Thursday, August 1, 2019
A few weeks ago, in a move that was a surprise to some, and an inevitable outcome to others, New York State Education Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, resigned after 4 years in the position. Commissioner Elia will officially leave the job on August 31. Executive Deputy Commissioner, Beth Berlin, will serve as Acting Commissioner effective September 1.
It is fair to say that Commissioner Elia inherited a public education system that relied way too much on high stakes testing and was plagued by the flawed roll out of a common core curriculum that has been found to be developmentally inappropriate for many of our children. However, rather than address these issues, Commissioner Elia did many things to enflame the sources of discontent, doubling down on the importance of state tests and doing little to oversee meaningful reforms to state curriculum standards and practices.
Commissioner Elia's departure has been celebrated by many pro-education groups including the New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) - a strong promoter of the rights of parents to opt their children out of state tests.
In a press release, Executive Director and Co-founder of NYSAPE, Lisa Rudley wrote, "Under Commissioner Elia's direction, our children and schools continued to endure abusive, excessive testing, developmentally inappropriate state standards and data privacy breaches. At every turn, Elia circumvented the Board of Regents and failed to steer public education policies in the right direction."
Elia's resignation came after a rather tumultuous spring for the state education department under her leadership. At the end of March, Governor Cuomo signed a bill that no longer made it mandatory that school districts use the state tests in teacher evaluations. On April 2, the state ELA exams were marred by a computer system meltdown that invalidated thousands of exams and caused widespread havoc. At the NYSUT Representative Assembly in early May, a vote was taken to give Commissioner Elia 6 months to address the concerns educators and parents have with the state tests and state education standards and curriculum. This vote postponed what was set to be a vote of No Confidence from NYSUT regarding Commissioner Elia's ability to continue to lead the state's education department.
All of these events, combined with the fact that parents in New York state continue to opt out their children in record numbers, made the handwriting on the wall clear for everyone to see. The fact of the matter is that, in the end, Commissioner Elia was Ineffective in addressing the challenges facing our state education system.
In a press release posted on their website, NYSUT issued the following statement, looking forward to better times and better results under new education department leadership:
"As Commissioner Elia's tenure comes to a close, we wish her well in her future endeavors. We look forward to engaging with the Board of Regents as the search for the next commissioner begins and ensuring that the voices of hundreds of thousands of educators across New York State are heard throughout the process. We look forward to working closely with the next commissioner to fix the broken state testing system for children in grades 3-8 and on our mission to cultivate the next generation of highly qualified, dedicated educators. Selecting a new commissioner with a deep background in public school classrooms will go a long way toward achieving these critical goals."