As New York City parents and teachers struggled Monday to make sense of recently published schoolteacher rankings, education officials considered whether future releases should be illegal to protect a fragile truce on a new statewide system.
Legal experts said a series of court rulings have made it increasingly clear that statistics-based portions of teacher evaluations are public information, unlike those of police officers, firefighters and other public workers specifically protected under state law.
Only a change in law, experts said, would change that. Shielding teacher rankings from public view is likely to become a new pressure point in the debate over how to measure the effectiveness of teachers, lawmakers and officials said Monday.
Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, which sets education policy, said that while she backs using tests scores to hold teachers accountable, she would support changing state law to hide their rankings from public view.
"If that's what it's going to take, I think that we have to really consider a remedy here," Ms. Tisch said.
You'll recall Tisch, along with other so-called education reformers like Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and Wendy Kopp, was against the publication of the Teacher Data Reports in New York City.
Why were all these reformers against the publication of the TDR's?
Did they want to shield teachers from publication humiliation?
Unlikely - Gates has made his philanthropy bones demonizing teachers as THE problem in public education and Merryl Tisch said late least year that the public hates teachers but once a scientific, objective teacher evaluation law was put into place, they wouldn't dislike them so much.
You know, like the one with the maximum margin of error of 87% in English and 75% in math that the city used for 4th-8th ELA and math teachers.
Never mind that poll after poll shows the public actually likes and respects teachers (here is the latest one) - in Tisch's mind, teachers suck, many need to be fired and an evaluation based upon a flawed VAM model is the way to get this goal accomplished.
So no wonder she wants to shield the new teacher evaluations from public disclosure.
Because it has been public disclosure of the VAM used in the Teacher Data Reports that has even parents who share the view that teachers should be held accountable by using test scores wondering if evaluations based upon test scores makes any sense:
How useful are the city’s newly released teacher-evaluation scores? Let’s say you’re a hypothetical parent—maybe me. You go to the Times’ summation of the ratings for your child’s school, and find that they look pretty bad. In English, none of the teachers managed to score above average; only a small minority of the math teachers did. A teacher your child loves and seems to be learning a lot from was in the high single digits, percentile-wise. This is surprising, if not alarming, because your child’s school, as evidenced by a brutal middle-school admissions process, is one of the more highly regarded in Manhattan, a reputation that is backed up by other statistics. Its scores on the state English and math tests are well above average; so are its admissions to specialized high schools. On the city’s other arcane customized statistical product, the school report card, it has received an A five years in a row. The city just gave your child’s principal a twenty-five-thousand-dollar performance bonus. If you believe in statistics, you are presented with a terrific school with terrible teachers—except that the importance of teachers is what underlies this whole exercise and, as far as your amateur eye can tell, has been a key part of its success. You also learn that there are similar contradictory numbers at other good—or is that “good”—schools, including the elementary school your child just graduated from, toward which you feel unmitigated gratitude. You might be a parent who really does believe that tests are meaningful, and knows for a fact that teachers are. And then you’re just confused.
Look a little further and you’ll find a Times article—maybe it’s about your child’s own school, and a teacher in an upper grade there who, once you read about what she does for her students, many of whom have gone on to great high schools, you feel your own child would be lucky to have. She’s the subject of an article, though, because she’s probably going to be denied tenure and is thinking of leaving teaching: she has been statistically designated as being in the lowest seven per cent of teachers, according to the ratings. Why? The Times throws up its hands, referring to a formula that turns on what students are expected to do, involving thirty-two variables “plugged into a statistical model that looks like one of those equations that in ‘Good Will Hunting’ only Matt Damon was capable of solving.”
That formula, it turns out, is especially bad at dealing with both terrific and terrible:The city acknowledged that the model was “too sensitive” among teachers whose students did either very well or very poorly. That lesson was shared with schools and the state “as it creates a new model for teacher evaluations,” said Matthew Mittenthal, an Education Department spokesman.
So should we make choices based on the current model or not? The city already does, in terms of tenure. The ratings were released as part of a lawsuit, but with what was reportedly the Bloomberg Administration’s tacit encouragement. Teachers ought to be held accountable. I went to a public elementary school in Brooklyn where I had a third-grade teacher who kept the shades drawn and had us fill the time coloring things in, as she sat at her desk in some sort of jittery daze; she should have been fired, just as the first-grade teacher who encouraged me should, in my book, have been given not only bonuses but baskets of flowers. And statistics are great, if they make sense. They are powerful both politically and rhetorically; if the city is going to play this game, it has to do a lot better. Otherwise, it is going to lose even the parents who share its goals.
So if even parents who like the idea of using test scores to "hold teachers accountable" are starting to rethink their support of that position, you can bet how parents who do not support using test scores to grade teachers are going to feel about the issue.
The reformers are afraid the TDR publication has torn back the curtain on the mess that is VAM and given the opposition some very powerful ammunition in the fight to prove using VAM to grade individual teachers is crap.
No wonder Merryl Tisch is now calling for the new evaluations - 40% of which will be tied to state and local tests evaluated through different value-added measurements - to be hidden from public view.
Clearly Ms. Tisch, who never met a teacher she didn't want to bash, isn't concerned for the reputations or feelings of teachers or she wouldn't say the insulting things she says about teachers on a regular basis.
So the motivation is more devious.
Simply put, she wants to hide just how error-riddled the new statewide evaluation system is going to be and what better way to do that than make it unFOILable.
In the end, I don't want my evaluation to show up in the NY Post every year, but I also don't want the NYSED, the Regents, and the NYCDOE to be able to do their value-added machinations in the dark away from public view.
Because you can bet a mayor who says he wants to fire 50% of teachers and a Regents Chancellor who thinks the public hates teachers despite a multitude of evidence that they actually like teachers are going to try and rig the evaluation system to scapegoat teachers and fire as many as they can.
So I'm torn on this.
And the thing that keeps coming back to my mind is, if Merryl Tisch and Bill Gates are for something, it must be really, really bad...
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