Merryl Tisch Suggests Firing A Lot of Black and Hispanic Teachers

New York Regents Chancellor Dr. Merryl Tisch has been downplaying the potential negative consequences of sweeping changes to teacher tenure and evaluation in the new state budget.  On April 1st, she commented that the new system does not specifically say that test scores make up 50% of teacher evaluations and suggested that concerns over the weight given to tests was overblown.  Dr. Tisch is technically correct which, as we all know, is the best kind of correct.  The new evaluation law does not say scores are 50% and it leaves various weighting decisions to the Regents and the NYSED.  However, the scoring matrix, which is in the law, has two axes, one of which is for test scores.  I can count really well up to two, and it is fairly obvious the tests, as one axis out of two, are 50% of the evaluation (not to mention that both axes determine the outcome in the matrix roughly equally).

Dr. Tisch was back in the press this morning, suggesting that she thinks the new evaluation system should potentially be lifted from districts that have had strong records of student achievement.  The upshot is that if a district has high graduation and college acceptance rates and strong “college readiness” (aka test scores), they could be freed from state regulations and allowed to craft their own evaluation and accountability systems within certain parameters.  Dr. Tisch suggested that such changes could come from the Commissioner’s regulatory power, but she would also consider asking legislators to make amendments to the newly passed system allowing these changes.  In her view, such changes in favor of high performing districts would “…give them the respect that they deserve for the job that they do, and let us turn our attention, our scarce resources and our capacity to the districts that really need us in terms of access and opportunity for students.”

It would also mean many fewer African American and Latino teachers would ever get tenure and many more of them would be fired.

Now I am not suggesting that Chancellor Tisch actually hopes to do this, but there are consequences to not thinking things through in policy.  Exempting districts with records of high achievement from the new evaluation requirements would place a significantly heavier burden on teachers of color and result in their removal at disproportionate percentages.  The reason for this is fairly simple: just as our communities and schools are segregated by race and income, so are our teachers.  In New York State, 9.8% of teachers are Hispanic and 8.6% are African American.  These numbers are not, however, even distributed across the state.  In New York City, for example, African American teachers make up 19.6% of all teachers and Hispanic teachers are 14.4% of all teachers.  The numbers shoot up when you are talking about schools with a high percentage of students in poverty:

Teachers by race and poverty

Now we are talking about schools where 25.2% of the teachers are African American and 23.7% are Hispanic, while in schools that are low poverty, those numbers are only 12% and 8.2% respectively.  That means of the roughly 21,000 African American teachers and the roughly 24,000 Hispanic teachers in the state of New York, 5,275 of the African American teachers and 4,961 of the Hispanic teachers work in high poverty schools in the city of New York alone.

Given the long known impact of poverty on school performance, it doesn’t take a degree in rocket science (or even a doctorate in education from Teachers College) to understand that schools with higher concentrations of poverty are going to be schools where more students struggle to demonstrate annual progress on standardized tests and that the teachers who teach them will have similar trouble demonstrating their “value added” to those test scores as required in the new evaluation.  What percentage of new African American and Hispanic teachers in New York will struggle to and ultimately fail to reach “effective” for three out of four years in the new tenure process?  What percentage of their more experienced colleagues will fluctuate between “ineffective” and “developing” because the lack of statistical validity given to one axis of the new evaluation matrix?  How many schools with high concentrations of poor children and faculty who are disproportionately African American and Hispanic will be forced to sacrifice social studies, science, art, music, and health education in favor of mimicking the teaching practices of charter schools who emphasize test preparation for months of the school year?

Looking for a way to allow high income districts with good test scores to avoid the new evaluations might be a politically savvy move to allay growing discontent among outspoken parents.  But it will also end up kicking teachers of color and their students right in the teeth as they, already hard pressed by test based accountability, will be the only ones to bear the full brunt of the new system.

