Thursday, December 09, 2010

‘VALUE ADDLED’ in NYC: Union Fights to Block Release of Teacher Ratings + N.Y. union seeks to block disclosure of teacher evaluations + more

NY Teachers Union Fights to Block Release of Teacher Ratings


December 8, 2010 - New York City’s teachers’ union took its effort to block the release of teacher ratings based on student performance before a State Supreme Court judge on Wednesday, squaring off against lawyers from the city and news media organizations who have argued that the information should be public.

In an hourlong proceeding in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, a lawyer representing the union, the United Federation of Teachers, asserted that the ratings, which give teachers a grade based on how well their students do on annual state standardized tests, should not be released because they were based on flawed information and would unfairly embarrass and harm teachers.

“The information has no critical basis other than to facilitate a libel,” Charles G. Moerdler, the lawyer, told Justice Cynthia Kern, the presiding judge. “If it’s garbage in, it’s garbage out.” 

“Just because it’s a number, it doesn’t mean its suddenly objective,” he added.

David A. Schulz, a lawyer representing five news organizations, including The New York Times, said the public was entitled to see the data under the Freedom of Information Law, which requires that government statistics be made public regardless of their accuracy. A lawyer for the city also defended the idea of releasing the ratings, which he said were sound.

“FOIL is about letting the public know what’s going on here,” Mr. Schulz said, referring to the information law. “If it is not statistically meaningful, the public should be debating that.”

The ratings, which exist for roughly 12,000 of the city’s 80,000 teachers, give each teacher a grade of “high,” “above average,” “average,” “below average” or “low” based on how well their students did on the state tests compared with how well a formula predicted they should have done. Teachers are also given a percentile score. When the ratings were in a pilot phase in 2008, the city and the teachers’ union agreed in writing to fight any request to make the data public. Since then, principals have been advised to consider the ratings in making tenure decisions; this summer the city began to support the information’s release.

There was no indication of how long Justice Kern would take to make a ruling. An appeal from the losing side is expected.


N.Y. union seeks to block disclosure of teacher evaluations

The union argues that the evaluation formula is highly subjective and flawed, and disclosure would violate teachers' privacy. Five news organizations had requested the data, which would name the teachers.

By Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times Reporting from New York |

December 9, 2010 - The New York City teachers union argued Wednesday before the state Supreme Court that the nation's largest school district should not follow through with its plan to disclose evaluation information about some 12,000 teachers by name, saying it could do serious harm.

The union filed a lawsuit this fall to stop the New York City Department of Education from turning over teachers' performance data to five New York news organizations that had filed requests for the information under the state's Freedom of Information Law.

The case follows the Los Angeles Times' publication of about 6,000 individual teacher ratings based on student test scores obtained from the Los Angeles Unified School District, which fueled a national debate over how teacher effectiveness should be measured and whether the results should be disclosed to the public.

Attorneys for the schools and local news organizations argued during the hearing Wednesday that the city had no choice but to comply with the public records law.

"Because it's information generated by the government, it can't be protected," said Jesse Levine, the education department's attorney, adding that public employees essentially lose their right to privacy because they work for the taxpayers.

In the past, New York has provided similar performance information to the media without identifying teachers. But in a letter this fall to school employees, New York schools Chancellor Joel Klein wrote that, prompted by similar data published in The Times, the New York media "have requested the names of individual teachers, not just the statistics," and that the school system had to comply.

In New York, that information would include so-called valued-added performance scores for 12,000 of the system's 80,000 teachers. Under that approach, a teacher's effectiveness is measured by looking at how his or her students' performance on standardized tests improves or declines from one year to the next. It largely controls for socioeconomic disparities.

The reports compare teachers of fourth through eighth grades — the grades during which state math and English tests are administered — and then make predictions whether the students' achievement will improve.

The United Federation of Teachers insists this formula is highly subjective and flawed, and disclosure would violate teachers' privacy.

"The city of L.A. did this and a teacher jumped off a bridge," said Charles Moerdler, an attorney for the United Federation of Teachers. "Do we want that?"

Moerdler was referring to the suicide of an elementary school teacher weeks after the ratings were released by The Times, not the city. Although Los Angeles teachers union officials and family members have speculated that the scores were a factor in the teacher's suicide, no evidence to support that assertion has been made public.

Klein has said that New York City's value-added approach "is not etched in stone," but he and other educators across the country are pushing to use similar measures.

"We're doing abysmally," David Schultz, an attorney for the news organizations, said of American schools, adding that it was widely recognized that "evaluations are important for holding teachers accountable."

A decision on disclosing the New York data is expected after the holidays.

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