N.Y. Teachers Fight Effort To Make Ratings Public

fromWNYC

The union representing New York City's teachers goes to court Wednesday to try to stop the release to the media of a database of teacher effectiveness ratings. The move in New York follows the publication earlier this year by the Los Angeles Times of the scores of some L.A. teachers. The ratings, known as "value added analysis," are controversial because there is disagreement over whether they accurately reflect teaching ability. And unions say making the ratings public violates teacher privacy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Today, a judge in New York City will hear arguments over whether the job ratings of teachers can be released to the public. So far these scores have only been shared with the teachers themselves, as well as with their principles. Now the city wants to give the information to the media. Here's Beth Fertig of member station WNYC.

BETH FERTIG: Any principal can tell you it's easy to spot great teachers. They're the ones like math teacher Maria Pena Valenzuela, whose seventh graders can eagerly compare the spatial dimensions of a basket to a flat piece of paper.

Ms. MARIA PENA VALENZUELA (Teacher): Can I put something inside?

Unidentified Children: No.

Ms. VALENZUELA: Can I put in water?

Unidentified Children: No.

FERTIG: The 27 students in this classroom at PS 189 in Brooklyn are completely absorbed in the lesson. But Valenzuela's students aren't just engaged. Principal Berthe Faustin says they're thriving academically.

Ms. BERTHE FAUSTIN (Principal): In some instances all her children show growth. A year to two year's growth. Year after year.

FERTIG: By contrast, Faustin says only half the students in classes taught by her least effective teachers made a year's worth of progress. New York City Deputy Chancellor John White says the city compares how well students are predicted to score on state math and reading tests to their actual results.

Mr. JOHN WHITE (Deputy Chancellor, New York City Schools): And when you look at the difference between the average of the prediction and the average of the result, that's how much impact the teacher had.

FERTIG: All teachers are ranked on a curve meaning most will be average. White says the city says is primarily interested in those who consistently score in the top and bottom. He says the city compares similar groups of students, such as those still learning English, and teachers with similar levels of experience.

For three years, New York City has been quietly rating 12,000 elementary and middle school teachers this way. This year, in response to requests by the media, it planned to publicly reveal the names of the teachers and their ratings. That prompted a lawsuit by the teachers union, which argued the city had agreed to keep that information private. Michael Roatt, a music teacher and union representative, says if the data's released, it shouldn't be attached to any names.

Mr. MICHAEL ROATT (Teacher): And then you have a stigma attached to you. Or your name, wherever you go. I mean if you leave New York City go and work in California, Georgia, Florida, this will always follow you.

FERTIG: Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times caused a controversy when it hired a consultant to rate the effectiveness of thousands of teachers based on student test scores.

In New York, the teachers union also argues that the ratings are prone to error. Daniel Koretz, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, says it's hard to pinpoint an individual teacher's role in student growth.

Professor DANIEL KORETZ (Harvard Graduate School of Education): And there has been study after study that shows that rankings of teachers based on a single year's worth of kids, a single year of data, are just not stable. The teachers who are ranked highly effective one year may be seen as either mediocre or in some cases as ineffective the following year.

FERTIG: But U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said rankings can still help teachers improve and should be shared with the public. The Obama Administration has been using federal grants to encourage states to develop ways of measuring teacher effectiveness. Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, says even imperfect ratings can be useful.

Mr. ERIC HANUSHEK (Hoover Institution, Stanford University): I think that we have deprived parents of information about their teachers and the performance of their schools for too long.

FERTIG: And Hanushek says the genie's already out of the bottle, because parents are sure to keep pushing for more information about their children's teachers.

For NPR News, I'm Beth Fertig in New York.

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