Bad Compromise on Teachers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature chose discretion over valor in the battle over access to teacher evaluations in New York. Sometimes discretion is a good thing. But not in this case.

Mayor Bloomberg and others believed in full and unfettered access to teacher performance evaluations. They made the case that transparency would only help the effort to encourage good teachers and weed out the bad ones.

Unfortunately, the governor and legislators decided to limit access to the data to parents, who will be able to review evaluations of their childrens’ current teachers. While that’s better than nothing—and bear in mind that the unions fought the whole idea of performance evaluations to the bitter end—it’s a far cry from the sort of transparency that Mr. Bloomberg and his allies sought.

Performance evaluations are conducted by public officials using public resources. The public, then, has a right to see the data. That seems simple enough. In fact, it’s already happened. Several months ago performance evaluations for some 18,000 city schoolteachers were released to the public and published in several newspapers. The world did not come to an end. Angry parents did not march on their local public schools (although perhaps they should have). Some teachers were embarrassed, but as public employees, their flaws—and their strengths—ought to be accessible to taxpayers, who are, after all, their ultimate bosses.

The teachers’ unions used every ounce of their considerable political power to prevent wide dissemination of the evaluations. Their success should remind us all that the unions remain a formidable obstacle in achieving genuine school reform. Some might have concluded that recent reversals, including the implementation of performance evaluations, had hobbled the unions. Not a chance.

Mr. Cuomo’s actions here are disappointing. He quite literally introduced the compromise measure under the cover of darkness—the bill was made public just before midnight on June 18. If he was embarrassed, well, he should have been.

Legislators were no better. The state Senate passed the bill after a “debate” that took up all of six minutes. Only one senator voted against. The Assembly’s debate was quite a bit longer, but that’s only because the union’s minions in the Assembly were not happy with the very concept of evaluations in the first place. Eventually, the Assembly passed the bill with little opposition.

Reformers at every level of government rightly demand greater transparency from public officials and, in fact, from private corporations as well. We all live with the effects of secret deals made in the private and public sectors. Transparency is critical in politics as well as in finance.

Limiting access to teacher performance data is a defeat for transparency. And for valor.