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February 24, 2012
As ratings near, a teacher reiterates what test scores don't say
In October 2010, when the city first said it would fulfill a Freedom of Information Law request and release individual teachers’ ratings to news…
February 23, 2012
Why we won't publish individual teachers' value-added scores
Tomorrow's planned release of 12,000 New York City teacher ratings raises questions for the courts, parents, principals, bureaucrats, teachers — and one other party: news organizations. The journalists who requested the release of the data in the first place now must decide what to do with it all. At GothamSchools, we joined other reporters in requesting to see the Teacher Data Reports back in 2010. But you will not see the database here, tomorrow or ever, as long as it is attached to individual teachers' names. The fact is that we feel a strong responsibility to report on the quality of the work the 80,000 New York City public school teachers do every day. This is a core part of our job and our mission. But before we publish any piece of information, we always have to ask a question. Does the information we have do a fair job of describing the subject we want to write about? If it doesn't, is there any additional information — context, anecdotes, quantitative data — that we can provide to paint a fuller picture? In the case of the Teacher Data Reports, "value-added" assessments of teachers' effectiveness that were produced in 2009 and 2010 for reading and math teachers in grades 3 to 8, the answer to both those questions was no. We determined that the data were flawed, that the public might easily be misled by the ratings, and that no amount of context could justify attaching teachers’ names to the statistics. When the city released the reports, we decided, we would write about them, and maybe even release Excel files with names wiped out. But we would not enable our readers to generate lists of the city’s “best” and “worst” teachers or to search for individual teachers at all. It's true that the ratings the city is releasing might turn out to be powerful measures of a teacher's success at helping students learn. The problem lies in that word: might.
August 25, 2011
For second time, a court rules city can release teachers' scores
The city can release teacher ratings data to news organizations, the state's second-highest court ruled today in another serious blow to the union's effort to keep individual teachers' scores out of the press. The release won't happen right away while the legal fight continues, Department of Education officials said. But the union is running out of chances to stop the ratings from being published. In December, a State Supreme Court judge ruled that the city could release Teacher Data Reports for at least 12,000 teachers who have them. After the Appellate Court ruling today, the union's last hope is the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals. The union is already working on its appeal, UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced moments after the Appellate Court ruling. Because the four judges on the Appellate Court ruled unanimously against the union, there's no guarantee that the Court of Appeals will hear the case. Instead, the Appellate Court has to give permission. Within days, the union will ask the appellate court for permission to have the case heard in the Court of Appeals. If permission isn't granted, the union can also ask the Court of Appeals itself. If the Court of Appeals declines to hear the case, then the Appellate Court's decision would stand and the union would be out of options.
July 13, 2011
One firsthand account of how teachers could soon be observed
The fight over the state's new teacher evaluations has focused on the 40 percent to be based on student test scores. But the other 60 percent, based on subjective measures like principal observations, could be just as tough. That's according to one teacher reporting from a school piloting the city's stricter guidelines for classroom observations. Commenting in our Community section yesterday, a reader posting as HS Biology Teacher said that system "seems to be designed to make it extremely easy to rate any teacher ineffective if the principal wants to." The DOE has drafted a rubric for rating classroom observations, but it is very tough. To be rated effective (3), you need to really hit every competency on the rubric during each full-period observation... and that is extremely difficult given the language of the rubric.
May 9, 2011
L.A. Unified: Teacher evals "should be private conversations"
The nation's second-largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, opposed press efforts to publish teacher evaluations, according to a letter from the school district (PDF) to the Los Angeles Times that was obtained by the writer Alexander Russo. The letter urges the Los Angeles Times not to publish a second batch of teacher evaluations that the newspaper calculated and published anyway on Sunday. It was signed by LA superintendent John Deasy as well as the president of the city's school board and two civic leaders, the president of the city's chamber of commerce and its United Way chapter. "The individual evaluations, in our opinion, should be private conversations that are intended to help professionals improve their performance in the classroom," the letter argues. Deasy's position stands in sharp contrast to the one New York City school officials are taking in a court battle with the teachers union. School officials here argue that teacher evaluations calculated with value-added formulas are statistics that are subject to public information laws and therefore can be released to the public.
