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At critical moment, Merryl Tisch takes helm of state school board

Merryl Tisch, sitting next to teachers union vice president Carmen Alvarez at the Manhattan Assembly hearing on mayoral control. (##
Merryl Tisch, sitting next to teachers union vice president Carmen Alvarez at the Manhattan Assembly hearing on mayoral control. (##
Chalkbeat Colorado

Merryl Tisch, a former first-grade teacher and member of one of the city’s most philanthropic families, will head the committee that oversees the state public schools, the Board of Regents, state officials just announced.

The other Regents elected Tisch to the title today at a critical moment for state education efforts. The Education Department in Albany is launching an internal restructuring, and the Regents are searching for a new commissioner to run the department.

Commissioner Richard Mills, who had served 14 years in the job, presiding over an ambitious raising of graduation standards, announced his plans to retire last year. The current Regents chancellor, Robert Bennett, of Buffalo, said he would step down from the position 10 days ago. Tisch has been vice chancellor of the board since 2007 and served on the board since 1996. Her term as chancellor begins April 1.

Though Tisch has been a strong supporter of Mayor Bloomberg, she has also occasionally criticized him and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein. She told the Times last year that she disagreed with Klein’s request for looser regulations on state funds. “Nobody appointed him czar,” she said. She also testified to a committee that mayoral control of the schools, which Bloomberg strongly supports, should be curtailed. I reported her testimony, which was originally secret, at the New York Sun

Yet Tisch’s plans for the state’s public schools, which she laid out in a long statement accepting the new position, sound many similar notes to the Bloomberg administration’s work in New York City. It also echoes the Obama administration’s plans for education.

She said she plans to expand the state data system so that it tracks students’ academic progress from pre-kindergarten to college. She said the Regents and the state education department they oversee will “embrace innovation with a data-driven approach.” She also voiced support for alternative paths to the teaching profession and said the state should be searching for more “excellent teachers” to work with at-risk students, including black and Latino students, those with disabilities, and students still learning English.

Tisch didn’t immediately return a phone call to her New York residence. You can read an official biography of her here, which includes a summary of Tisch’s many board memberships and her teaching experience — she taught first-grade at an elite private Jewish day school, Ramaz, and holds an Ed.D from Teachers College at Columbia.

Also today, the state Education Department announced that the counsel to the Regents and the department, Kathy Ahearn, is stepping down to pursue a new job in the private sector.

Here’s the full outline of Tisch’s plans for the state’s public schools:

Going forward, standards, accountability and innovation will be the
watchwords of this Board and the State Education Department.

As Chancellor, I will insist that we continue to raise standards for
all of our children and hold every school district accountable for their
results, while providing the support necessary to get that done.

We will reform and expand our data system to make it easier to use,
faster, and more complete, extending from pre-kindergarten through

We will embrace innovation with a data-driven approach that seeks to
constantly identify and advance policies and best practices to raise
test scores, raise graduation rates, and finally close the achievement

We will extend the call for greater accountability and higher standards
to our two year colleges so that all of our graduates are prepared to
succeed in the workplace or to achieve at a four year college or

We will continue to find new ways to recruit the best and brightest
into teaching and keep them there with an openness to alternate routes
to certification and experiments to reward excellence.

We will find new ways to increase the number of excellent teachers
working in schools with students who need extra help, including black
and Latino students, English Language Learners and students with

And we will move forward with the effort begun by Chancellor Bennett,
the Board of Regents, and Commissioner Mills to redesign the State
Education Department so that we can better support local innovation in
our highest performing districts and engage more deeply with districts
that are struggling and in need of additional support.

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