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Release of Teacher Data Is Widely Denounced

Friday, February 24, 2012 - 10:02 PM

Outside the doors of the Tweed Courthouse, the headquarters of the city's Education Department, there were few champions on Friday of the release of individual performance rankings of 18,000 public school teachers.

Although city officials chose to release the teacher reports on the Friday of a week-long break, when many teachers and principals were on the beach and out-of-reach, the publication of the reports was greeted with an outpouring of criticism.

Many of the leading candidates to replace Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg sided with the city's teachers union in opposing the reports, impugning the validity of their data. And by Friday evening, nearly 700 people -- some from New York City, others from across the country -- had signed a petition on Change.org urging major newspapers not to list teachers' names and rankings.

The word of the day was shame, both on the press and on the city's Education Department for pursuing and suing for the data's release, and on behalf of teachers, many of whom view this as public humiliation.

"The Bloomberg Administration is making a grave mistake by releasing personal teacher ratings," said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a likely candidate for mayor, in a statement. "It would be irresponsible for any news outlet to print this data or represent it as an accurate portrayal of what really happens in the classroom."

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, another mayoral contender, called the reports "misleading," but blamed the court ruling rather than the mayor.

"I wish the court order did not necessitate the release of this data," she said in a statement.

Even a Columbia University economist, Jonah E. Rockoff, who recently authored a study with two other economists using the same kind of statistical model, known as value-added, to show the effects good teachers can have on students, said he opposed their public outing in New York City.

"I think the release and having people focus on value-added in the absence of other information is a nuisance," he said. "It's going to cause a lot of controversy, stir up a lot of trouble for some people, and I feel like it's unnecessary."

Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch said that releasing the reports could endanger the teacher evaluation system recently agreed upon by the state's teachers' union and the State Education Department. The formula that districts will eventually put in place will use teachers' value-added scores as 20 percent of their evaluation, and a swell of opposition to the methodology could make it difficult for districts and unions to reach final agreements.

"I really think publishing the names of teachers and their rankings on one metric of any type of teacher performance is not going to result in the improvements that we want," she said. "And it will demonize teachers and it's going to make it more difficult to retain the best and brightest in the classroom."

Responding to criticism, city education officials argued that their hands were tied. Though Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said he had mixed feelings about the reports and worried how they would be interpreted by parents and reporters, he said the department had to comply with the court's decision ordering the release of the information with names attached.

The Education Department sent a letter to principals, advising them on how to handle the situation when teachers and students return to classrooms next week.

Patrick Kelly, principal of a Bronx middle school, said he planned to spend some of this weekend looking at his teachers' reports, anticipating that when he arrives at work on Monday, he will be welcomed back by concerned faces.

"Teachers frankly feel betrayed because the city had an understanding that this was never going to be publicly released," he said.


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