Since teacher ratings are of such great interest on the blog, I wanted to share part of an e-mail from a teacher to me and the legislators considering this idea, state Rep. Edward Lindsey’s response to the e-mail and then the letter that New York Chancellor Joel Klein wrote to his teachers explaining why he agreed to release effectiveness ratings there once the courts cleared the way.
I think all three give a pretty good summary of the pros and cons of this highly explosive issue. I think it is fair to say from the hundreds of response to the blog and personal e-mails to me that this is not an idea that Georgia teachers will easily endorse.
And teachers have not done so in Los Angeles where the LA Times released teacher ratings this summer that led to protests in the streets. Teachers are fighting release of similar effectiveness rankings in New York where the media want to see them and the school system wants to provide them under the rationale that parents deserve more information about their children’s teachers.
First, the e-mail from the outraged teacher, who also posted to the blog in shorter form:
This is one of the most ridiculous and insulting ideas in a long line of such that I have come to expect from this country’s politicians and put forth with some measure of support by the less-than-critical news media. I would suggest that this announcement smacks more of political grandstanding than of any substantive desire to improve our abysmal education ranking and that the AJC gives every appearance of serving as the mouthpiece.
As noted in my entry to the blog, teachers have long been subject to annual performance evaluations. Therefore, all your proposal would accomplish is to make these evaluations a matter of public knowledge, unless you intend to add yet another evaluation into the mix. What can possibly be gained by doing such a thing, other than spending taxpayer dollars to study how best to evaluate/report and develop a means of doing so? Will your proposal provide for the means for parents to request the “passing grade” teachers for their children? Will your proposal provide for the means of improvement of the “failing grade” teachers? Will your proposal provide a quantitative and verifiable means to help the students of this state? If not, then of what value is the public report card? If someone with less than stellar performance has remained on the job year in and year out, that is hardly their “fault.”
I would suggest that the one(s) not actually performing the duties of a job would be the administrator(s) incorrectly administering the evaluation instrument or following through with steps to negate the unsatisfactory results. Will your proposal provide for releasing the information contained within the performance evaluations in all prior years of the teacher’s employment so as to explain why someone with such a record has continued in the position
Does not the release of such information constitute a violation of privacy in some form or another as related to employment (public release of private evaluation information, for example)? So many lawsuits have been filed against former employers for giving bad references that few are now willing to say more than that an applicant was employed at the business during a specific time period. Yet the state of Georgia is now planning to release possibly detrimental data to the general public regarding its employees? Do you not feel that you will be exposing the taxpayers of this state as well as of the employing county to lawsuits by publishing such information?
Have you entered into any dialogue at all with the Georgia Department of Education on this topic? After all, is it not the purpose of that body to oversee matters of education in the state of Georgia? If, however, the legislature is now to address these issues, should not the DOE be disbanded? There would seem to be no reason to have such a department when the legislature will be addressing matters of education. Would not such a move serve to address some of the budget shortfall we are now facing in Georgia? Think of the money that could be saved by getting rid of unnecessary employees (all of them, apparently) in that department.
Surely, surely in these lean budget times there are more pressing issues of time and money that the lawmakers of this state should be addressing other than teacher report cards. However, if you feel that this is indeed a worthy pursuit, then I, as a taxpaying citizen of the state of Georgia, would ask that you also push for public report cards for members of the medical profession, the local police and fire forces, our county and city commissioners, any and all other individuals who are paid by local and state governments (including lawmakers in the state house, their staffs, employees of the governor’s office, local school boards, school administrators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, secretaries, para-pros, coaches, etc., and every single person affiliated in any way with the Georgia Department of Education, elected or otherwise). As all of these people are paid in one way or another by taxpayer dollars (through mandated health care or checks from some level of government), I feel that we taxpayers are “entitled” to see the rating of each of these employees as well.
Do you not feel that citizens of this state have a right to see a report card on every government employee (including yourself) in this state, not just the teachers? Or, perhaps, have you come to understand that the state of Georgia really does have more important matters to address than those which already have a means of correction in place?