The sad part is that Dr. Tisch is not entirely wrong, but her statement demonstrates only a minor understanding of how to use data to leverage system wide change.  She suggests that relieving high performing districts would allow the NYSED to focus its efforts and resources on struggling districts, but she has not offered any insight into how that would work as a system that focuses on support and growth rather than on test and punish.  It is possible to use system wide data to identify schools and school systems that can have greater autonomy, but the policy should be wedded to increasing resources and support within schools that struggle with the understanding that the vast majority of teachers want to do well by their students and that a great many are doing precisely that even if it is not captured on one test.  Instituting a continuous improvement policy takes time and patience and resources — things for which Dr. Tisch has not recently demonstrated patience.

So I have to ask the Chancellor: If you uncouple wealthy districts from the new accountability system will you simultaneously implement a vastly different perspective for our struggling school districts with high levels of poverty? Will you embrace a support and growth model of system wide change and work to find ways to de-emphasize test and punish?  Because if you do not, the end result of your suggestions will simply be to subject schools with a majority of poor students and high percentages of African American and Hispanic teachers to the kind of churn and burn faculty turnover that we tend to see in many urban charter schools while leaving teachers and students in the majority white suburbs largely untouched.

That cannot possibly be what you want — right, Dr. Tisch?


Filed under New York Board of Regents, teacher learning, Testing

21 responses to “Merryl Tisch Suggests Firing A Lot of Black and Hispanic Teachers

  1. Joe R.

    So she believes that rich school district teachers should, “be given the respect that deserve for the job that they do”. She literally said this quote. Does this mean that teachers in poor districts do not deserve the respect for the jobs that they do? Her comment is sickening beyond words.

    • Test scores measure respect as well as college and career readiness.

      • I must respectfully disagree. Test scores measure how well students perform on standardized tests; they do not necessarily predict future performance. While I do agree that testing can yield some measure of a student’s abilities, it should not be the sole factor considered. Let’s not forget that a lot of companies make great profits in selling and administering tests; don’t believe the PR they spit out. They have a vested interest in continuing or increasing their profit centers. That has little or nothing to do with their concern for the well-being of the children being tested.

      • I agree with much of what you say — my concern is that if Tisch gets her way, one of the worst impacts of test-driven policy, VAMs, will predominantly be felt by the hardest pressed schools with large percentages of minority students and teachers!

      • Also, I was being sarcastic in the statement to which you replied!

  2. Celia Oyler

    I read the statement from Merryl Tisch and began to rage. I vowed that today I would finally start blogging so I could this denounce public and outrageous example of apartheid education. As I opened my computer to go to word press and start a blog, in popped your incredible analysis that names all of my outrage. So parents in wealthier districts are organizing resistance to the Common Core mandates and the (very poorly designed tests) that purport to measure learning. They are pressuing State Ed and Cuomo and their elected officials to back off from a curriculum driven by test prep and external mandates; they are opting out and refusing the tests in large numbers. So to appease these wealthier constituents, our millionaire Regents Chancellor decrees that those with the most social and cultural capital and wealth will be exempt from the draconian edicts of tying funding to compliance with ridiculous and abusive mandates. We have extensive evidence that the state tests are not able to measure learning. David Berlier was at Teachers College two nights ago and he shared much research carefully documenting that only about 10% of student state test scores can be attributed to teacher inputs. So now we have Tisch declaring a system of outright apartheid: continue to surveil and punish teachers and students in low income communities (because, no matter what the ed “reformers” say, standardized test scores track wealth better than any other variable) and let the wealthy among us have their rich, integrated, experiential non-test prep curriculum. Sort of reminds me of how none of these people making these draconian policies send their own children to public schools….So now we will incentivize a three tier school system in NYS: elite private schools for the rich who make policy for the rest of us); suburban enclaves where business can go on as pre-NCLB usual; and surveillance-test prep factories for the unfortunate masses. I am outraged beyond words. ….

  3. Reblogged this on DCGEducator: Doing The Right Thing and commented:
    Curious… does the math show that therefore only @7,850 teachers work in schools that are not poverty schools?

