Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio
June 21, 2012
There was a little bit of drama in an otherwise mundane end to the legislative session, when Senate Republicans agreed in the final hours to approve Governor Cuomo’s proposal on how to make teacher evaluations public.
Senate Republicans, on the final day of the session, agreed to take up Cuomo’s bill, which will make public all teacher evaluations, without names attached. Parents would then be able to obtain the specific evaluations of their own child’s teacher. Assembly Democrats had already agreed to pass it. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos says it’s a reasonable compromise.
“It strikes a good balance between parents’ right to know and some form of confidentially,” Skelos said.
Some GOP Senators were concerned that the bill would inadvertently result in the disclosure of the identities of teachers in small rural schools.
Senate Education Chair John Flanagan calls it a “work in progress”, and says the message of intent accompanying the bill will attempt to make clear the need to protect teacher privacy.
“I’m hoping that if you’re in a small school and they release data by class, subject and grade that there’s some type of interpretation to protect people’s privacy,” said Flanagan.
Senator Skelos says the bill might need to be amended later.
The complexities involved in striking a balance between teacher privacy and the parent’s right to know was the subject of debate on the Assembly floor. Some lawmakers say it’s too early to devise a means to publicly release the data, when most schools have not even finalized the criteria for conducting the evaluations. The teacher evaluations, agreed to as part of New York’s federal Race To The Top grant, will be completed by schools within the next year.
Assemblyman Joel Miller, a Republican from the Hudson Valley, says there’s no way to prevent the teacher’s scores from becoming public through social media on the Internet.
“When they get the information that their kid is going to be taught by the worst teacher in the school, I can assure you that smoke will come out of their ears,” said Miller. “And the pressure to start pressing the buttons on their computer to spread that information is going to be overwhelming.”
Governor Cuomo admits there’s no way to prevent parents from distributing the information on their child’s teacher, and he says it would not be appropriate to penalize parents who do so.
“I don’t want to do any of that,” Cuomo said.
The bill is backed by the state’s major teacher unions. New York State United Teachers, in a statement, says the measure will “keep teacher personnel records confidential” andstop “the shameless media exploitation and distortion of evaluation information”. Several New York City newspapers have previously published teacher scores, with the names attached. The unions have often helped both Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans in their election campaigns through donations and staffing for phone banks and door to door literature distribution.
When the Senate Republicans ultimately agreed to the evaluation disclosure bill, they went against the wishes of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who had sought greater disclosure of teacher scores. Senator Skelos, who has been an ally of the mayor, admits he spoke to Bloomberg and the mayor is “disappointed”.
“I hope he’ll see that the glass is half full rather than half empty,” Skelos said.
Senator Skelos predicts that the two will work together on other issues in the future.