The Price of Making Teacher Evaluations Public

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Last Thursday, the courts handed the UFT their second straight loss on the sensitive issue of making teacher evaluations based on test score data public. The UFT's argument that variability in the scores made them "worse than useless" as guides to the public about teacher quality was legally trumped by the public's right to know.

We agree with the union that individual teachers evaluations should not be exposed (can anyone imagine doing something similar to police officers?). But there's a reason for not releasing them that goes beyond protecting confidentiality: it could widen the achievement gap. Let's say that the value-added metrics actually do identify effective teachers (and we tend to think that these evaluations are directionally correct). Given the way public schools are currently set up, parents with the time, money and desire to be involved are far more likely to take advantage of this knowledge for their children, thus pushing already disadvantaged children into classrooms with the least effective teachers.

The public delegates the provision of public goods like education to specific agencies — and then holds them accountable for institutional performance. The public should expect the New York City Department of Education to know which teachers are ineffective and weed them out. Indeed, what was truly scandalous about last year's Los Angeles Times story on teacher effectiveness was that LAUSD had long sat on the value-added data and done nothing with it. But simply providing parents with information and letting the "market" take its course will only exacerbate existing inequalities.

Glynis Startz