Teacher Evaluations in New York: A Compromise or a Cave-In?

After reading about the eleventh-hour teacher evaluation deal brokered by Governor Andrew Cuomo (see the New York Times report here) in my local newspaper (which I’m not divulging, to protect the innocent), I turned the page and was drawn to a regular section of the paper called “Restaurant Inspections.” Like its cousin, “Police Blotter,” this is where the dirt is, so to speak. And I read about many of our local restaurants, in detail that I’m sure did not make the owners very happy. Here’s one with five violations:

…the restaurant was found to have a dirty slicer with dried food debris, a dirty floor with grease and food debris accumulation around equipment and inside the walk-in refrigerator, no visible thermometer in the prep refrigeration, absorbent tablecloths stored on the shelf underneath the cook’s prep table with dried food debris on the baking supply rack, and a can of wasp/hornet spray stored in the kitchen on the shelf next to a flour storage bin.

I wondered, What if these restaurant inspection results were sent only to the restaurant’s patrons? Why do they have to be published in the paper for all to see?

That is essentially what the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) convinced the state legislature to do for its public schools last week: Only the parents of students in a teacher’s classroom shall know if the teacher is serving up unrefrigerated content.

I’m sure some will object to the analogy, but there’s no doubt that this is not the last we’ll see of this can of worms, opened last January by a state judge in New York City, who ruled that teachers’ value-added scores—with their names—could be made public.

No teacher wants his or her scores posted to the Internet, just as no restaurateur would want his or her dirty kitchen floor made public. But NYSUT, obviously more powerful than the restaurant association, managed to convince a majority of the state’s legislators (though not without some political drama, as Governor Cuomo suggested early in the week that the deal was dead) to go along. The new law requires the state to release the evaluation scores for each teacher, but without names attached; parents will be allowed to see the rating only for their current teacher—not for future teachers. Doesn’t this beg the question, Isn’t that a little late?

Mayor Bloomberg immediately called the legislation “very badly flawed” (see here, here, and here), elaborating,

The union is not there to help our students… Don’t ever think that. The union is there for its members to protect them. When they’re sex offenders, they protect them. When they’re criminals, they protect them. They do anything to protect them. They don’t focus on the students. They just use the students as a ploy.

Not surprisingly, Michael Mulgrew, president of NYC’s United Federation of Teachers, didn’t agree:

Sometimes, even billionaires don’t get their way… The mayor’s statement is a transparent attempt to divert attention from the fact that his attempts to vilify teachers have been frustrated by the governor and the Legislature.

Is this “compromise” better than no teacher evaluations? Perhaps. To have gotten this far on the accountability track is good news. But we surely seem to be a long way from getting our children the kind of educational protection that even restaurant patrons receive—not a healthy illustration of our public priorities.

-Peter Meyer

This blog entry originally appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Board’s-Eye View blog.

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