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Release of Teacher Performance Evaluations in New York

Posted June 25, 2012 4:12 PM by Mark Cutler

Transparency is almost always considered an important characteristic of both good government as well as good performance management systems. Therefore, on the surface, the effort in New York State to have all teacher performance evaluations released to the public seems like a worthy reform of the state's public school system.

First, parents can see the performance evaluations of their children's teachers and prospective teachers. Second, teachers will improve their performance for one of two reasons: (1) the knowledge that anyone – their spouses, their neighbors, even their mothers – can see their performance evaluations or (2) parents will be allowed to "shop" for their children's teachers and poor performing ones will have no buyers.

The plan, put forward by Governor Andrew Cuomo and approved by the state legislature, was a compromise between New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's demand that evaluations be made available to the general public and the teachers' union's position that they should be held confidential (see article in the June 22, 2012 Wall Street Journal). They decided to release the records to parents of students only.

In the national debate around public school reform, teacher performance – and how to rate it – has been a big issue. Should it be based on student performance/success, in-class evaluations, some combination of these, or some other method entirely?

Regardless of where you stand on this question, you can certainly see the value in a parent's access to teachers' performance evaluations, especially if they have the ability to choose teachers for their children – less so, if they don't. That is the peculiar aspect of the New York policy – parents can only see the performance evaluations of their children's current teachers.

So, does this then further reduce the value of "releasing" the evaluations? And, if the policy was intended to help improve teachers' performance for at least reason #2 I listed above, will it work if only the parents of students already in their class have access to their evaluations?

If you ask me, Cuomo out-maneuvered the education reformers on this one. He provided some of the transparency they were seeking by "releasing" performance evaluation records to those who supposedly need the information most but with no perceivable reason to expect improved performance and no opportunity for parents to truly choose the best teachers for their children.