Teacher eval process needs more scrutiny

A file photo of New York Governor Andrew

A file photo of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Sept. 10, 2011) (Credit: Getty Images)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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The advent of a new teacher-evaluation apparatus remains in a tangle of labor politics, state bureaucracy, lobbying by interest groups and questions of funding.

Systems for evaluation have yet to be settled. Districts are still negotiating options. Questions of who pays added expenses are ever-present. Just as fans like to broadly call new evaluation methods "reform," critics in some places suspect these added tasks will earn the label "unfunded mandates."

There are many moving parts to such evaluating -- with one training film having giddily compared it to building an airplane in midair. But even before it all takes shape, state lawmakers are already parsing how much access the public should have to these reports.

Just as the evaluation debate hinges on the slippery question of exactly how to hold teachers accountable for student performance, the debate over publishing them prompts other gnarly questions. Should evaluations -- where imposed -- be routinely released for other civil servants? Would it be possible to provide teacher evaluations in full to parents but then prevent further dissemination?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- seeking to play the populist card on schools -- said recently, "I believe that parents have a right to know. I believe teachers have a right to privacy, to some extent."

Cuomo said that, while such records for cops, firefighters and other uniformed officers are exempt under the freedom-of-information laws, "I believe in the case of teachers, the parents' right to know outweighs the teachers' right to privacy."

Before even broaching all that, however, Assemb. Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) has questioned the state Education Department's performance in getting the basics done, citing repeated delays.

"What was intended to increase education aid and enhance accountability has turned into just another unfunded mandate already draining limited resources away from our children," he said last month.

Tuesday he added: "Like anything else it comes down to the quality of the people administering it . . . The goal is to help teachers improve but also to identify teachers who show an inability or unwillingness to improve. It's multifaceted."

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. is expected Wednesday to answer relevant questions before the Assembly Education Committee.

As public educators attract fresh scrutiny, remember that companies that benefit from testing and measuring students, teachers and principals -- which often lobby, offer advice and contribute to elected officials -- merit evaluation as well.

Danny Kanner, a spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Tuesday confirmed an "ongoing" investigation into the Pearson Foundation, the nonprofit arm of a major corporation (and state teacher-assessment contractor), having paid for international trips for state education officials.

Kanner declined to elaborate or say how long the probe, begun in December, might last.