May 3, 2011
City, union in court again today over release of teachers' scores
The teachers union and the city are heading back to court today, for the second round in an ongoing battle over the public release of teacher ratings. Last December, a state judge ruled that that the city could release controversial teacher evaluations. Today, the union seeks to reverse that decision in Appellate Court. The stakes are high for the city, which could use the release of teacher ratings as a key engine for galvanizing public support in favor of doing away with seniority layoffs. But the union, which wants to maintain "last in, first out" layoff rules, says that the evaluations are too inaccurate to be used for such high-stakes decisions. The "value-added" evaluations, which grade teachers by comparing their students’ test scores to forecasted scores, were created as an internal assessment, designed to help teachers gauge their own performance. But the Department of Education announced it would release the ratings publicly after several news organizations filed Freedom of Information Law requests for them. This decision prompted a UFT lawsuit.
January 10, 2011
Teachers union loses suit to keep teacher ratings anonymous
New York City’s teachers union lost its suit to block the city from releasing 12,000 teachers’ ratings and names that, for years, have been…
November 15, 2010
City news outlets join suit over teacher effectiveness scores
Five news organizations have joined the lawsuit over whether the city can release teachers' effectiveness scores, arguing that they have a right to see the data. Lawyers for the New York Times, Daily News, New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, and NY1 have decided to intervene in the case, according to a spokeswoman for the city's law department. They will file their own papers, but are taking the same position as the city's lawyers, arguing that the data is not protected under the Freedom of Information law. Reporters at each of the news organizations submitted requests for the data and the city planned to release the reports until last month when the teachers union sued to stop them. In its lawsuit, the union's lawyers wrote that the Department of Education should have denied reporters’ FOIL requests because the teachers’ ratings are exempt from disclosure. The suit also said that making the scores public would amount to an invasion of teachers' privacy.
October 29, 2010
City official and biggest critic find slivers of common ground
Put the Department of Education's Deputy Chancellor for Accountability Shael Polakow-Suransky in a room with Diane Ravitch, one of the city's most outspoken critics, and you might reasonably expect sparks to fly. But when NYU's Wagner Education Policy Studies Association put them together on a panel earlier this week, where they agreed turned out to be notable. The topic of the panel was how federal involvement shapes local education policy. (I moderated the panel; Evan Stone, the founder of Educators 4 Excellence, also spoke.) Ravitch opened by sharply criticizing the move to hold teachers and schools accountable for their students' scores on standardized tests. But when talk turned to how future standardized tests should be built, Ravitch and Suransky agreed with each other. Ravitch said: I'm very supportive of the idea of developing new assessments, and I think it's a very important thing. But it will take years. Just as these common core standards were written in a little over a year — it took me three years working on the California history standards. I worked on history standards in other states, and it was never done in only a year. So I would like to think that it's going to take a lot of time to do this well because anything that's done hurriedly is not going to survive....
October 27, 2010
Parent says NY Post fabricated his opinion of teacher ratings
The parent of a Queens public school student is accusing the New York Post of fabricating his support for publicly releasing teachers' effectiveness scores. Queens Community Education Council member Brian Rafferty said that an op/ed published in the New York Post last week bore his byline, but not his views. Rafferty, who is also the executive editor of the Queens Tribune, made the accusation at a council meeting in Ridgewood, Queens last night. The piece, titled "Dad: Union putting my child last," criticized the city's teachers union for going to court to block the city from releasing teachers' ratings. Last night, Rafferty told a room packed with parents and teachers that he does not support releasing 12,000 teachers' ratings with their names included. "I might be skeptical of the union sometimes, no offense guys, but there is absolutely no way that these opinions are mine," he said.
