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.

In the past, when reporters have submitted Freedom of Information Requests for the same data, the city has withheld teachers’ names and individuals’ scores.

In 2008, New York Times reporters submitted a Freedom of Information Request asking for teachers’ ratings. The city responded by only giving the reporters ratings broken down by district and without any teachers’ names.

Two years later, much has changed. A revision in New York State law means that teachers can now be evaluated based on their students’ test scores. However, it’s not clear what led the city to reverse its policy of keeping the scores private. This is the second time the city has departed from policy it set in 2008.

In 2008, Chancellor Joel Klein wrote a memo to teachers saying that the reports would not be used in job evaluations or to guide merit pay. Now, the city is asking principals to use the scores in tenure decisions for this school year.