The Albany Times Union published a comprehensive report about how wealthy “donors” in New York State use their money and influence to essentially run the New York State Education Department. The major donors include the Gates Foundation, the GE Foundation, and many of the other plutocrats who we typically see funding education reform in the United States. The most egregious name on the list, however, is none other than Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
Via the Times Union…
A team of two dozen well-paid analysts embedded in the State Education Department is having a dramatic impact on a reform agenda that’s causing controversy throughout New York.
None are public servants.
Supported with $19 million in donations from some of the nation’s wealthiest philanthropists, the Regents Research Fund team makes up a little-known think tank within the education agency. It is helping drive reforms that affect the state’s 3.1 million public school students and employees of almost 700 school districts.
So people paid for by private entities, not NYSED, are making policy decisions about education reform in New York State.
Barely heard of outside education circles and a mystery even within them, the “Regent fellows” are paid from entities such as the Gates Foundation and some salaries approach $200,000 a year. The arrangement is stirring concern in some quarters that deep-pocketed pedagogues are forcing their reform philosophies on an unwitting populace, and making an end run around government officers.
“We’re a public education system,” said Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Long Island’s Rockville Centre. “Having the wealthy pay for it, you’re seeing an agenda that is being pushed … at a rapid pace, and outside the system of public accountability.”
As Burris correctly points out, this is how the plutocrats get their way in regards to New York State education without having to be held accountable by the public as normal operatives of the state would. Sean Crowley from B-LoEdScene describes it quite nicely as well…
The idea of creating a merry band of edupolicy wankers and dressing them up as helper elves who operate outside of the state, the law and any real department is yet another of those clever shuck and jive maneuvers our oligarch class likes to use to put them and their wealth in a position to call the shots with no annoying checks, balances or any of that other quaint democratic process nonsense. They are charitably called the Regents Fellows and they are none of your business thank you very much. Tisch and her hubby kicked in the first million or so and soon after came the flood of cash from all the usual selfless altruistic billionaires. In short they work the will of Tisch and Co. and are accountable to nobody in State Ed or Washington or in any of the local school districts.
The Times Union continues…
What was envisioned as a short-term, relatively small augmentation to SED staff has grown exponentially. Fellows operate independently and communicate regularly with King and many interact regularly with state workers, but are not bound by Public Officer’s Law or ethics rules imposed on government officials.
The Regents appear serious about expanding the group. Fellows who signed on for two-year stints have been extended, new research and policy analysts have been hired, and state officials cannot say if or when the experiment will end. Fellows say they don’t know when they’ll be done, but expect their assignments will run their course.
So things are progressing so swimmingly here in New York State that Merryl and her minions want to expand this group!
What have these “fellows” been responsible for?
The fellows have been involved in mapping teacher and principal evaluations, redoing student exams and working through the state’s implementation of the Common Core standards — reforms that have moved with a speed that many parents and teachers across the state have protested as hasty and harsh.
Ah yes, successful reforms such as teacher evaluations, standardized testing, and Common Core implementation… all the hallmarks of what is wrong with public education today.
So what does Queen Merryl think about all of this?
“Any state would be proud to have people of this capacity working as an arm of the state education department,” said Tisch, emphasizing her regard for staff staffers. “They couldn’t do it without the leadership, without the people who work for the department.”
Yes, we should be proud to have these people pushing an agenda that abuses children and aims to destroy public education! After all our primary goal for education in New York State should be to further line the pockets of the Tisch family and their cronies. Who are those people you may ask? Let’s refer back to this 2009 article from the New York Times, titled “Advancing Education, Through Work Ethic and Connections”…
… her rank in New York’s ruling class as the wife of James S. Tisch, the chief executive of the Loews Corporation, a conglomerate that includes hotels, insurance and oil-drilling operations.
She has enjoyed a decades-long friendship with her Upper East Side neighbor Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. She has celebrated Passover Seders with Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. She counts among her closest friends Iris Weinshall, the wife of Senator Charles E. Schumer.
And then there is this…
It is such social connections that make Dr. Tisch’s influence difficult to quantify.
“When she needs something, she’ll pick up the phone and call the mayor or governor,” Mr. Fliegel said. “Merryl is not reluctant to intercede if she thinks it’s the right cause.”
Those aren’t the only people she calls. Who does Queen Merryl call when her refrigerator isn’t working?
“When my refrigerator is broken, I don’t call the service department,” said Dr. Tisch, the newly elected chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents and, by marriage, part of one of New York’s wealthiest families. “I call the head of G.E.”
Oh right, the head of GE. That’s who I typically call too.
So what do the other members of the Board of Regents think about these fellows? This New York Times article from 2011 gives us a look…
“Private people give money to support things they’re interested in,” said Roger B. Tilles, a lawyer and longtime education administrator who has been a regent for six years.
Betty A. Rosa, who spent 23 years as a teacher and principal before becoming a New York City regional superintendent and a regent, said it was “absolutely wrong” that the fellows had spent what she considered to be so little time working in schools. Six of the 11 have never taught. The five others have a total of 10 years in the classroom and one as a principal.
Saul B. Cohen, a former president of Queens College who retired in December after 18 years as a regent, is angry that the board was not consulted about selecting the fellows. “They’re supposed to be advising us, but we had no role,” he said.
Dr. Cohen was also upset that the state’s Race to the Top application — which included major policy decisions like using student test results to evaluate teachers and principals — was not shown to the Regents before it was submitted to Washington. “The board had to rubber-stamp it after the fact,” he said.
Dr. Rosa said the Regents saw only “bits and pieces” of the application beforehand.
Several board members said they had been marginalized under Dr. Tisch, who took over in 2009 and is widely considered to be the most powerful, controlling chancellor in memory.
Tisch’s agenda has become crystal clear. Use private money to hire outside “help”. Use that help to marginalize the people who New York State has appointed to handle matters of public education. Allow the “help” to recommend and push a reform agenda that makes considerable amounts of money for the very people who “donated” money that pays for the help. Laugh all the way to the bank.
So tonight, if you are attending Senator LaValle’s dog and pony show at Eastport High School, speak your mind. Let Dr. Tisch know how you feel about her actions as Regents Chancellor. LaValle, King, and Tisch think they can control the agenda by pre-selecting the speakers and questions. It is a situation that begs for civil disobedience. Tisch has skated away for too long without having to answer to anyone. Make her answer to you tonight.
Peter DeWitt addresses the Regents fellows in this September article from Ed Week.