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Tisch urges Cuomo to stick with the Common Core despite the backlash

The state’s outgoing education policy chief on Wednesday implored Gov. Andrew Cuomo to preserve the state’s new tougher learning standards and exams, despite mounting opposition from parents and teachers unions.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who recently announced she will step down in March, oversaw the state’s rocky shift to the Common Core standards and tests. Cuomo backed the switch to more challenging learning goals, but he has sharply criticized the way the state education department managed the transition.

The standards have become increasingly unpopular nationwide and in New York, where more than 200,000 students boycotted the Common Core exams this spring, prodded by a state teachers union that opposes the use of those test scores in teacher evaluations. Largely in response to that backlash, Cuomo recently commissioned a group to review the standards, which he said are “not working.”

Tisch said during a public radio interview Wednesday that Cuomo “believes in high standards, he believes in testing,” but he is also “hearing a lot of noise in the background” from Common Core critics. Calling the governor a “very important ally in the reform effort,” she urged him not to let the backlash steer him away from the standards.

“I understand that people are putting enormous pressure to roll back, to stand still, to do a moratorium,” she said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. However, she added, “I would just hope that when they push back, that no one panics.”

Tisch’s comments may signal the start of a series of public defenses of her policies during her final months as chancellor. When she revealed her plans last week to step down, she said part of the reason for the early announcement was to free her to speak out on contentious education issues as Cuomo and lawmakers set their policy agendas for next year.

Despite Tisch’s warm words for Cuomo on Wednesday, the governor has often been at odds with the Regents, the education policymaking board appointed by the state legislature.

Most recently, Tisch and several Regents have criticized Cuomo-backed changes to the state’s teacher evaluation law, which increased the weight of student test scores in teacher ratings. In September, the Board of Regents approved a waiver process that allows districts to slow down their switch to the new evaluations.

Tisch tried Wednesday to draw a contrast between her stance on tougher teacher evaluations, which she has supported, and people who have “very strident views about teachers.” (Cuomo has called evaluations that label almost all teachers effective “baloney.”) Tisch said her reason for championing an evaluation overhaul was to help improve all teachers, not to weed out weak ones.

“I never believed that you can fire your way to success,” she said. “I believe you have to invest in great professional development and help teachers along the way to shift their practice.”

However, she said she regretted pushing the state to adopt the new evaluation system and the new learning standards at the same time. But she predicted that the backlash over the Common Core will subside as teachers adjust to the new rating system.

“I suspect once the fight over teacher evaluation gets settled, we will see less anger over the standards and quite frankly over an accountability system,” she said.

During this year’s battle over the evaluation changes, the city and state teachers unions attacked Cuomo for spending too little time in schools to understand the challenges faced by teachers. Asked whether the governor had ever joined her on a school visit, Tisch said Wednesday that she had “never, ever toured a school with the governor.”

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