Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, August 30, 2015

MaryEllen Elia Staring At A "No-Confidence" Vote

Fred LeBrun in the Times-Union on MaryEllen Elia and the heavy hand she's showing in dealing with the Opt Out movement:

There was nothing politic about her emerging strategy for taking on the Opt Outers. It seems confrontational, rather crude and patronizing. Good luck to that. Even Gov. Andrew Cuomo knows enough to be conciliatory when armies of parents become irate.

Remember the state Education Department's own statistical analysis of Opt Outers, the one-third of eligible upstate and Long Island third through eight graders who chose not to take the standardized tests last spring. Their families are white, solidly middle class, well educated, generally from low needs — that is to say, not impoverished — school districts. Regardless of what the new standardized tests might suggest about them — more would fail than pass — these students routinely grow up to hit the appropriate SAT benchmarks, graduate and go on to two- and four-year colleges.

These are not the kind of parents who are likely to be intimidated by vague assertions that, as Elia now suggests, a reason to take the standardized tests is because, ''listen, it's the law.'' It may be the law that public schools must offer the tests. But nothing I've read even suggests it's the law a student must take them. Parents do have rights. If anything, Elia's tack is likely to throw fuel on the fire rather than quell it in terms of opting out. Likewise, any back handed attempt to paint the Opt Out movement as being fanned by teachers is as insulting to the legions of parental volunteers who are Opt Out's core, and know it, as it is to teachers. Nor is Elia's condescending suggestion that fuller knowledge of what Common Core is and these standardized tests are about will turn Opt Outers around.

In my experiences, those in the Opt Out movement are very well informed already, which is why they're involved. With a better and wider perspective, incidentally, than state education officials trying to peddle as fresh fish stale educational policy on its way out on the national level. If there were indeed persuasive justifications for the these high stakes tests, we would have heard them by now. Nationally, the latest Gallup poll shows the public is overwhelmingly figuring that out.


The short of it is Elia doesn't seem to recognize the seriousness of the Opt Out movement, or the high stakes game she's in. Come next spring, it's her credibility now on the line as well as the public's confidence in her agency's ability to guide public education in this state. And right now, they're staring at a no confidence vote.

Elia's support in Albany is soft and thin - many politicians, the unions and other stakeholders said nice things about her when she was hired (even Fred LeBrun acknowledges she's more adept at PR than John King was), but that support will disappear quickly the more she throws down with parents, educators, schools and school districts over opt out rates.

Some Republicans in the Assembly have already displayed no-confidence in Elia, with James Tedisco warning that Elia's putting together a "goon squad" to intimidate parents and teachers over the Endless Testing regime and Al Graf putting together a petition calling for the Legislature to have her canned.

As she puts together her "goon squad" to punish educators, schools and districts that have high rates of students opt out of the state tests next year, she's going to discover that the politicians who said nice things about her this year will throw her under the bus next year quicker than you can say "LLC loophole," that the Board of Regents and Chancellor Tisch will do the same (Tischie threw King under the bus a few times - most notably during the Dr Ted fiasco), and Cuomo will out and out scapegoat her and NYSED whenever he feels the need to distance himself from his own education policy.

It will be interesting to see what Elia's standing is like next August compared to this one after a year of her opt out and Renewal School heavy-handededness, condescension toward parents over opt out and the general shrillness and incompetence we can expect from her given her track record in her old gig in Florida where she left a financial mess, safety issues that resulted in the deaths of three students, and a lot of enemies.

I suspect Le Brun is right, that Elia will have worn out her welcome in New York and will be staring at a no-confidence vote from the public and political establishments for herself and her education department.


  1. The education budget law actually required Elia to give a report on how to reduce testing at the state and local level by JUNE 1, 2015 to Cuomo and leaders of the Senate and Assembly. Instead she creates this "goon squad" to force students to be tested.

  2. Here's a little retro on John King and his contrasting style, equally terrible and reformy.