City education officials are saying they want to release teachers’ ratings publicly as a way of helping bad teachers improve and reward those who are excelling.

In an interview with John Gambling on WOR-AM (710) this morning, Deputy Chancellor John White said the union’s concerns about how parents and the public would use the data were legitimate. But, he said, those concerns should not be an obstacle to improving how teachers are evaluated. He told Gambling:

And these data show that, actually, there are plenty of teachers who every year, year after year after year, are performing at the top of their game. We need to honor those teachers. This is not just about failing teachers.

But there are cases where we see every year, teachers in the bottom. And you can sit there and say, “Oh there’s this exception, this teacher’s is not a perfect score, it doesn’t reflect this,” but at the end of the day when you have teachers who are performing way at the top year after year after year, way at the bottom year after year after year, you have to say: are we doing the right thing for kids? We’ve got to keep that teacher at the top, we’ve got to pay that teacher right, at the top, and that teacher at the bottom, they’ve got to get better or we’ve got to get a better teacher.

It’s unclear how making teachers’ ratings public would improve their performance, as principals and teachers already have access to the ratings. This year, principals are supposed to use the ratings as a factor in tenure decisions and by 2012 they will be a significant part of all teachers’ evaluations.

Yesterday, union officials claimed that releasing the scores with teachers’ names would lead to harassment and would mislead parents. But White said the city trusted parents to make sense of the data. He said:

I think parents are making judgments all the time. No one is more invested in the education of children than their parents and I think parents are always talking with schools about what’s going on in classrooms. This is just another source of information. We think that they’ll understand it. We think they should use it.