Judge Orders Hearing on Release of Teacher Evaluations

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew outside State Supreme Court

A state judge has scheduled a hearing for next month on whether the city can release the ratings for 12,000 teachers to the media. The ratings are intended to measure how much of an impact an individual teacher has on student test scores. The Teachers Union claims releasing the teachers names violates an agreement it made with the city.

WNYC's Beth Fertig has been covering this developing story and answers questions.

What's the controversy over these ratings?

There are two issues. One is confidentiality, releasing the names of the teachers. The other is whether the reports are accurate.

The city came up with a system a few years ago that tries to single out the teacher's effectiveness by comparing how their students are expected to do based on past performance. And then they look at how the the kids actually scored on the state exams. But kids are different, they don't all start in the same place. And there are factors outside the classroom that have an impact, like poverty and special needs. So Deputy Chancellor John White says the city's formula takes all of that into account:

White: "We take the individual predicted score for each child and then we average those scores. At the end of the year we look at each individual child's results and then we average those scores. And when you look at the difference of the average of the prediction and the average of the result that’s how much impact the teacher had."

And the final measurement is a percentile. For example, it can say Teacher X is more effective than 80 percent of other teachers with the same amount of experience and similar kids.

The United Federation of Teachers agreed to this rating system so why are they crying foul now?

Good question. First, the union says it agreed to experiment with these ratings only if the results were kept confidential -- meaning principals could use them to help figure out a teacher's strengths and weaknesses. But the names would never go to the public. And there's a memo from the city agreeing to this. Union President Michael Mulgrew is also fighting the release because he says the measurement system is bad. He thinks the state exams are flawed. Remember they were changed this year after being too easy. So he says the Department of Education is going back on its deal and it's using faulty data:

Mulgrew: "You have thousands who have taken a risk and gone out on a limb to try to develop a tool that will help them help students. And they were given, they were given a promise by the Chancellor of the Department of Ed that as they're doing this work they would uphold their safety needs in terms of don't tell people information about things, that is not reliable yet. So I'm afraid teachers will say, you know, this is what we get for going out on a limb."

Why is he questioning the measurement system now if he agreed to it?

That's what the city asks. Especially since Mulgrew agreed to let the state come up with a rating system that also uses test scores. But Mulgrew says the city's system has a lot of problems. He claims he saw some of the data reports and they were filled with errors. What's interesting is that the city wants to release these ratings to reporters. They say well, reporters are asking. But last year the Times and the Daily News asked for the teacher data reports. And the city gave them out without the names. We're living in a time when unions are under a lot of scrutiny. The Obama administration supports using rating systems. It could be that Mayor Bloomberg's administration wants to look like it's at the forefront of school reform by releasing these ratings.

Do parents want to see these ratings?

I spoke to some and there are real mixed opinions.

This is Virginia Diaz. She has high school student who's got special needs. She wants to know how his teachers are doing because she hasn't been very satisfied. And she doesn't have sympathy for teachers when they complain about being rated with test scores.

Diaz: "They sound like they’re the kids. Like they're the children because it's basically, it's life. Everything has to change. From the way we're learning. So things are going to get complicated as years, you know, go by. We gotta set our minds to whatever comes ahead."

In other words she's saying get with the program.

But I spoke with other parents who disagreed. This is Tom Maeglin of the Bronx, he has ninth grade twins. He's happy about their schools. He's in no rush to get these scores.

Maeglin: "I’ll be banging on the door of my teachers' classroom when I need to see them but I don’t need the city to give me extra data in order to make a decision on how well my teacher’s done."

But then I spoke to another guy who said he wants to see the data about his child's teachers but he also sympathizes with teachers who don't want their names released. He suggested maybe the individual teachers should decide if they want their names in the press.

Meanwhile, the judge has scheduled a hearing for November 24. The city and the union have agreed not to release the names of any teachers before then.