Tag Archives: Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

Florida Superintendents Announce They Have Lost Confidence in the State Accountability System

As you read this announcement from Florida school superintendents**, please remember that our new commissioner MaryEllen Elia has been most recently employed as a superintendent in Florida and has been touting her support of the Florida testing and evaluation systems since her arrival this past summer.

From the announcement:

Florida superintendents have consistently defended and supported accountability, the new Florida Standards, and the need to accurately measure student performance. At this time, FADSS is compelled to provide a position regarding the recent actions of the Department of Education (DOE) and the State Board of Education (SBE).

Florida district school superintendents have lost confidence in the current accountability system for the students of the State of Florida.

Bubble test3

Commissioner Elia told us she would be going on ‘listening tours’ around the state to hear from stakeholders when she started her job.  There hasn’t been much ‘listening’ going on on the tours though. Commissioner Elia already has her mind made up about Common Core regardless of what New York parents think.

A Siena College poll found that 64% of Néw York voters either oppose Common Core or thinks it has made no difference.

She also said, ““The United States used to lead the world educationally, but we’ve fallen to the middle of the pack. Our students are lagging behind, and the global economy is growing more competitive every day.”

Actually, that’s not true. The U.S. never led the world on test scores. When the first international tests were given in the 1960s, the U.S. students came in last. Yet over the next 50 years, our nation surpassed the other 11 nations that took the same test by every measure: economic productivity, technological innovation, military might, creativity, and democratic institutions. The test scores of 15-year-olds do not predict our future. The policies of our government, the decisions of corporations to outsource jobs, our treatment of our children and communities matter more.  – “Elia:  We Are Sticking with Common Core, No Matter What the Public Thinks” – Diane Ravitch September 25, 2015

I wonder if Commissioner Elia would be listening to her fellow superintendents if she was still employed in Florida?

If you missed all the questions and concerns associated with the hiring of Commissioner Elia back the end of May 2015, check them out here.  A few of the highlights:

A former school superintendent in Florida who led efforts to tie teacher evaluations and pay to student achievement and was fired after clashing with her board was appointed New York State’s education commissioner on Tuesday.  – “MaryEllen Elia named New York State Education Commissioner” New York Times

From Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Answer Sheet May 26:

Carol Burris, an award-winning principal in New York, said this about Elia:

“It is now apparent why the Board of Regents did not reach out to stakeholder groups and inform them that she was a candidate–if her support for merit pay, the Common Core, Gates Foundation grants,  the formulaic dismissal of teachers, and school choice were known, certainly there would have been an outcry from New York parents and teachers who have had more than their fill of test-based reforms.  The message of 200,000 Opt Outs has not been heard.”


** Reports regarding the Florida superintendents’ announcement:

Commissioner Elia affirms parents’ right to REFUSE state testing

Just in case anyone missed it last week, Commissioner Elia has ‘clarified’ that parents do indeed have the right to REFUSE the state standardized tests for their children.

Commissioner Elia says parents “absolutely” have the right to opt their kids out of state standardized tests, but she says she still wants to talk to them to try to bring them back to the fold.

“We haven’t done enough communication,” Elia said. “But if parents understand it and they still want their child to opt out, that certainly is their right.”

She admits the tests “have problems” and are “too long.”

“Elia clarifies position on opting out” WAMC August 31, 2015

The clarification was necessary due to the fact that many people (parents, assemblymen and even newspapers – keep reading) perceived her comments that “Its’s the law.” and discussion of talking to SED lawyers as threats to those who might consider refusing the tests in the future.

Commissioner Elia insists that her comments were misinterpreted as a threat but I do believe that this editorial from the Middletown Times Herald Record actually gets the ‘threat’ exactly right.  Unfortunately for the Times Herald Record editorial staff (who sounds incredibly excited and eager for parents who ‘opt-out’ to be punished), they missed the fact that the Commissioner shifted course right before they published their editorial.

Peter Greene who blogs at Curmudgucation brought the Middletown editorial to light (at least for me) and accurately points out the flaws in the editorial argument with the basic one being “It is NOT the law”.

Here they are making noise about how the opt-out movement is doomed. Doomed!! Oh, they had a big run last year, but that was back when there were no consequences for their shenanigans. But this year things will be different. Oh, yes, baby. Different. Because the new sherif in town has laid down the law.

The THR quotes MaryEllen Elia’s recent speech about how she’s armed superintendents with special parent-intimidation tool kits so that supers can make it clear that it’s the law. The editorial writer underlines that with punchy single-sentence paragraphs.

