In a convoluted effort to showcase NY State's emphasis on teacher accountability, legislation had been advanced to release teacher performance evaluations to the general public. This drive to "accountability" was indubitably tied to $700 million in federal funds from President Obama's Race to the Top program originally designed to improve instruction. Unfortunately, this became a political nightmare that pitted the state's powerful teacher's unions against legislators, making a situation that was supposed to enhance education something less than a teachable moment.
Complicating matters was the involvement of media organizations that championed the release to the public. Their point of view was that parents and students had a right to this information, especially in light of some abysmal numbers on state assessments. The goal here is painfully obvious; reveal poorly performing teachers in hopes of eventually improving their outcomes or removing them from the classroom at some point if students' scores do not improve.
There are many problems inherent with this kind of thinking. While there is no question that we need to improve instruction, public humiliation of teachers should not be part of the equation. The thinking is that they are public employees and this previously confidential information should be made public; however, we do not see the same call for revealing reviews of police, firefighters, or even state legislators for that matter. This has more to do with the federal funds than anything else, and this will indirectly affect students in ways that have nothing to do with enhancing the classroom experience.
Fortunately, Governor Andrew Cuomo got involved in the process, and he crafted an alternate plan in which the evaluations would be revealed only to the parents and guardians of students currently in the teacher's class. This bill passed the Assembly and then the Senate, and it is a tremendous (if temporary) victory for the governor and the unions. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said, “Finding the balance between students’ needs, parents’ rights, and teachers’ rights is what this bill does.”
Still, the most worrisome aspect of these evaluations is that test scores will be used (along with formal observations) to gauge teacher performance. The state assessments are dubious instruments and are insufficient means to a frustrating end for educators. Only this spring a ridiculous reading selection on the state's 8th grade English exam regarding a talking pineapple caused students, teachers, and parents to question the validity of the entire test. Students had no idea how to answer the questions, and the state eventually said that the questions would not count towards students' grades; however, the test is still inextricably linked to those teacher's evaluations. If you are wondering why you are not alone.