Tracking the Teachers

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Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents

Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents

The new Chancellor of the Board of Regents says New York State will apply this summer for a piece of the federal stimulus package dedicated to education reforms. The Obama Administration has made $5 billion available for states and districts to come up new assessments, data systems and ways of improving teacher effectiveness. Chancellor Merryl Tisch says New York's application will include a proposal to track graduates of teaching colleges to see which ones are most effective when they're placed in urban areas.

'It will help us give them the appropriate professional development,' she says. 'And mostly if we do those things right, the preparation and the professional development, we will be able to retain teachers throughout the system instead of hemorrhaging teachers in urban centers.'

Tisch conceded this will require cooperation from the teachers union. Last year, the United Federation of Teachers successfully blocked a bill supported by Mayor Bloomberg linking teacher tenure to student test scores. But Tisch predicted the union would come on board because the proposal wouldn't punish teachers.

Tisch talked about the state's proposal at a panel discussion in midtown called "What Works: Education Reform in High Poverty, Low Performing Schools." The panel was moderated by Paul Tough of "The New York Times Magazine," who authored "Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America." Other panelists included Chancellor Klein, as well as experts in how to turn around low performing schools.

Klein argues against those who say "you're not going to fix education until we fix poverty," stating "you're not going to fix poverty until you fix education." He's among those who embrace additional testing and data systems for tracking which schools have made more progress with their students. But another group called the Broader, Bolder Approach says anti-poverty programs, child care, and health care are also needed to boost student achievement. The two groups frequently aired their views during the 2008 presidential election. President Obama's pick for Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, signed onto both agendas.

Today's panel was co-sponsored by Turnaround for Children, Inc, which also sees itself as embracing elements of both approaches. Dr. Pamela Cantor, the President and CEO of Turnaround, noted that it only takes a small number of children with behavioral problems to bring a school to its knees. Her program works with 33 NYC public schools to provide behavioral and mental health supports.

Chancellor Tisch stated that districts need the political will to close down failing schools when the community objects. She noted that mayoral control in New York City has enabled Klein to close failing schools more quickly than his counterpart in Rochester, though she added "every once in a while they could use a little more tact." Parents and community groups have complained that city's education department doesn't give them much notice when schools are opened and shut. This issue has come up repeatedly in arguments over whether to extend the 2002 law giving Mayor Bloomberg control of the schools when it comes up for renewal in June.

For his part, Klein argued that tough measures are needed because too often school systems don't want to change. He griped about a funding system in which "the worse you perform, the more money you get. Any industry that did that would be called the auto industry!"