Increase in candidates marks shift in view of Board of Regents
ALBANY — An outpouring of candidates to fill two seats on the state Board of Regents, and increased transparency in the interview process, mark a change in the public view of the policymaking board, and could shed light on the type of person who will be appointed next.
“The number of candidates is indicating a real crossroads that New York State is in right now. Folks want to be really engaged and focused in this process,” said Noel Anderson, director of Education Leadership at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. “It’s the most powerful example of where the state of New York is right now when it comes to public dissatisfaction with the way we’ve been governing schools.”
Lawmakers Wednesday finished the third and likely final day of interviews to fill an at-large position and the 5th Judicial District seat on the board.
Approximately 50 candidates in total came to the State Capitol to be vetted by members of the Legislature, who will make their selection during a joint session in March, a process largely controlled by the Assembly Democrats. The high number of applicants, and their variety of experience, was noted several times by lawmakers throughout the interview process.
In comparison, last year about 50 applicants were interviewed to fill four seats.
Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly speaker Carl Heastie, told POLITICO New York that at-large seats typically draw from a wider pool.
The particularly significant increase, though, is largely in response to the controversy in the state surrounding the Common Core learning standards and testing, as well as part of a larger conversation about the role of the 17-member Board of Regents.
“This group has more power than we’ve given them credit for,” Anderson said. “I think this is an important period also just for the awakening that’s happening in New York State when it comes to the role of governance and policy.”
Regents elections had traditionally been uncontroversial, with the incumbent typically being easily re-elected. Board members historically were not as outspoken and in the public light. The contentious rollout of the Common Core learning standards, as well as a growing state test refusal movement, however, have continued to change the board’s makeup.
The board members hadn't historically faced criticism, until the state began implementing mandates and testing in response to federal education policies, such as the broad No Child Left Behind law, Anderson said.
The public began asking how members were selected, and how this group “that is sort of very closed door,” shapes education policy, Anderson said.
Lawmakers under the direction of Heastie — who replaced former speaker Sheldon Silver last year after he was forced out due to a corruption scandal —elected a more diverse group of candidates, who often vote against the majority on the board.
Parents have also taken the matter into their own hands, calling for resignations of board members, including current chancellor Merryl Tisch and vice chancellor Tony Bottar. Most notably, last spring, New York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of parent groups, led one of the largest test refusal movements in the nation. The group took it a step further endorsing board candidates and encouraging a number of educators to apply.
The election of two new candidates to replace 20-year board veterans —Tisch, who holds the at-large seat, and Bottar, currently in the 5th Judicial District seat — will further the shakeup. Both Tisch and Bottar helped usher in the Common Core and its connected teacher evaluation system. They have said they will not run for re-election.
Legislators will take the next two to three weeks to mull over the candidates, and could possibly have more interviews if enough candidates come out, Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan told POLITICO New York. “We’ll be talking with delegates…then we’ll talk to our leadership and see what happens next.”
But the decision will largely come down to Heastie, who leads the Democratic majority.
Assemblymembers previously told POLITICO New York they are looking for candidates who listen, are outspoken in their opinions and help lead the state toward less turbulent times.
The new members, particularly for the at-large seat, will likely be people focused on workforce policy given the shift towards Career and Technical Education, and Cuomo’s expansion of the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, or P-TECH schools, which offer a specialized six-year program geared toward college and career readiness, Anderson said.
“The safest bet would be to get somebody with a little bit more broader perspective that’s not currently [in the current group of 17],” he said.
The three days of interviews are expected to be posted here: http://bit.ly/1o4m513.