That’s worth repeating.

“It’s the law.”

 Well, no. It’s not worth repeating. It might be worth clarifying. As in, what, exactly is the law. Because while I have not examined the relevant laws of New York State in painful detail, I’m pretty sure that what the law says is that schools must give the test. There’s no law that says that students must take the test.

Mr. Greene, who lives in Pennsylvania, might not have examined the relevant New York laws in detail but parents in New York did and it seems Commissioner Elia has finally done so as well.

Elia knows better. As the THR was threatening doom and unspecified penalties for opt-out naughtiness, Elia was “clarifying” her position in the kind of political clarification that civilians think of as “taking back that dumb thing I said and trying to replace it with something less wrong.”

Elia has suddenly discovered that parents do, in fact, have the right to opt out. It’s even possible that they have a point about some of the test’s deficiencies (they “have problems” and are “too long”). Also her threats were totally not threats. Don’t be silly. But she is going to arm her superintendents with high-powered PR tool kits because she has not yet abandoned the last hope of the reformsters, which is that folks are hostile to Common Core Testing Stuff because they just don’t understand how awesome it really is, and once we finally ‘splain it to them the right way, they will be hollering, “Me!! Me!! Test my kids more, please!!”

Parents in New York have won the greatest victory of all– recognition by the state that they get to decide, and that they must be convinced– not coerced, not threatened, and not treated like the states’ low-level flunkies. It may take a while for word to get to Middletown, but the state is figuring out that they can’t simply order students to take the Big Standardized Test. And that’s the law.

I don’t think parents need more explanation about how awesome the New York State Common Core tests are.  They need a commissioner who will LISTEN to what is broken with education in New York State and will start working right now to FIX it!

Petitions to sign

Please read and sign the following two petitions regarding the right to REFUSE New York State Common Core tests:

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco wrote the “Common Core Parental Refusal Act” (A6025/S4161) to require school districts to notify parents of their right to refuse to have their children participate in the Common Core standardized tests.  The bill ensures that students, parents, teachers, schools and school districts will not be punished in any way because of test refusals.

Some state legislators said in March 2015 that the Common Core Parental Refusal Act was not necessary because parents already have the constitutional right to REFUSE the tests.  While parents do have the right to refuse the tests, many parents do not KNOW they have the right.  Also Commissioner Elia and Regent Tisch, while backing down on the threat to take away money from school districts who had too many REFUSALS this past school year, have clearly indicated that they have every intention of pressuring school districts, administrators, teachers and parents into making sure that students take the state tests this coming school year (read here and here).  The Common Core Parental Refusal Act is needed so that parents can refuse the state tests, if they wish to do so, without having to worry about what might happen to their student, teacher, school or school district.

From the petition to Support the Common Core Parental Refusal Act:

Dear Governor Cuomo:

I am very concerned about the over-utilization of Common Core-based standardized tests on children in grades 3-8 and urge you to support the rights of parents to have their children refuse these high stakes tests.

… I ask you to respect the rights of parents to make important decisions on the educational future of their children by supporting the Common Core Parental Refusal Act!

Governor Cuomo has just stated “I don’t believe there are sanctions for opt outs,” …  “At the end of the day, parents are in charge and parents make the decisions.” – Capitol Confidential August 20, 2015  Please sign the Common Core Parental Refusal Act petition and tell Governor Cuomo he needs to put legislation behind his statement that parents are in charge.

Commissioner Elia missed the memo that ‘parents are in charge’ and has bullied parents in districts with large percentages of opt-outs with threats of pulling school funding, called those who opted-out ‘unreasonable’ and stated that any teachers/administrators who encouraged test refusal (and she would be ‘shocked’ if any existed) were ‘unethical’.  Commissioner Elia talked about being ready to listen to concerns before she started her new job but it seems to me that she is doing all the talking and not much of any listening.

Because of Commissioner Elia’s harsh stance against those who are opposed to the state testing, Assemblyman Al Graf is calling on the New York State Board of Regents to FIRE newly appointed Education Commissioner Elia and re-evaluate their stance on Common Core and is asking New York State residents to join him by signing a petition requesting the same.

From the petition to fire NYS Education Commissioner Elia and re-evaluate Common Core:

New York State has continuously expressed a desire to partner with parents, teachers, and all the stakeholders in supplying a quality education for all of our children.

Commissioner Elia, through her statements has labeled concerned parents, teachers and other stakeholders who have expressed concerns about education in our state as adversaries. Parents attempted to communicate their dissatisfaction with the direction of education through an act of civil disobedience. The high number of opt-outs was meant to send a clear message to Albany.

