NY Lawmakers Pass Teacher Evaluation Bill

Teachers' evaluations will only be released to the parents and guardians of students in their classes

By Michael Gormley
|  Thursday, Jun 21, 2012  |  Updated 5:49 PM EDT
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Teacher evaluations will be kept secret from most taxpayers after state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed Gov. Cuomo's bill Thursday, giving a major victory to teachers' unions, who opposed wider disclosure of the appraisals.

Under Cuomo's bill, a teacher's evaluation will only be released to the parents and guardians of students in his or her class. Parents and guardians would be unlikely to remove their child from the class even if the teacher is ranked "ineffective," and no other evaluations would be released identifying teachers to allow "shopping" for a better teacher the following year.

Without the bill, all evaluations for teachers and principals would be public, based on a court decision.

"The intention of this bill is to avoid media exploitation," said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, a Rockland County Democrat who sponsored the bill. She explained the state committed to evaluations and some disclosure when it applied for and accepted more than $700 million in federal funds last year under the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition to improve instruction.

She said that under a recent court decision forced by a New York Post lawsuit, teacher evaluations would start to be available beginning Aug. 15 to anyone under the Freedom of Information Act unless Cuomo's bill was enacted.

Teachers and their politically powerful unions were outraged at the release of New York City teacher evaluations in articles that compared the effectiveness of schools. Mayor Bloomberg had argued full disclosure was the fastest and most effective way to improve instruction and motivate teachers.

"I believe that parents have a right to full disclosure when it comes to information about their child's education, and I am disappointed that this bill falls short of that goal," Bloomberg said in a statement released Thursday.

The Senate passed the measure 58-1 while the Assembly passed it 118-17. But many of those in support said they were cornered into voting for a bill from Cuomo because the alternative — full disclosure — would be worse for teachers.

"It just seems like we have the torches and the pitchforks out and we're going after teachers," said Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Greene County Republican and husband of a teacher. "I think in hindsight we should have told the feds to keep the $700 million ... we're branding these teachers."

Supporters defended the bill as part of improving education, which Cuomo said costs New York more than most states while getting only middle-range results.

The state's biggest union called it a win for teacher privacy.

"The governor and Legislature did the right thing by stopping the media from distorting and disseminating evaluation results," said Richard Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers union. "This bill accomplishes that goal and preserves the purpose of evaluations, which is to provide opportunity for continued growth and improvement."

"I believe it strikes the right balance between protecting teacher privacy and a parent's right to know," Cuomo said.

The Senate didn't agree to bring the measure to a vote until Thursday morning, the final day of the 2012 session.

"It's a compromise between a parent's right to know and some form of confidentiality," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican. "I'm sure it's going to be reviewed in the future," Skelos said.

"I have no intention of revisiting the bill in six months or a year," Cuomo said hours later, with Skelos at his side at a news conference.

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