  4. Lisa Olsen

    The point is so that charter schools can be promoted in those areas, and therefore, keep their promises to the hedge-funders. Love how low socio-economic and special needs students will have the HONOR of taking these tests that wealthy students do not. You know…the students who ‘benefit’ from taking developmental appropriate tests and more computerized screen time with packaged computer programs as opposed to real teaching from a professional.

  5. Ian Berger

    Don’t forget, this is also a way to divide teachers from wealthy and poor districts. It’s unfortunately true that teachers from wealthy, high-performing districts tend to have a lot of clout. Maybe the calculus here is that it will placate us. (I teach in a district like this.) Then only the teachers in poorer districts will be left complaining, and of course since they’re the ones “responsible” for the low test scores, they’ll be easier to attack.

    By responsible, I mean “guilty of trying to help.” I in no way think that teachers are responsible for low test scores, and I have the highest respect for those who work with kids in need.

  6. Stephanie LaTour

    Great article, but the headline should ne revised. Tisch did not “suggest” firing mnority teachers.

  7. Divide and conquer; it works every time. Not for our kids, just for those kids. Not for our teachers, just for those teachers. Not for our schools, just for those schools.

  8. Pingback: Daniel Katz: Does Merryl Tisch Want to Fire Black and Hispanic Teachers? | Diane Ravitch's blog

  9. K. Rodriguez

    I am a teacher in a low income school district. Many students have grown by leaps and bounds but cannot score as high as “high performance” schools. I am not a dead beat teacher, and by far are any of my colleagues. So what happens to my district when all of us are let go because our students cannot get 4`s on the ELA and Math exams??? Will the supposedly more equipped teachers of high performing schools seemingly make miracles? I think not! Let’s see how this all plays out when the state becomes the biggest failure of illogical “school reform”.

  10. Concerned MD

    If there are certain schools that do really well period, why exempt them? How is making them take the same test everyone else is being subjected to disrespect? Why are the parents of the well to do organizing and protesting that their children will not take these exams? Because these exams are crazy, bogus, and could potentially hurt those kids too. And when people of a certain lower socioeconomic status says it is unfair, no one listens. They are just complaining. But the more affluent starts complaining, LET’S MAKE CHANGES QUICKLY! This Tisch woman needs to be removed. Not only is she now suggesting this change – which should have been a good thing – she has the nerve to suggest it only for a few.

    And the implication that the teachers of the schools doing well deserve more respect than teachers of the schools that aren’t doing well is appalling and insulting.

    I went to public schools all of my life – including a State medical school – with the exception of a 3 month stint in a private school in the 6th grade. My parents sent me there because the zone school was so full, that they opened up a closed/condemned school building in a not so nice neighborhood to send us. My parents didn’t like that so they tightened their belts and sent me to private school. This school was supposed to be top notch, with their students passing exams to get into the top NYC specialty schools. At 12 years old and after only 2 weeks in that school, I told my mother, “If they are getting into those specialty schools, it is because of WHO they know and not by passing those exams.” (I said it again when I took those same exams myself 2 years later.) I knew MUCH more than even the 9 th graders knew. So I begged my mother to send me back to public school so that I wouldn’t be BEHIND in my knowledge the next year when I would end up in my zone school. But I can guarantee you that with Ms. Tisch’s thought process, that bogus private school that I went to for 3 months would have been exempt, while the public school I eventually went to that year would not have been. That public school would have been in trouble, losing teachers, funds taken away, etc. Then where would I be today.

  11. Dan Plonsey

    And this proposed policy of explicitly stated disrespect and less job security will somehow help attract young teachers to teach in high poverty schools? Clearly Tisch’s intention is to do the opposite, to exacerbate inequality.

  12. Kimberly Fields

    The private schools shouldn’t be allowed to opt out, because they will be filling with students from the failing public schools. Then, they will need to show, through VAM, that those children are successful in their new educational environment.

  13. Pingback: Launching My New Blog | Outrage on the Page

  14. She’s a piece of work all right

  15. aemol

    She is one big time piece of work.

  16. Pingback: NYSED’s Incoherent Opt Out Muddle | Daniel Katz, Ph.D.

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