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New York’s Education Commissioner Calls for Better Supporting Teachers, Local Control and Better Communication

In delivering TC’s Phyllis L. Kossoff Lecture on Education Policy, MaryEllen Elia gives her first address in New York City

When President Susan Fuhrman introduced New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to listeners in Teachers College’s Cowin Conference Center on February 4th, she said that Elia “is interested and cares about what all the stakeholders in education think and feel and what they have in mind.”

Indeed, as Fuhrman pointed out, in her first seven months on the job, Elia, who gave TC’s 2016 Phyllis L. Kossoff Lecture on Education Policy, has logged more than 20,000 miles on a listening tour in which she’s met with hundreds of parents, students and educators.

“I’m excited to be back in New York,” said Elia, a Buffalo native who served for the past decade as Superintendent of Schools in Florida’s Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa and is the nation’s eighth largest school district. “I’ve had an opportunity to get out and hear a lot of different people who have many different views.”

In delivering her first address in New York City, the Commissioner drew repeatedly on what she’s heard from constituents to address what she sees as the major public education issues in New York State: teacher evaluations, standardized testing (and the burgeoning opt-out movement), the Common Core standards and curriculum development.

“New York is not a state where everyone does the same. It’s really important that we put local control back in place and allow school districts to work with their educators and develop curriculum that will get their students to those high standards.” — MaryEllen Elia

Elia highlighted a particularly urgent need to evaluate standards for a public still confused and lacking knowledge about the Common Core.

“Those of us that are part of education understand that there are shifts, and those shifts come about because we realize what we either haven’t done well or that we need to change,” she said. “We need to look at that on a regular basis so that we actually are plugging into what is needed at the end of a 12- or 13-year journey of our students.”  

Elia said that keeping curricula strong and standards high is important. However, she also acknowledged that some Common Core standards may be inappropriate, particularly for young children. That problem, she said, is exacerbated by the lack of resources and training for teachers to implement the standards in their classrooms – an issue that should be addressed at the local level. “New York is not a state where everyone does the same,” she said.  “It’s really important that we put local control back in place and allow school districts to work with their educators and develop curriculum that will get their students to those high standards.”  

Still, Elia would like to see the state Department of Education put forth “multiple resources and connect to some of the resources available nationally to support teachers as they’re developing their approach to develop the standards.”  

 

The Common Core has also spurred new concerns about assessments – and, again, Elia believes teachers, at the local level, must be key drivers of what those assessments will look like. The third big item on her agenda was assessments, or testing. Many teachers may not know that they can be involved in the development of assessments, so “we have to expand the role that teachers play, we have to train them” in order to create assessments that “support the agenda for students moving through the standards and being successful.”

Ultimately, Elia said, she doesn’t believe that “one single assessment tells us a lot about what’s happening in a school or in a classroom. So I am a strong proponent of multiple assessments or multiple ways to determine how well a kid or a teacher or a group of students or a school or a district is doing.”  

Meanwhile, Elia – who began her career as a teacher 45 years ago – is concerned that an undue emphasis on assessment is taking an excessive toll on teachers.

 

“The rhetoric around teaching and teachers has been extremely destructive in this country,” she said, with the result that teachers’ needs in the classroom frequently go unsupported. “I’m a strong proponent of an accountability system, but I think the focus of it has to be what can we do to help people be reflective about their practice, work with their peers to get better and then, ultimately, be focused on what’s best for kids.”  

Above all, Elia said she understood the importance of continued communication with educators and parents, particularly as many opt out of standardized testing. (Last spring, more than 20 percent of the state’s eligible students chose not to take the standardized, Common Core-aligned exams for grades 3 through 8.). “I believe we will regain the trust of parents and teachers that we’re moving forward to do what we believe, collectively, is the approach we need to take.”

The Phyllis L. Kossoff Lecture is generously supported by alumna and former teacher Phyllis L. Kossoff. Past lecturers have included the education advisors of the two major-party Presidential candidates in 2012; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; New York State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch (Ed.D.’05) and then-state education commissioner David Steiner; and two New York City public school chancellors – Dennis Walcott in 2011, and the current incumbent, Carmen Fariña (a former board member of TC’s Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished School Principals), in spring 2015.

“The Kossoff Lecture is where it’s at,” said Fuhrman, who described TC, with its Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis, as “the nation’s premiere address for issues of education policy.” She praised Kossoff, who is a member of TC’s President’s Advisory Council, as being “generous with her time and wise counsel” and for her understanding of “the importance of translating evidence-based research into policy that can transform education.”

