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The Empire

Legislature Approves Cuomo's Teacher Evaluation Bill

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Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to make release teacher evaluations only to parents will likely become law, now that the Senate and Assembly have passed the measure.

The Senate approved the bill 58 to 1. Senate Republicans, after a closed-door meeting, agreed to take up Cuomo’s bill to make public all teacher evaluations, without names attached.

The Assembly followed suit, passing the measure by a vote of 118 to 17.

Once Cuomo signs the law all teacher evaluations without names attached will be made public. Parents would then be able to obtain the specific evaluations of their own child’s teacher.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, is disappointed with the measure, saying it falls short of "full disclosure."

"Evaluations are important resources for parents, principals and teachers alike, and parents need information to make good decisions about their children’s schools," the mayor said in a statement. He recognized it was a difficult issue and said the city will comply with the bill's requirements.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos believes the bill is a reasonable compromise between teachers’ privacy and parent’s right to know.

“It strikes a good balance between parents’ right to know and some form of confidentially,” Skelos said. He acknowledged the mayor's disappointment on the issue, but predicted the two would collaborate on other issues in the future.

Some GOP Senators were concerned that the bill would inadvertently disclose identities of teachers in small rural schools.

Senate Education Chair John Flanagan calls it a “work in progress,” and says the message of intent accompanying the bill will attempt to make clear the need to protect teacher privacy.

“I’m hoping that if you’re in a small school and they release data by class, subject and grade that there’s some type of interpretation to protect people’s privacy,” Flanagan said.

Governor Cuomo admits there’s no way to prevent parents from distributing the information on their child’s teacher, and he says it would not be appropriate to penalize parents who do so.

“I don’t want to do any of that,” Cuomo said.

Senator Skelos says those concerns were addressed, but the bill might have to be amended later.

The complexities involved in striking a balance between teacher privacy and the parent’s right to know was the subject of debate on the Assembly floor. Some lawmakers say it’s too early to devise a means to publicly release the data, when most schools have not even finalized the criteria for conducting the evaluations. The teacher evaluations, agreed to as part of New York’s federal Race To The Top grant, will be completed by schools within the next year.

Assemblyman Joel Miller, a Republican from the Hudson Valley, says there’s no way to prevent the teacher’s scores from becoming public through social media on the Internet.

“When they get the information that their kid is going to be taught by the worst teacher in the school, I can assure you that smoke will come out of their ears,” said Miller. “And the pressure to start pressing the buttons on their computer to spread that information is going to be overwhelming.” 

The bill is backed by the state’s major teacher unions. New York State United Teachers, in a statement, says the measure will “keep teacher personnel records confidential” and stop “the shameless media exploitation and distortion of evaluation information.”

Several New York City newspapers have previously published teacher scores, with the names attached. The unions have often helped both Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans in their election campaigns through donations and staffing for phone banks and door to door literature distribution.