Instead of digging in and threatening the people that are trying to send a message about policies they believe are harmful to our children, the State Education Department and the Regents should take a step back.

The debate over opposition to the Common Core curriculum is taking place in state after state, as well as on the federal level. It has also become a leading issue in the presidential campaign. Here in New York we have had an overwhelming opt-out movement, and more than 50,000 people actually voted on a Stop Common Core ballot line. It is time for the Regents to re-evaluate the direction they are determined to steer education in this state.

My signature is #587.  Please consider adding your signature to the petition as well.


NY State attempts to turn Poughkeepsie schools around through Receivership

As part of Governor Cuomo’s 2015 state budget package, a number of schools throughout New York State are being put into ‘receivership’ in an attempt to ‘turnaround’ the schools.  NYS Commissioner of Education Elia declared her commitment to these take-overs in the Buffalo area within days of beginning her new job.

We don’t have to go all the way to Buffalo to see what the impact of receivership might be however.  Poughkeepsie Middle School and Poughkeepsie High School, just across the river, are in receivership right now.

From the Poughkeepsie school district website:

The new law appoints a “receiver,” initially, the superintendent, to oversee the turnaround of the identified schools, and sets a deadline by which the schools have to make demonstrable improvement. Receivers are authorized implement changes, including lengthening the school day or school year, making curriculum modifications and, replacing staff.

Poughkeepsie High School and Poughkeepsie Middle School have two years to show “demonstrable improvement” within the guidelines of the Receiver. The state will set demonstrable improvement targets for each school. If a school does not meet those goals during that time, the state will require the Board of Education to appoint a state-approved outside receiver, removing the district’s ability to control future decisions about the school.

This process is baffling to me.  The initial ‘receiver’ (the person who is in charge and can make drastic changes) is the district superintendent per the new New York State law.  Not quite sure how this makes sense.  If the superintendent couldn’t make things work in the district before receivership, then how does one expect that he/she is going to have new ideas or plans to make things better when the district is in the receivership state?  Receivership seems to assume that the ‘education failure’ is either the fault of the school teachers/staff whom the superintendent receiver can fire or make reapply for their jobs or the school board of education whose decisions (budget/curriculum/any other decisions) can be overridden by the superintendent.  Apparently the superintendent is above fault but I suppose that makes sense or else the school board should have already fired/replaced him/her before the district went into receivership?  This doesn’t sound like a process likely to bring about positive change to me.

Here is discussion of the superintendent receiver from the perspective of the superintendents themselves as reported by NYSSBA (New York State School Boards Association).  Some Kingston parents are not going to agree with the superintendents regarding extended school day and community schools**.

“There is nothing in here that is a surprise,” said Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, superintendent of the Albany school district. “All the things in the receivership law are things we know we need to do. We need to extend the school day. We have to differentiate learning better so that we can concentrate on a variety of needs for students. We know that the community school model is effective for providing medical and mental health services. We have bits and pieces of those things already in place.”

But the title of receiver communicates a sense of urgency, superintendents told On Board.

“I see receivership as a key lever, right now, to galvanize our community,” said Nicole Williams, superintendent of schools in Poughkeepsie. She said her new title of receiver of two schools communicates the need for teachers, community members and district leaders to redouble their efforts.

The NYSSBA article points out that superintendent receivers who are receiving money from New York State to help with the turn-around seem a little more hopeful about being successful as superintendent receivers.  Poughkeepsie is not receiving any extra money to help with the turnaround.  Superintendent receivers also have different thoughts about what plans they will implement including the wisdom of replacing large numbers of school staff.  Refer to the article for details.

In Poughkeepsie, which has a struggling high school and struggling middle school, Superintendent Nicole Williams noted that school improvement is far from a new priority. She points with pride to an intensive focus on literacy that earned Poughkeepsie a spot on the program at this summer’s Model Schools Conference in Atlanta. She reeled off other initiatives including peer tutoring, participation in the state’s P-TECH early college high school program and student internship opportunities through a new partnership with the Dutchess County Chamber of Commerce.

… “We are on the right trajectory,” Williams said, and “we can ratchet up those practices under receivership, certainly.” She added that she “would welcome additional resources” to help support the district’s ambitious plans.

Spring, the Schenectady superintendent-receiver, questioned what assumptions legislators and the governor held when they created the receivership law.

