An Interview with Merryl Tisch
EU: Which one of your educational contributions
has been most important to you?
Merryl Tisch (MT): As
a member of the New York State Board of Regents, I bring
a slightly different perspective than perhaps the other people
in my family that are engaged in education. They deal in
very subject specific areas-be it single-sex education or
arts education or the rebuilding of the fields for public
schools. What I do is marry all of those disparate interests
and create policies around schools, particularly public schools,
such that physical education, arts education and high academic
standards come under my purview. I'm constantly engaged with
different people coming from different perspectives. For
example, we're now redoing middle school education. One of
the proposals coming out of that is to cut the amount of
art and music that middle schoolers in New York State would
receive. Knowing first hand the work of Laurie's group and
the difficulty they had in putting arts back in the schools,
I'm able to advocate in a real sense, with a lot of power
and documentation behind me, just how important it is to
get the arts put back in the school. As a policy board, the
last thing we should consider is taking art out of the schools.
EU: Are you the lone voice on the Board of Regents,
advocating arts in the schools?
I don't think so. I think by persistently talking to my colleagues
about it, making a case and talking about how particularly
in urban settings where kids have depleted lives in so many
other ways, the ability to incorporate some art and music
as a part of their education is really very important.
EU: What are some of the issues you're dealing
a state policy board we are going to look at the effect of
the assessments on the kids in the school system to see if
it's time for us to readjust what we require for graduation.
I'm very interested in whether or not the dropout rates have
been affected by the five high school exit exams. What do
you do with the kid that passes 4 exams but doesn't pass
the 5th? Do you deny him that high school diploma?
I'm interested in whether or not students with disabilities
get access and opportunity to comparable alternatives so
they can be part of the higher academic requirement system.
At a time when we are looking to make the high
school diploma in NY State a rigorous and worthy diploma, it's
incumbent on us to see what the unintended consequences are
of these very stringent policies.
I'm very interested in making pre-kindergarten
mandated in NY and having that put in as part of the regents
budget proposal. I believe if you want to really close the
performance gap, focus with teeth, money and a policy on early
beginnings. What's the difference between a parent on the upper
east side who really vies to get their kid into the 92nd Street
Y program and other parents? Why shouldn't everyone have that
access and opportunity to an enriched program for 3-year-olds.
The overarching goal is whether we, as a board, are putting
into place, policies that address the achievement gap.
EU: How and where do you receive information
to shape your decision-making?
have decided to do it as part of my committee work. I co-chair
the elementary, middle and secondary committee and special
education. We set up a list of agenda items based on the
I engage to a large extent with the Chancellor's
office in NYC. I kind of bridge the dialogue between what NYC
needs and what they're trying to do in NYS. I'm very involved
in working with Randi Weingarten and alongside the Mayor's
EU: Who were some of your mentors? Can you tell
us about your own education?
the greatest mentors was Regent Saul Cohen. Harold Levy,
Saul and I would travel together to Albany meetings and the
ability to listen to Saul talk on certain key educational
issues became, what Harold and I referred to as “our
own private university.” I'm also beginning to engage
with the new head of NYU School of Education, Mary Brabeck,
I think she's going to be a great and exciting leader. I
am fortunate to have Arthur Levine as the chair of my dissertation
committee—he's a great thinker.
From the CUNY side I have a very close relationship
with Al Posamentier, Nick Michelli and Matthew Goldstein. I
am fortunate to have the ability to double-check my thoughts
with this group of great thinkers in the field.
I went to
the Ramaz School and then on to Barnard College. I was an
excellent student at all schools, including graduate school,
except college. I used to be on the Board of Trustees at
Barnard, which was unique–women coming
back to putting these institutions on the map.
As the president of a large poverty agency, I saw
the needs of children in school environments and teachers under
the strain of being social workers as well as psychiatrists.
EU: What advice would you give to young people
most important thing to do is never burn a bridge, always
build trust in others. The greatest skill I've learned is
to always keep yourself open to hear what other people have