Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Friday, July 24, 2015

How MaryEllen Elia Fools Some Critics (But Not All)

I've been writing for a few weeks now that new NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is engaging in a "rebrand" effort for New York's education reform agenda, but underneath the "repainting" we see the same old same old reforms - the Endless Testing regime, a pro-Common Core push, and a Blame Teachers attitude toward educators.

Jessica Bakeman writes that Elia comes at this agenda with a more deft touch than her predecessor, John King, and has managed to fool many critics so far that her agenda is different - even though it isn't:

ALBANY—New York’s new education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, and her predecessor, John King, both support the state’s controversial reform agenda, including implementing the Common Core standards, testing students on the more difficult material and evaluating teachers using students’ exam scores.

But it’s what makes her different from the former chief that state education officials have highlighted.
Elia is seasoned at 66, compared to King, who at 36 became the youngest education commissioner in the state’s history. Elia spent more than four decades working in traditional public schools, as a teacher, an administrator and a superintendent, while King had relatively limited experience in schools before founding a prominent charter school network. She has been described as a skilled listener, communicator and collaborator, while he was often criticized as being out of touch and tone deaf.

In hopes of turning King’s critics into Elia’s supporters without reversing course on the reform agenda they’ve pursued for five years, the new commissioner, her communications staff and the State Board of Regents, which appointed her in May, have pitched her as his opposite.

 So far—and granted, it’s still early—the strategy seems to be working.
Elia’s record, like King's, is that of an aggressive reformer. In her last position as superintendent of a large, diverse school district in central Florida, she implemented teacher evaluations before the rest of the state with a $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and negotiated with teachers a merit-pay system. Since coming to New York, she has repeatedly described herself as a believer in “accountability.” She supports Governor Andrew Cuomo's receivership model to turn around struggling schools, a plan that could lead to the firing of principals and teachers, and she stressed just giving schools more money isn't the answer.

Bakeman has two pretty good examples of how Elia isn't doing anything different than what came before at SED, but is getting credit for "change" from her critics.

The first is when she said she was instituting a review of the Common Core standards.

That review is in state law as passed this year but Elia broached it as if it were her idea.

The second was in the new testing contract with Questar that "Elia emphasized that the new contract specifically requires teachers’ input in the tests’ content."

Her PR on this:

“New York State teachers will be involved in every step of the test development process,” Elia said in a statement. “Teacher input is critical to building a successful state test.”

But a former NYSED functionary points out that stipulation was in the Pearson contract too:

What’s not in her statement: The contract with Pearson, which ultimately totaled $38 million over five years, also required input from educators. Education officials for years stressed to critics that every question on the exams had been vetted by New York teachers.

Ken Slentz, former deputy education commissioner who now leads a small district in the Finger Lakes, said the department’s messaging suggested the new contract offered something the old one didn’t, which he called “disingenuous.”

“The Questar contract calls for the role of teachers; the Pearson contract had that as well,” he said. “Instead of going out and having these fact-based conversations, we’re being a little bit disingenuous about how we do business. That doesn’t help us in terms of overcoming these misinformed conversations.”

There has been no change to the state's education reform agenda under MaryEllen Elia, but that hasn't stopped critics of NYSED and John King from falling all over themselves to praise Elia.

Take NYSUT, for example.

NYSUT President Karen Magee declared Elia's appointment a victory for NYSUT.

Then there are the nice things NYSUT said about the Questar contract.

Bakeman reports how Assembly Dems like Patrica Fahy are saying nice things about Elia too.

But make no mistake, there are no changes to the state's reform agenda under Elia, as members of the Board of Regents acknowledge:

Board of Regents member Roger Tilles, who represents Long Island on the board, said he believes Elia will be better suited to convince Cuomo and lawmakers to increase state aid to the department.

“The new commissioner is in a much better position to ask for that than the previous commissioner,” he said. “She’s not tainted. There’s not the baggage. And maybe she’ll make exactly the same pitch that John King made. I’ve already seen it when she’s talked to the public in general. She could [talk about] the same issues, and the public will buy it, as opposed to John, when there was immediate antagonism.”

Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch said Elia's long career in public education has helped her gain the respect of skeptics.

“She has been very well received by all constituent groups,” Tisch said, referring to Elia. “She’s got 40 years of experience, so when she says something, people can’t just say to her, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ She speaks with authority. She speaks from experience. She speaks with conviction, and she speaks with deep knowledge. And that is important.”

Bakeman reports that NYSAPE are not fooled by MaryEllen Elia and see the Endless Testing regime continuing under her despite the new PR efforts.

If you're a reader of Perdido Street School blog, NYC Educator's blog, ICEUFT blog or Ed Notes Online, you know we're not fooled by the PR either.

MaryEllen Elia's reform agenda is the same as John King' reform agenda was and Andrew Cuomo's reform agenda is.

At the core is a "Blame Teachers" mentality, an attitude that accountability is for individual schools and teachers, perhaps for districts, but never for the geniuses in Albany who make the policy or put it into action, and a love of the Endless Testing regime and the Common Core.

Elia is pursuing that agenda right now in the receivership push, talking tough to officials and administrators in districts with "struggling" schools while dismissing funding inequity or any other issues other than mismanagement.

I'm not exactly sure what John King's critics who've become MaryEllen Elia's fans are watching with Elia - it's pretty obvious that her game is the same as John King's game (and the same as Andrew Cuomo's game.)

Nonetheless, I will continue to point out over and over that the state's reform agenda has no changed under MaryEllen Elia, I will continue to illuminate Elia's track record in Hillsborough which was abysmal bordering on the criminal, and do my best, in my little corner of the Internet, to get people to see MaryEllen Elia for the corporate reformer and jive artist she is.


  1. The problem is that we here on this blog and on fact the active, tuned-in, engaged folks....well, we are the minority by far of teachers in the state, including those heading up NYSUT. Truth is that we are more engaged and clear on this stuff than the tip top of our union leadership....I mean that. That isn't snark....people who read this blog and contribute to it are way way way more in the know than NYSUT leaders. This is the saddest thing.

    Beyond that, most teachers in the state are more worried about their disney trip, their next baby being squirted out, and taking pictures for facebook of their feet facing the ocean than they are of the political (and very real) threats to their profession. Hate to say it, but we all know its true. I can't count how many times I've had to give a basic rundown of the threats we are facing to deer-in-headlight looking colleagues. Only for them to say something like "I just can't believe that. Its all a pendulum." Idiots.
    Its like a discovery channel program with the sad hooved animal getting eaten by the big cat. Its all so plain to understand whats about to go down like eons before.

    So Elia....yeah, she'll make it longer and will do more damage than King, and like 90% of the teachers and 100% of the NYSUT leadership will all be in shock when more awful shit happens.

    F'ing Shitshow.

    I have no (as in 0, none, the absence of all things, zero) hope.

    1. I give rundowns all the time too to no avail. People here in Newark are telling me that Cerf is better than Anderson. No, not really.

  2. Meet the new boss...same as the old boss!

    1. Different optics, same pathogen.