Credit: Illustration by Christopher Serr

The battle over whether teacher evaluations should be public, hidden or available only to parents, appears headed to an unworkable and largely useless accommodation. The framework of a deal in Albany that became public over the weekend would allow only parents to see evaluations, not the public or media, and give only vague information via labels like "ineffective," "effective" and "highly effective."

It is, to be fair, a thorny problem. Practically no other public employees, whether they be cops, firefighters, lawyers or park rangers, get publicly scrutinized evaluations.

But those workers don't care for and educate our children all day, and their evaluations wouldn't help as much.

When your house is ablaze, you don't send away firefighters because they weren't rated "highly effective." Parents, though, would seek highly rated teachers. That pressure is what reformers hope will force districts to deal with the underperformers.

Evaluations should be public, but they must be meaningful and not expose any truly confidential information. The reports need to be available to all, in writing or online, because there's no such thing as semi-secret. While teacher unions are fighting for extremely limited disclosure, in the end, public information is the only way to protect teachers from untrue or misleading accusations. Similar assessments of principals must be available, too.

The evaluations will be based 20 percent on student results on state tests, 20 percent on district-approved tests and 60 percent on classroom observation. Districts can decide whether that observation is all done by the principal or if other administrators, students, parents and teachers will have input.

What should be available is a compact, comprehensive assessment of how teachers did in each category and what the strengths and weaknesses were, not just broad, bland labels.

It's also important to release assessments of principals based on how their schools' students fared in standardized tests, creating a strong incentive to keep the right teachers, lose the wrong ones and improve the in-betweens.

The point of these evaluations is to improve the quality of education. Making them comprehensible and available would help.


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