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New York to consider making teacher evaluations available to parents

Global news, Teacher performance, US

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said they plan to take up the issue of whether to make teacher evaluations private or available to parents only, rather than allow the general public access to them.

Cuomo and Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, have said in recent days that they are considering making the records available on a limited basis.

“My inclination is the parent has a right to know the evaluation information of the teacher, so I think the parent’s right to know is important and should be protected,” the governor told reporters late last month.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said it wasn’t immediately clear whether there would be discussions on the issue after lawmakers return from their spring break April 17.

As new teacher accountability measures take effect across the country, policymakers are grappling with how best to balance government transparency and school personnel’s right to privacy. New York is implementing an evaluation system that factors in student growth on standardized tests for the first time. Unions, which oppose releasing evaluations, have philanthropist Bill Gates and other high-profile leaders on their side.

Nineteen states exempt teacher evaluations from disclosure, according to an Education Week report published last month. But a few states have moved to restrict access. Florida now requires districts to notify parents of children whose teacher has received more than one poor evaluation, and Michigan will implement a similar policy in 2015, the report said.

A bill to prohibit the release of evaluations to parents and the public is making its way through the Tennessee Legislature. At least 18 states, including New York, allow access through open-records laws, Education Week found. Other states disclose records only with permission of the teacher or a third party, such as a school district.

The issue came to the forefront in New York when the state’s highest court ruled against the United Federation of Teachers, which had sued to keep confidential the records of 18,000 teachers who were part of a pilot program to improve instruction. Several media outlets that had sought the records under the state’s Freedom of Information Law made them available to the public.

Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, said making the records public is an “abuse of the rights of teachers” and has no purpose other than to shame them.

The evaluation process is designed to support effective teaching and help professionals whose performance is less than stellar to improve, Iannuzzi said. If they don’t step up their performance, they should be removed, he said.

School officials and unions are in the process of agreeing on terms for the new teacher and principal evaluations, which have to be implemented if districts want to collect the aid increase included in the new state budget.

Gates wrote in a recent op-ed for The New York Times that he supports efforts to measure teacher effectiveness, but he disagrees with education advocates who want evaluations to be made public.

“Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today,” he wrote. “The surest way to weaken it is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming.”

The National Council on Teacher Quality doesn’t support making evaluations public, not even to parents, said Kate Walsh, the group’s president. That information should be between the principal and teacher, she said.

Principals are responsible for identifying and working with unsatisfactory teachers and taking appropriate action, Walsh said. Those who don’t act “should be held accountable for not holding teachers accountable,” she said.

Lawmakers and the governor will have to weigh privacy rights against parents’ rights to information about teacher and school performance, Silver said in a recent interview with WAMC public radio. Teachers currently are the only public employees in the state whose evaluations have been made public, he noted.

“I think you probably need a method by which parents can know how a particular teacher or a particular grade performs in a particular school,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean that some newspaper should have a picture of a teacher and their evaluation … on the front page of that newspaper.”

The state School Boards Association generally supports “transparency,” but in this case it might recommend waiting a year or two for personnel to become familiar with the new system and make sure information is reliable and accurate, spokesman David Albert said. It’s important for parents to know how well their child’s teacher is performing, he said.

The group hasn’t taken a position yet on whether evaluations should be available to the general public or just parents.

“They’re very important and once someone has kind of been publicly branded as an ineffective teacher, will we ever be able to change anyone’s mind about their performance, even if they improve dramatically?” Albert said.

Democrat and Chronicle, 08 April 2012

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