Nicholas Gerace, a Whitesboro eighth-grade math teacher, knows he’s good at his job.
That doesn’t mean he wants his annual evaluation, which is supposed to make him a better teacher, made public.
A debate is raging across the state about whether the evaluations should be public information so parents can see how their child’s teacher is performing. More controversial is whether the media or good government groups should be able to look at a school or particular teachers and analyze the data as currently is done with school report cards.
“We’ve had a couple of conversations in school and in union meetings,” Gerace said. “It’s kind of scary to think about.”
In February, in a response to a Freedom of Information requests from the media, the New York City Department of Education released the evaluation data for all of the city’s 18,000 educators. With strong caveats warning that the data could be inaccurate, news agencies published databases and analyses of the city’s best and worst teachers.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who almost has direct control of city schools, is strongly in favor of keeping the information public, and believes parents need to know how their child’s teacher performs.
According to Capital, an online news site, in February Bloomberg defended releasing the data.
“Parents have a right to know every bit of information that we can possibly collect about the teacher that’s in front of their kids,” he said.
Legislators tried to exempt the data from the Freedom of Information law as part of the budget in March, but the effort fizzled. Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch has said she is in favor of making evaluations private, and a bill also has been introduced that would make the documents private, save a court order or permission from the teacher.
“I don’t know of evaluation systems for other public employees with this level of scrutiny,” Whitesboro Superintendent David Langone said. “If being paid by public dollars is the lynchpin, I have a problem with that.”
Few, if any, public employees’ performance evaluations are public record. Teachers could be different, said David Albert, a spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.
“I think there are issues with making it public,” he said. “But on the other hand, if your child is in a classroom, you want to know if the teacher is effective or not.”
If a police officer sleeps on the job, money is wasted, but Bloomberg has argued that a bad teacher impacts a child for the whole year.
The discussion right now, Albert said, is how to make it accessible to parents but not everyone else.
“The goal of this teacher and principal evaluation law is to improve teacher performance and student learning,” he said. “Our concern is that if we publically brand someone as a failure, will that person ever be able to recover from that?”
His organization is arguing that, at least at first, the information should be kept private.
“For the time being, in the first year or two of the implementation, we believe the information should be used just internally,” Albert said. “Then, once we have some of the issues worked out, then the info should be make public.”
New York State United Teachers, which represents teachers unions across the state, is against making the evaluations public. On Tuesday, about 650 union members rallied in Albany, calling on lawmakers to restrict access to the information and taking action before the end of the legislative session in June.
“This is a very high priority for teachers,” NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said. “What we’re talking about here is the public naming and shaming of teachers.”
NYSUT is examining a number of options, but Korn said one that makes sense is making the data available to parents during meetings about their child’s education.
“What’s important here is it’s in the context of a students’ ability to excel,” Korn said. “Then that information becomes worthwhile.”