Phyllis Kossoff also supports the Phyllis & Burton Kossoff Scholarship Fund at TC, which has so far supported 11 students in the College’s Department of Human Development. – Amanda Lang

Published Tuesday, Feb 23, 2016

MaryEllen Elia
New York State Educaiton Commmissioner MaryEllen Elia
Phyllis L. Kossoff
TC alumna Phyllis L. Kossoff, creator and funder of the College's annual Phyllis L. Kossoff Lecture on Education Policy
Susan Fuhrman
TC President Susan Fuhrman

In delivering TC’s Phyllis L. Kossoff Lecture on Education Policy, MaryEllen Elia gives her first address in New York City

When President Susan Fuhrman introduced New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to listeners in Teachers College’s Cowin Conference Center on February 4th, she said that Elia “is interested and cares about what all the stakeholders in education think and feel and what they have in mind.”

Indeed, as Fuhrman pointed out, in her first seven months on the job, Elia, who gave TC’s 2016 Phyllis L. Kossoff Lecture on Education Policy, has logged more than 20,000 miles on a listening tour in which she’s met with hundreds of parents, students and educators.

“I’m excited to be back in New York,” said Elia, a Buffalo native who served for the past decade as Superintendent of Schools in Florida’s Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa and is the nation’s eighth largest school district. “I’ve had an opportunity to get out and hear a lot of different people who have many different views.”

In delivering her first address in New York City, the Commissioner drew repeatedly on what she’s heard from constituents to address what she sees as the major public education issues in New York State: teacher evaluations, standardized testing (and the burgeoning opt-out movement), the Common Core standards and curriculum development.

“New York is not a state where everyone does the same. It’s really important that we put local control back in place and allow school districts to work with their educators and develop curriculum that will get their students to those high standards.” — MaryEllen Elia

Elia highlighted a particularly urgent need to evaluate standards for a public still confused and lacking knowledge about the Common Core.

“Those of us that are part of education understand that there are shifts, and those shifts come about because we realize what we either haven’t done well or that we need to change,” she said. “We need to look at that on a regular basis so that we actually are plugging into what is needed at the end of a 12- or 13-year journey of our students.”  

Elia said that keeping curricula strong and standards high is important. However, she also acknowledged that some Common Core standards may be inappropriate, particularly for young children. That problem, she said, is exacerbated by the lack of resources and training for teachers to implement the standards in their classrooms – an issue that should be addressed at the local level. “New York is not a state where everyone does the same,” she said.  “It’s really important that we put local control back in place and allow school districts to work with their educators and develop curriculum that will get their students to those high standards.”  

Still, Elia would like to see the state Department of Education put forth “multiple resources and connect to some of the resources available nationally to support teachers as they’re developing their approach to develop the standards.”  

 

The Common Core has also spurred new concerns about assessments – and, again, Elia believes teachers, at the local level, must be key drivers of what those assessments will look like. The third big item on her agenda was assessments, or testing. Many teachers may not know that they can be involved in the development of assessments, so “we have to expand the role that teachers play, we have to train them” in order to create assessments that “support the agenda for students moving through the standards and being successful.”

Ultimately, Elia said, she doesn’t believe that “one single assessment tells us a lot about what’s happening in a school or in a classroom. So I am a strong proponent of multiple assessments or multiple ways to determine how well a kid or a teacher or a group of students or a school or a district is doing.”  

Meanwhile, Elia – who began her career as a teacher 45 years ago – is concerned that an undue emphasis on assessment is taking an excessive toll on teachers.

 

“The rhetoric around teaching and teachers has been extremely destructive in this country,” she said, with the result that teachers’ needs in the classroom frequently go unsupported. “I’m a strong proponent of an accountability system, but I think the focus of it has to be what can we do to help people be reflective about their practice, work with their peers to get better and then, ultimately, be focused on what’s best for kids.”  

Above all, Elia said she understood the importance of continued communication with educators and parents, particularly as many opt out of standardized testing. (Last spring, more than 20 percent of the state’s eligible students chose not to take the standardized, Common Core-aligned exams for grades 3 through 8.). “I believe we will regain the trust of parents and teachers that we’re moving forward to do what we believe, collectively, is the approach we need to take.”

The Phyllis L. Kossoff Lecture is generously supported by alumna and former teacher Phyllis L. Kossoff. Past lecturers have included the education advisors of the two major-party Presidential candidates in 2012; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; New York State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch (Ed.D.’05) and then-state education commissioner David Steiner; and two New York City public school chancellors – Dennis Walcott in 2011, and the current incumbent, Carmen Fariña (a former board member of TC’s Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished School Principals), in spring 2015.

“The Kossoff Lecture is where it’s at,” said Fuhrman, who described TC, with its Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis, as “the nation’s premiere address for issues of education policy.” She praised Kossoff, who is a member of TC’s President’s Advisory Council, as being “generous with her time and wise counsel” and for her understanding of “the importance of translating evidence-based research into policy that can transform education.”

Phyllis Kossoff also supports the Phyllis & Burton Kossoff Scholarship Fund at TC, which has so far supported 11 students in the College’s Department of Human Development. – Amanda Lang

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