessee and Illinois, already changed some of their laws to qualify for Race to the Top funds. New York has limited time to do the same, and it shouldn't be squandered in a defensive posture of nuancing retrograde policies.
Merryl Tisch should lead the way for change. She has the stature in New York to influence the debate, as lawmakers would take notice. Of course, some wouldn't like it, including Randi Weingarten, the national teacher union boss, who last year got the New York Legislature to scrap the tenure reform that is now harming the state's chances for more federal money. But, reform leadership means taking positions that others wedded to the status quo won't like.
Advocating Obama-like reforms for New York would be more productive and beneficial to the state's children than a make-believe challenge to the president to debate his own program.
for The Chalkboard
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