Privacy law expected to block teacher data

A new privacy law probably will block full

A new privacy law probably will block full revelation of the number of public school teachers rated on a scale ranging from "highly effective" to "ineffective" in many of Long Island's 124 school districts and in those statewide, state school officials said. (Credit: iStock)

A new privacy law probably will block full revelation of the number of public schoolteachers rated on a scale ranging from "highly effective" to "ineffective" in many of Long Island's 124 school districts and in those statewide, state school officials said.

So far, the state Education Department has not publicly released the job ratings for an estimated 52,000 public schoolteachers, including 7,000 on the Island. The ratings, based largely on student test scores, were sent to school districts six months ago.

Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., asked about delay in public release of the data, has said the agency needs more time to determine how much information needs to be "redacted" -- a term for expunging specifics from public records.


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King's aides told reporters in a briefing and in personal conversations earlier this month that the department probably will withhold substantial information on teachers' job performance in specific districts and schools.

Full information likely will be released only in countywide summaries, according to the aides, who asked that their names not be used.

 

A balancing act

King and other education officials have said some information must be withheld because of a confidentiality law passed in June, at the end of the legislative session.

The measure, which had strong backing from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state's 600,000-member teachers union, bans public release of teachers' names and other "personally identifying information." The law limited public access of teacher evaluations to parents and guardians of schoolchildren.

The issue was a matter of heavy debate and negotiation in Albany. Cuomo, in signing the law, said in a statement, "This law strikes the right balance between a teacher's right to privacy and the parents' and public's right to know."

The Education Department, in the months since, has wrestled with what details can be released in any district without identifying individual teachers and flouting the law.

On Friday, an official from the governor's office questioned an Education Department interpretation of the law, which holds that data for teacher groups of about five or fewer cannot be disclosed. That would potentially block release of many job ratings -- especially the relatively few teachers expected to be rated at either the lowest or highest end of the scale.

Teachers receive a rating of "highly effective," "effective," "developing" or "ineffective." Those rated "ineffective" in two consecutive years face firing after expedited hearings.

"This law requires full disclosure," said Matthew Wing, a spokesman for the governor. "There are common-sense measures to protect private information of individual teachers from being released in certain circumstances, but the ratings of all teachers are required to be disclosed."

Tom Dunn, a department spokesman, said his agency will provide what the law requires -- that is, "full disclosure while protecting personally identifiable information."

Dunn added that he didn't think any teacher ratings would be released this week, and that state law does not require disclosure until June. King had promised release early this year.

 

Tax activists speak out

Some Long Island taxpayer representatives reacted with outrage last week when asked about the department's position on limiting public release of the data. Tax activists noted that releasing only countywide summaries could mask districts that have larger numbers of ineffective teachers.

"It appears our children are pawns in the hands of teacher unions, politicians and bureaucrats," said Laurann Pandelakis of Manhasset, a board member of Long Islanders for Educational Reform, a regional taxpayer group.

Pandelakis, a retired New York City assistant school principal, advocates rigorous teacher evaluations and public disclosure.

Supporters of the privacy law pointed out, however, that Cuomo and a majority of state lawmakers have taken some positions unpopular with teacher unions -- for example, the 2011 passage of a statewide cap on property taxes.

Some supporters of confidentiality expressed skepticism that the state's first-ever ratings, known as "growth" scores, will accurately identify ineffective teachers.

Ratings were calculated through a complex statistical formula comparing each student's improvement on state tests in grades 4-8 with that of similar students statewide.

"Nobody's going to want their child in a classroom with a teacher labeled as ineffective," said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, the Island's representative to the state's Board of Regents. "The more privacy the better, not just for the teacher, but for the orderly operation of schools."

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