Who Is Responsible for the New York Teacher Data Dump?


Some folks in comments pointed out that I shouldn't ascribe responsibility for the release of the teacher ratings to the Bloomberg administration. The media had, after all, sued for the data's release. Acknowledged. I should have pointed that out.

Last week, the New York City Department of Education planned to release Teacher Data Reports, which include the names of more than 12,000 city teachers and what are known as their "value-added" scores. 

The release of these data reports -- which tell us which teachers are contributing the most (and the least) to their students' achievement -- raises complex issues. While they are provided every year to principals and teachers directly, they have never before been released with teacher names to the public, and the United Federation of Teachers has gone to court to block their release. 

First and foremost, we believe that the public has a right to this information under the Freedom of Information Law. But we also strongly disagree with the UFT's argument that the public isn't smart enough to understand this information. 

The Times links to this CJR piece implying the city essentially bated the media to FOIA the scores and then offers a little more history:

Christopher Cerf, the deputy chancellor overseeing the program, said it was important to get teachers "comfortable with the data, in a positive, affirming way." "The information in here is a really, really important way to foster change and improvement," he said. "We don't want people to be threatened by this." In introducing the pilot program, Mr. Cerf said it would be a "powerful step forward" to have the teacher measurements made public, arguing, "If you know as a parent what's the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior." But this week, he said that for now the reports will be treated as personnel records not subject to public-records laws.

At the end of his piece from 2010, Klein marshals an interesting argument:

We aren't naive about the impact this release could have on our teachers, which is why we hope that no one misuses the data or views it as an opportunity to scapegoat teachers. Our teachers deserve the utmost respect. But these are public schools and public tax dollars. 

Indeed they are public tax dollars--tax dollars which pay for a variety of enhancements and protections, teachers being but one of them. A year before Klein made that appeal, a New York police officer shot and killed Shem Walker dead on his mother's front stoop. The city won't even tell the family that officer's name.

Perhaps they should not. Perhaps an officer, doing his job, who makes an honest--if catastrophic--mistake is entitled to some protection. But our sense of who should, and shouldn't be protected, is selective. Already a prominent newspaper has published the picture and salary of one of New York's "worst" teachers. Forgive me if I do not link.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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