Editorial: Teacher eval bill incomplete
GalleriesNew York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
The bill proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to make the state's new teacher evaluation system a valuable tool for parents and the public is almost good enough to support. But a better deal can be had. Based on a New York City lawsuit, there is legal precedent that total release of information, including teacher names, would be the rule unless a modifying law is passed. So with two years to go until those evaluations are compiled by school districts, there is still leverage with teachers unions eager to avoid full disclosure.
Cuomo's proposal would give parents rating information on the teachers their children currently have, by name. Parents could get that information "in any manner," by phone, in person or in writing. The state education department would also post on its website the results for all teachers, without names attached, by subject, grade, school and district. Teacher unions support the bill, as does the Assembly.
Our big problem, however, is that the only information that can do parents much good is data provided before the start of the academic year, on teachers the children will report to come fall. There are concerns that this would prompt even more teacher shopping than is currently done by parents already in the know. Superintendents and principals fear a scenario in which parents all demand the same one or two top instructors, with none of them willing to see their kids taught by average teachers -- much less the laggards. Better to know that in the spring. Waiting until the first, second or even third month to inform parents their child got a loser will cause chaos and give administrators even less time to make adjustments.
Down the road, the hope of the evaluation system is that this pressure from parents will create a situation where only "effective" and "highly effective" teachers get and keep jobs. In New York State, where the pay and benefits are often good and the jobs are in high demand, this could happen, but the transition will be difficult.
Appropriate legislation would guarantee that no confidential information on educators is released. It also must ensure that principals are accountable, and that means identifying them by school and name. The law should also provide information on a teacher's performance going back two or three years, instead of just one. This would be especially valuable for a teacher who had a tough class in a particular year but has generally excelled.
Passing up the deal on the table, which the Senate seems poised to do, is risky for the public and the unions. The alignment of political players and public momentum may change. The prospect of settling the disclosure question district by district would be chaotic.
Those who want full disclosure may be surprised to see the day when the unions become the strongest supporters of such transparency because it is the best way to protect their members from untrue or incomplete reports. If a deal can be struck Thursday, at the end of the legislative session, one that keeps the unions on board and delivers the other crucial components, it will be a worthwhile compromise that allows the state to get the ball rolling, and to perfect the system as time goes on.
But this bill isn't quite there yet.