Governor Cuomo and other top policymakers and legislators are in the process of negotiating a deal that would give parents of public school children full access to teacher evaluation data. That’s good, but there’s the not-so-good part: The data will not be released to the general public.
That’s a bad deal. How bad? Well, all you need to know is that there has been some discussion about possible prosecution of parents who slip the data to news organizations. That this kind of conversation is taking place at all should persuade Albany to make the data available to everyone. Complete transparency would make the issue of parental prosecution moot.
Those who wish to restrict access to the data note that evaluations of other public employees are not subject to disclosure. That’s true, but other public institutions are not in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime transformation, at least not to the degree that public education is. Nobody is saying that the Fire Department of New York is failing city residents. And, frankly, nobody really cares about evaluations of hard-working but anonymous clerks in the city’s bureaucracy.
Teachers, however, are routinely cited for the tremendous influence—for better and for worse—they have on young people. Their profession affects society in ways that few others do, at least in the public sector.
Oh—and one more point: What other public employees get tenure for life after a scandalously short probationary period?
Teachers are different. It’s that simple. The public has a right to know whether veteran teachers with unassailable job security are doing their jobs. And the public has a right to know that teachers on tenure track are performing up to if not beyond expectations. Simply put, parents (and taxpayers) have every right to know whether lifetime appointments are being handed out routinely, or whether the process is rigorous, with rewards going only to those who demonstrate competence and passion.
It’s certainly true that evaluations can be skewed, and that standardized test scores can be (and often are) a flawed measure of teacher effectiveness. Many public school teachers are confronted with issues and problems that go well beyond the classroom.
That said, it’s clear that the old way of doing business simply doesn’t work anymore. Public education has failed too many children. The teachers unions continue to insist that all would be well if only governments poured even more money into the school system—although they bitterly oppose the idea of rewarding superior teachers with higher salaries and bonuses.
Accountability has arrived, at last, in public education. Public disclosure of teacher evaluations would drive home the point that teachers who aspire to or who have job security simply must perform. That is not too much to ask.