“The state is expecting these schools to make things dramatically different in a short period of time when all the state is threatening them with is a bigger stick,” he said. “That supposes that people in these schools have not been sufficiently scared to do what they need to do. I just don’t think that’s true.”

Is the receivership stick going to be successful at ‘scaring’ the stakeholders (parents, teachers, administrators and school board members) at Poughkeepsie Middle School and High School into ensuring that the students get better test scores and more students graduate this year and next year so they can get out of receivership or will this be another case where the schools will continue to ‘fail’ (as so many students are ‘failing’ the New York State tests) and control will be passed off to an outside receiver even more removed from the situation making things worse and worse?  Only time will tell.

**Note that one of the decisions the superintendent receiver can make is to convert the school into a ‘community school’.  Some local parents have concerns regarding ‘community schools’ due to the ever-increasing government influence and potential decreasing parental ability to make decisions regarding student services such as health care. The superintendent receiver is not required to convert a school into a community school but is allowed to do so if he/she wishes.  If the process moves to an independent/outside receiver (the superintendent can’t fix the problem in the allotted one or two years), then the school MUST be converted to a community school.

Definition of Community School

A school that partners with one or more state, local or other agencies to:

  • Address social service, health and mental health needs of students in the school and their families in order to help students arrive and remain at school ready to learn;
  • Provide access to child welfare services and, as appropriate, services in the school community to promote a safe and secure learning environment;
  • Offer access to career and technical education and workforce development services to students in the school and their families in order to provide students and families with meaningful employment skills and opportunities;
  • Offer mentoring and other youth development programs.



New York Schools With Many Students Who Skipped Tests Won’t Lose Money

Threats have abounded both at the state and federal level that schools would lose money if parents/students REFUSED the state tests.  We now have official word from New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Tisch that schools will not be penalized by either the federal or state government because parents exercised their rights and REFUSED the state tests.

As recently as last week, the state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, said that she was not sure if the federal Education Department would withhold money from districts with high opt-out rates. She declined to rule out the possibility that the state would do so on its own.

New commissioner of education MaryEllen Elia committed to state take-over of ‘failing’ schools

New York’s new commissioner of education MaryEllen Elia is committed to having the state take-over ‘failing’ school districts (Governor Cuomo called this putting schools into ‘receivership’ in his 2015 education budget demands) – specifically the Buffalo school district if they don’t mend their ways in the next year.

Buffalo News’ Tiffany Lankes:  If there was any question how serious the state is about taking control of Buffalo’s schools, new Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia made clear her intentions to Buffalo School Board members late last week. ‘Rest assured,’ she told them in a meeting in Buffalo, ‘that if the schools do not show demonstrable improvement, someone will come in under my authority and fix those schools.’ The state Education Department already is taking steps to do just that. A year from now, five Buffalo schools are headed for a takeover by someone outside the district. Twenty more city schools are on the same path for the following year. At that point, the state has within its power to place any city school it deems failing in the hands of someone outside the district. And as it stands now, just 15 of the district’s 56 schools are in good standing with the state. That means, unless significant improvement is made in student performance, someone other than the Buffalo superintendent or School Board will be in charge of nearly half of Buffalo’s public schools in just a couple of years. – Education commissioner to Buffalo:  Fix your schools, or I will – July 19, 2015

This post from Diana Ravitch is important since it shows New York State’s less than stellar success in a past attempt at turning around a school district.

It’s worth recalling the state’s previous attempt to “fix” a failing district. In 2002, the legislature passed a law permitting a state takeover of the segregated Roosevelt school district on Long Island.

John Hildebrand of Newsday summed up the gains and losses in 2013, when the state relinquished control.

“New York State’s historic takeover of Roosevelt schools has fallen short of its purpose in boosting student academic performance, raising questions over how Albany might better deal with struggling districts in the future, policymakers say. The state is highly unlikely ever to attempt another direct takeover of a local district, those officials add. Albany’s intervention ends Monday, after 11 years and more than $300 million in extra state spending.

Please don’t ignore this because it is happening far away in Buffalo. Who knows how long before the New York State Education Department might decide it is time to take over schools right here in Dutchess or Ulster County?  When a district is put into receivership, local control is lost.  The local school board and school superintendent no longer have any say in what happens in the district.

When Elia demanded that the School Board fix the city schools or she would act, she was referring to a new state law that allows for the appointment of receivers who would have unprecedented powers to make sweeping changes at failing schools.

A receiver, appointed by the district from a list of candidates selected by the state commissioner, would have the authority to circumvent the voting power of the School Board and force changes to union contracts.

