In part 1 of my New York City teacher evaluation commentary, I explained the judicial decision which determined that the public had a right to know how individual teachers were doing. Most tellingly, perhaps, was Judge Kern’s dismissal of the argument that flaws in the data mattered to her decision. Referring to a previous ruling by the state’s highest court, Kern said, “there is no requirement that data be reliable for it to be disclosed.”
We have to do this in public, a welcome window-opening in a system of baroque halls and closets.
This means that we have to do this in public, a welcome window-opening in a system of baroque halls and closets. The New York Times, one of the media outlets that had sued to gain access to the Teacher Data Reportshan (TDR), made the data available and issued an invitation to teachers to “respond to your data report.”
In fact, surprising many, Michael Winerip, the On Education columnist for the Times and normally no friend to education reform, had it about right:
At first, when I heard that news organizations were going to publish the list, I was angry, but that has passed. Good has come of this. People have been forced to stop and think about how it would feel to be summed up as a 47, and then have the whole world told.
Winerip’s would be a near-perfect conclusion if it weren’t such a reluctant one. If only he could bring himself to provide some context: that this imperfect new system is an attempt to right a terrible
Everyone predicted that Justice Cynthia Kern’s ruling last January to allow the release of the value-added scores for New York City teachers—with the teachers’ names—would set off a firestorm when the names were released (which is what happened when Los Angeles did the same thing in 2010). And it did.
“Teachers will be right in feeling assaulted and compromised,” declared Merryl Tisch, chancellor of New York State’s Board of Regents, just after New York City released some 18,000 teacher evaluations to the public last week.
“The arrogance of some people to say that the parents don't have the ability to look at numbers and put them in context and to make decisions is just astounding to me,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg shot back. “This is about our kids' lives. This is not about anything else.”
It is possible that in a different era, a court might very well have concluded that releasing teachers’ names was quite insane.
That pretty much set the tone for the debate: another assault on teachers versus the public’s right to know. And it turns out that the best window on to the question is the January 11 New York State Supreme Court decision itself, a sleek nine pages in which Judge Kern said her only job was to decide whether the city education department’s decision to release the teachers’ names with the Teacher Data Reports was “arbitrary and capricious under the law.” Did it have a “rational basis”?
It is possible that in a different era, a court might very well have concluded that releasing
The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, received some well-deserved praise last week for bringing the state education department and the teachers unions together on a new teacher evaluation rubric. (See here. And here. And here and here and here and here.) As Joe Williams wrote in the Daily News:
Weeks after declaring he would be a “lobbyist for students,” Gov. Cuomo delivered his 2.75 million young clients a major victory Thursday, using the weight of his office to break through the logjam blocking a common-sense mechanism for evaluating teachers based on whether children are learning.
Though there will be much grousing about how common-sensical it is to judge teachers based on how their students do on standardized tests (40 percent of the evaluation)—“it’s a dark day when politicians impose an untested scheme on educators,” wrote Diane Ravitch—the more fascinating part of this story is the New York City subplot.
New York's new 'impartial' observors promise to add yet another layer of bureaucracy to an already bloated system.
The United Federation of Teachers, which represents Gotham’s 75,000 teachers, negotiated an additional deal (also with Cuomo’s help), to include, according to the UFT, “third-party, independent validation of teacher ratings.” Though this applies, ostensibly, only to the appeal of decisions about a teacher’s effectiveness, it introduces an interesting, if largely untried evaluation method (see Nick Kristof on New Haven)—one that promises to add yet another layer of bureaucracy to an already bloated system. As Winnie Hu of the New York Times reports,
[C]ity education officials, with the consent of union
Every time I see a “poverty and education” story I think of the famous line from the New Testament in which Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.”
So, with education. Want a convenient scapegoat for our problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy.
Want a convenient scapegoat for our problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy.
I sat through an hour meeting of our small school district’s budget committee last week, most of it devoted to bemoaning our fate as a “poor district” (over 60 percent of our kids qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, the standard definition of “poor” for schools) in these recessionary times. State aid has been nearly flat and the Governor punched through a two percent local property tax cap. Woe is us. There goes sports. Not mentioned was the fact that we spend over $22,000 per student!
Diane Ravitch has been hitting the poverty gong for some time, most recently in Cleveland, where, she says, “the level of urban decay is alarming.” I was just in Cleveland and, while I can appreciate the sentiment, I fail to understand how she gets to the next sentence: “Yet its municipal leaders have decided that their chief problem is bad teachers.”
I visited a couple of successful Cleveland public schools during my visit—successful in educating poor children—and while principals in each of those schools said they could use more money, neither said that money—or their students’ lack of it—was their major challenge. Getting good
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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