October 25, 2010
Klein: ratings are useful for the worst and best teachers
For parents of students in the "average" city teacher's class, learning the teacher's rating may not tell them very much, Chancellor Joel Klein wrote in a letter to principals today. In his email, Klein explained the city's decision to release teachers' effectiveness ratings and the teachers union's move to block this from happening. He noted that the ratings, which measure teachers against estimations of how much their students' test scores ought to rise, would be most useful in identifying very high and low performing teachers. He wrote: One indication will never tell the whole story, and sometimes it is hard to discern definitive evidence from data alone — such as with a teacher who is "average" according to these numbers, for example. But where teachers have performed consistently toward the top or the bottom, year after year, these data surely tell us something very important. Namely, we need to retain and reward the great teachers, and we need to develop the low-performing teachers. And those who don't improve quickly need to be replaced with better-performing teachers. Klein's full letter:
October 22, 2010
City: releasing scores will honor the good, improve the bad
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.
October 21, 2010
Union files suit to stop release of individual teacher ratings
United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew held up a sign at a press conference today showing the formula used to calculated teachers' ratings. The city's teachers union filed suit this morning, asking the State Supreme Court to bar the city from releasing 12,000 teachers' effectiveness scores with their names included. Department of Education officials said yesterday that they planned to send the teacher ratings to reporters as soon as this Friday, unless the union's suit stops them. Several news organizations filed Freedom of Information Law requests for the data, and city officials said they were responding to these requests. Union officials are currently in court and expect a judge to rule on their suit later today. Underpinning the United Federation of Teachers' lawsuit is the claim that releasing teachers' ratings with their names included is an unlawful invasion of privacy. "Teachers will be exposed to harassment on a personal and professional level from parents unhappy with the contents of the TDRs," the suit states. "Such harassment could include demands for termination, discipline, and transfer of children out of teachers' classrooms, as well as threats to the persons of individual teachers."
October 20, 2010
City release of teacher ratings would break 2008 deal with union
The city's decision to release teacher evaluation data this week represents a departure from an agreement officials made with the teachers union two years ago. In a deal made in 2008 between then-president of the United Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten and Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf, the city and union agreed to keep the reports private. The reports assign scores to teachers based on how much they improve their students' test scores. "It is the DOEs' [sic] firm position and expectation that Teacher Data reports will not and should not be disclosed or shared outside of the school community, defined to include administrators, coaches, mentors and other professional colleagues authorized by the teacher in question," Cerf wrote. "In the event a FOIL request for such documents is made, we will work with the UFT to craft the best legal arguments available to the effect that such documents fall within an exemption," he wrote. DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said the city's decision to release the scores doesn't violate the agreement. "We do not believe that any of the exemptions under FOIL apply in this matter, which is what we told the UFT. But that will be for a judge to decide," she wrote in an email.
September 27, 2010
Bloomberg vows last-in first-out crackdown, new tenure policy
Mayor Bloomberg on NBC today, announcing a crackdown on seniority-based layoffs and a new tenure policy. In his first major education policy announcement for the new school year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning vowed a renewed attack on seniority laws that protect veteran teachers and a change in how teachers are awarded tenure. He made the remarks on NBC, which is dedicating this week to school reporting in a project called "Education Nation." The attack on seniority laws came as city officials made a dire budget prediction for next year, saying that they will likely have to lay off public school teachers as federal stimulus funding runs out. Under the current state law, teachers with the least seniority would be the first to lose their jobs — a policy known as "last in, first out." The mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein oppose this policy, but their effort to change the law, which the teachers union does support, went nowhere last year. Today, the mayor said he would try dismantling the policy again before the city confronts an expected $700 million budget hole and possible layoffs next year. "It's time for us to end the 'last-in, first out' layoff policy that puts children at risk here in New York — and across our wonderful country," Bloomberg said on NBC. "How could anyone argue that this is good for children? The law is nothing more than special interest politics, and we're going to get rid of it before it hurts our kids," he added. Teachers union officials immediately squashed any possibility that they might partner with the mayor.
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