The receiver could lengthen the school day, require staff members to reapply for their jobs and implement academic programs. – Education commissioner to Buffalo:  Fix your schools, or I will – July 19, 2015

As I read the comments from Commissioner Elia in the Buffalo News**, I have to admit that I wondered exactly how she expects NYSED to be able to fix Buffalo’s problems.  Blogger Sean Crowley almost lost me at the start with his Game of Thrones references (I haven’t seen it) but I have to agree with the sentiments in his post:

NYSED Commissioner Elia told the media –just like the previous ineptocrat who held the NYSED sceptre– she was on a “listening tour” of the state. In truth, Commissioner Elia wasn’t listening to anyone. She was making statements. More to the point, she was making threats dolled up as promises. In Buffalo she continued to bang the ed reform drum about “failing schools” who’d better straighten up and fly right.

… If bluster and threats from out of touch bureaucrats could fix our struggling schools, New York’s schools would be leading the nation. If it wasn’t enough to hear Cuomo or Lil John King popping off at the mouth with misguided machismo and tough talk directed at teachers, now we’ve got this Sunshine State re-tread, her million dollar brown parachute from Florida not even unpacked yet, picking up the storyline exactly where King left off.

Unfortunately it appears that we are looking at another year of TEST REFUSAL and continuing to fight to save public education in New York State for our kids.


**Note:  Just so everyone knows, the Buffalo News has been charged by several fighting against Common Core as being a mouth-piece of Governor Cuomo and those who are supporting all of the current ‘education reform’ in place in New York.  I knew that when I read the Buffalo News article but didn’t think to point it out until I came across Mr. Crowley’s blog post.

New York State’s new Commission of Education – MaryEllen Elia

Despite concerns raised by parents and NYS Allies for Public Education today, the NYS Board of Regents appointed MaryEllen Elia as the new Commissioner of Education.

A former school superintendent in Florida who led efforts to tie teacher evaluations and pay to student achievement and was fired after clashing with her board was appointed New York State’s education commissioner on Tuesday.  – “MaryEllen Elia named New York State Education Commissioner” New York Times

Read more about Ms. Elia here and here and here.  This facebook page called for her resignation in Florida and here is NYSED’s glowing press release announcing her appointment today.

I hope and pray that the concerns raised about Ms. Elia are all for naught since she is now the New York State Commissioner of Education.  However I am baffled as to why the Regents decided to appoint a new Commissioner who comes to New York trailing rumors of dissatisfaction from parents in her previous Florida school district when New York is itself in such a state of turmoil.  How will starting with a commissioner that had to be ‘snuck in’ (Regents called in the day after a holiday weekend to vote before anyone got wind of what was going on) because the Regents apparently knew a large portion of the New York population would be unhappy with this appointment get us started on the right foot?

In a totally baffling move, NYSUT has expressed support for Ms. Elia.  Unfortunately we know that NYSUT is not expressing the will of many of the teachers it is supposed to be representing so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that NYSUT is supporting a Common Core supporter from the most highly tested state in the country who has a goal of firing teachers based on standardized tests/VAM (junk science).  Read over 3,000 New York teachers denouncing the selection of Ms. Elia here.

From Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Answer Sheet May 26:

Carol Burris, an award-winning principal in New York, said this about Elia:

“It is now apparent why the Board of Regents did not reach out to stakeholder groups and inform them that she was a candidate–if her support for merit pay, the Common Core, Gates Foundation grants,  the formulaic dismissal of teachers, and school choice were known, certainly there would have been an outcry from New York parents and teachers who have had more than their fill of test-based reforms.  The message of 200,000 Opt Outs has not been heard.”

Tell Board of Regents “No” to Mary Elia as NYS Commissioner of Education

UPDATE May 26, 2015 9pm – The Board of Regents voted unanimously at 4pm today to appoint Mary Ellen Elia as New York State Commissioner of Education.  I agree with Assemblyman Jim Tedisco’s summary of this appointment.

Once again, there was absolutely no transparency in this process. Where was the input from educators, elected officials and the public to help vet candidates and at least get a second opinion?

Something so important as the future of our children’s education deserved a more open and transparent process.

– original post below –

The Board of Regents is preparing to appoint Mary Elia as the New Commissioner of Education.  Ms.Elia is a former superintendent of Hillsborough FL who was recently fired by her school board.  Elia received a large grant from the Gates Foundation to evaluate teachers through test scores and is a big supporter of the CC. The Board of Regents meets at noon TODAY. Please flood their phone lines and tell the Regents to vote NO.


Regent Finn (518) 474-5889