Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers are likely to come up with a compromise soon on allowing public access to teacher evaluations, but the real breakthrough came earlier this year when the teachers union agreed to an assessment plan under which chronically underperforming teachers can be fired.
For decades, the state’s teachers have been shielded by a tenure system that not only protected them from the odd angry parent with political connections but also from being held accountable for gross incompetence, laziness, arrogance or lack of interest.
A teacher with tenure could only be removed through a quasi-judicial hearing process called 3020-a. It is so elaborate, expensive and time-consuming, superintendents turn to it only in the most egregious cases. Against the garden-variety bad teacher, superintendents and principals have had little recourse, until now.
This spring, under pressure from the federal government and from Gov. Cuomo, union officials agreed to evaluations that will measure teachers based on student test scores and classroom observations. Teachers who receive the lowest of four ratings — ineffective — could face firing if they do not improve.
The state has provided a framework for the rating scheme and for an appeals process, which each school district has to flesh out individually. Schools are now scrambling to work out their evaluation processes, which are supposed to be put in place during the 2012-13 school year. In the meantime, state officials are debating how much of the evaluations, if any, should be made available to the public.
Union officials want the evaluations to be kept private, arguing public exposure will put unfair pressure on teachers, and distort the evaluation process. Cuomo has shown some sympathy with the push for privacy, while New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is pushing for complete public access.
We think the unions have a point. School supervisors who know their every word is going to be read by the public are unlikely to employ the candor that makes for an effective evaluation. And parents scrutinizing evaluations to find the best teachers for their children could disrupt schools’ scheduling procedures.
But a compromise is possible, and the framework for one has been laid out by the director of the state Committee on Open Government. Robert Freeman has suggested certain portions of a public employee’s performance evaluation could be considered exempt from the Freedom of Information Law, while other portions should be available.
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A listing of a teacher’s duties, and a teacher’s final rating, Freeman wrote, could be considered public information. But a supervisor’s opinions about a teacher’s performance on specific standards could be considered private.
It will be up to principals, not parents, to help teachers improve specific aspects of their job performance. At the same time, communities have a legitimate interest in knowing, in general, how well public school teachers are doing their jobs.
Some people, including Cuomo himself, have suggested any information made public be released only to parents, but this is unworkable.
Which parents would get the information — any with kids in the school district, or only those with kids in a particular teacher’s class or grade?
And how do you stop parents who get the information from giving it to others, or for that matter, from putting it on the Internet for all to see? The answer is you can’t stop them and you shouldn’t try.
Once state officials have negotiated which parts of the evaluations are going to be public, they should choose the simplest and most sensible (and least expensive) course, and require school districts to put it on their websites.
However the public access issue is settled, we are encouraged the state is moving ahead with a teacher evaluation system, the lack of which has been keenly felt across the state for decades.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley and citizen representative Jody Chwiecko.