Poll Finds Most City Voters Support Release of Teacher Ratings

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A majority of New York City voters approve of the public release of ratings for thousands of public school teachers, even though a plurality of voters believe that the ratings are flawed, a new poll has found.

The poll, released early Wednesday by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, found that 58 percent of voters approved of the release of the ratings, known as teacher data reports, while 38 percent disapproved and 5 percent were undecided or did not answer.

The poll was conducted less than two weeks after the teacher rankings were made public by the city.

In recent weeks, the teachers' union has sought to discredit the ratings with a $100,000 newspaper advertising campaign, and opposition from teachers and their advocates remains fierce.

Teacher Data Reports

Search for your school to view the recently released teacher data reports.

But among the voters polled, parents of public school children were supportive of the reports' release by 59 percent to 36 percent. The approval rate was significantly higher among Republicans (73 percent), Hispanics (69 percent) and men (64 percent), and lower in households with a union connection (48 percent).

Yet the poll showed that 46 percent of voters found the reports to be flawed, while only 20 percent said they trusted them, and 34 percent did not know or did not answer. And 50 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of public school teachers, while 21 percent did not.

Nevertheless, parents like Denise Southwood, 36, a mother of two boys in Queens, said they believed the data reports should be released. Ms. Southwood said that when the rankings were published by news organizations, which had pressed for the reports' release, she immediately looked up her children’s teachers and was relieved to find that they received positive ratings.

If the reports had been negative, she added, she probably would have contacted the principal to discuss her concerns.

“I am really glad that they are out,” she said. “As a parent, I think I have every right to know, and it’s the taxpayers who are paying their salaries.”

The teacher ratings were released by the Education Department on Feb. 24 after a legal battle of more than a year by the teachers' union to keep the names confidential. The reports are known as value-added ratings because they measure teachers' performance based on improvements in students' results on standardized tests under a complex formula that establishes expectations.

The rankings were released for nearly 18,000 of the city’s 75,000 public school teachers -- those who taught English and math to fourth through eighth graders from 2007 to 2010.

Before and after their release, the reports have been assailed by independent experts and other critics who say mistakes and large margins of error make them unreliable. City education officials have defended the reports, saying they provide a useful perspective on how teachers are doing, even as they have cautioned that the ratings should not be used in isolation.

Voters seemed divided on how much weight should be given to the evaluations. Fifty-four percent said that teachers who scored high on evaluations should be rewarded with additional pay, while 40 percent said they should not. Conversely, only 33 percent said teachers who scored low should be dismissed, while 55 percent said they should not.

The poll also found the highest level of support for the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, since his appointment last year, with 43 percent of voters approving and 31 percent disapproving of his job performance.

But a majority of voters -- 59 percent -- said they disapproved of the way Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is handling public schools, while 32 percent approved. Indeed, 50 percent of the voters said they trusted the teachers' union to protect the interests of New York City public school students, while only 38 percent expressed trust in the mayor.

Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said that “support for Chancellor Walcott has grown to an all-time high and is strongest among public school parents.” She added that “as much as 90 percent of public school parents support the mayor and chancellor’s ambitious school reform proposals, and even 74 percent of union households agree that teachers should be considered based on performance and not seniority.”

But Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, who is now in negotiations with the city to devise a new teacher evaluation system, fired back.

“If I were Mayor Bloomberg," he said, "I’d be asking myself why only one in five voters trusts the information my administration just released on thousands of teachers. I’d also be asking myself why, after years of touting my alleged successes at reforming schools and demonizing teachers, parents still overwhelmingly trust the teachers’ union rather than me to protect the interests of school children.”

The poll, conducted by telephone from March 6 to 11, surveyed 964 registered voters in New York City and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Marjorie Connelly contributed reporting.