And Rep. Lindsey replied:
You have given me quite a stream of consciousness to consider. As I discussed with Ms. Downey, the teacher report card is one of many reforms being seriously studied and should not be viewed in isolation. We need to look at many areas of education including the curriculum in the pre K program, the number of standardized test being given, improving teacher quality, enhancing parental involvement, the high school graduation rates, the technical school program, and the hope scholarship. There is no one single bullet here and all issues need to be on the table.
I also emphasized to Ms. Downey the importance of teacher input on any reforms being advanced. That is what I am doing here now. The one thing that I will not accept is that the status quo is acceptable. My constituents in general and our next generation in particular deserve better. I believe I clearly know where you stand on teacher report cards; however, I also note from your e mail that you did not offer any constructive reforms that you believe would help move the ball forward. I look forward to hearing from you again with any such ideas.
And here is NY Chancellor Joel Klein’s letter to his teachers on why he agreed to release effectiveness ratings, pending the outcome of a court challenge by New York’s teacher union. The court has not ruled yet on the release:
As you have likely heard or read, several media outlets recently issued Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the City, requiring the Department to share the Teacher Data Reports we provide schools and teachers in grades 4 through 8 each year. These reports use a method called “value-added data” that seeks to predict student performance based on factors outside of a teacher’s control (high levels of poverty, for example), and then determines whether a given teacher’s students exceeded or fell short of these predicted examination scores (teachers may always access their reports at http://schools.nyc.gov/Teachers/TeacherDevelopment/TeacherDataToolkit/GetYourReports/default.htm).
By controlling for factors beyond a teacher’s control, it is the fairest system-wide way we have to assess the real impact of teachers on student learning. And while the City’s particular value-add method is not etched in stone, this is why the State passed legislation this spring, endorsed by the teachers’ unions, committing to using value-added data for all teachers. It is also why value-added data is increasingly being used throughout the nation as part of a comprehensive system of teacher evaluation.
In the past we have provided the numeric value-added data to the press with no indication of the identity of individual teachers. I am writing to you today because media outlets, prompted by similar data being published by the Los Angeles Times, have requested the names of individual teachers, not just the statistics.
As it is the City’s legal interpretation that we are legally obligated to provide the media this information, it is our intent to provide the data as requested.
In the time since we informed the UFT that we intended to comply with the FOIL request, the union has sued the City to prevent the release, and we have agreed to delay any release until at least November 24, when a court hearing will be held. So no data have yet been released. But I want to make sure that, as you read about these events in the newspapers, you understand the circumstances and you understand my view on the issue overall.
Our most important task is to ensure that every one of our students has a great teacher. It is critical, therefore, that when we have indications of a teacher’s proficiency, we use that indication to do what’s right for kids. One indication will never tell the whole story, and sometimes it is hard to discern definitive evidence from data alone —such as with a teacher who is “average” according to these numbers, for example. But where teachers have performed consistently toward the top or the bottom, year after year, these data surely tell us something very important. Namely, we need to retain and reward the great teachers, and we need to develop the low-performing teachers. And those who don’t improve quickly need to be replaced with better-performing teachers.
Secretary Arne Duncan last week said it best when he said, “I give New York credit for sharing this information with teachers so they can improve and get better.” More than anything, these data demonstrate that we need a better, more comprehensive system of evaluation than the one we have now. That’s why the State legislature and the unions supported an evaluation system that uses value-added data. Now it’s time that the DOE and UFT together build a new system that gives teachers an honest sense of how well they’re doing and how they can improve.
In the end, this is about real people. On one hand, for too long, parents have been left out of the equation, left to pray each year that the teacher greeting their children on the first day of school is truly great, but with no real knowledge of whether that is the case, and with no recourse if it’s not.
But this is also about teachers. They take on the hardest work there is, and they deserve our respect. If anyone sees these data as an opportunity to scapegoat public servants, that is a mistake. Doing what’s right for children means making hard decisions; it has nothing to do with personal attacks.
We’ve made huge strides for our kids over the last eight years. That’s because we’ve been willing to face hard facts. It’s also because we have made kids’ best interests our shared priority. My hope is that we approach this issue with both of those thoughts in mind, ensuring fair treatment for adults, but always keeping children first.
Joel I. Klein
– By Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog