Contact: Nancy Cauthen, Change the Stakes,; Megan Devir, NYCOO,

CTS and NYCOO Respond to the Selection of MaryEllen Elia as New York’s Commissioner of Education

We at Change the Stakes and NYC Opt Out have grave concerns about the appointment of MaryEllen Elia as the next Education Commissioner for New York State. We are alarmed both by Ms. Elia’s public record as well as the process by which she was appointed.

After trying in vain for years to get the attention of state education officials and their elected overseers, NY public school parents resorted to mass opt outs as a form of democratic protest. Yet, on the heels of an unprecedented grassroots rebellion on the part of parents across the city and state, the Board of Regents has once again ignored our voices. While leaders of various stakeholder groups were apparently consulted about the selection of the Commissioner, leaders of the opt-out movement were not. There was no transparency in the selection process, no public vetting of candidates, no opportunity for public input.

Ms. Elia’s record makes it clear that she is born and bred of the corporate “reform” movement. As she stated in remarks yesterday, she is a strong supporter of both the Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing; she was an early proponent of using test scores to evaluate teachers, complete with $100 million in funding from the Gates Foundation. She also said that the best way to avoid opt outs is to increase communication. That is well in keeping with the views of her new boss, Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who recently said, “I hope over the next year to convince parents to help us help them understand why we test.” Both comments convey to parents a haughty disdain for the state of our knowledge; opt-out families are exceptionally well-informed, and the more we have learned about the policies surrounding high-stakes tests, the more resoundingly we have rejected them.

Ms. Elia’s selection by a unanimous vote signals that the Board of Regents intends to continue to condescend to the growing numbers of parents who reject test-driven, standardized education peddled by billionaires and corporate profiteers. In her few remarks made available to the public yesterday, the one desire Ms. Elia expressed for students – our children – is that they be supported “to be successful with new standards.”

Parents want our children to be held to high standards and we want them to be successful, which is precisely why we demand child-centered, individualized education – without high-stakes testing – to help each and every one of them reach their full potential. We want them treated equitably, regardless of the color of their skin, their cultural background or their abilities. Nothing Ms. Elia has said or done, of which we’re aware, suggests that she shares this vision.

We will reserve final judgment about Ms. Elia until she is on the job here in New York and we see how she approaches parents. But we are putting Chancellor Tisch, the Board of Regents, the Governor, the legislature – as well as the leaders of the UFT and NYSUT – on notice: we are angry, we refuse to be ignored, and we will succeed in restoring democracy to public education in New York State.