Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York state had a disagreement.
The mayor wanted the power to publish the names and evaluations of all teachers in the city, as happened earlier this year when the New York City Department of Education released the single-number ratings of 18,000 teachers, based solely on test scores. The mayor says the public has a right to know the job ratings of every teacher. The teachers’ union (among others) objected because the ratings are highly flawed and inaccurate; and it humiliates teachers to have their ratings made public. Others objected to the public release because the job evaluations of police, firefighters and corrections officers are shielded by state law; why single out teachers and open their ratings to the public? Even Bill Gates wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times opposing public release last winter, a day before the ratings went public, on the ground that they are useful only as part of a discussion between teachers and their supervisors about how to improve. Public release turns them into a tool for humiliating people, not a means of helping them become better at their work.
The governor argued that the parents have a right to know the ratings of their child’s teachers, but that the ratings should not be made public.
The state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law reflecting the governor’s view. The ratings will not be published but parents have a right to know the ratings of their child’s teacher.
Mayor Bloomberg became very angry that the Legislature sided with the governor and rejected his view. So he said on a weekly talk show that the city would contact every one of the city’s parents or guardians of 1.1 million children and make their ratings known. Many people saw this response as the reaction of a petulant billionaire who can’t stand to lose. Be that as it may, the New York City Department of Education now has the burden of enacting a policy or program to do as the mayor directs because New York City has mayoral control and the department must carry out the mayor’s wishes, no matter how odd they may seem and no matter if they violate the spirit of the law that was just passed.
GothamSchools published an account of how the Department of Education intends to carry out the mayor’s wishes. It appears that every principal will be required to contact every parent to inform them of their right to know, but it is not clear how or if this information will be released. Maybe it won’t be, as that would clearly be illegal.
Based on this article, it appears that the mayor thinks that parents are consumers who should be able to go teacher-shopping. If they don’t like Mr. Smith’s rating, they should be able to transfer their child into Ms. Jones’s class because she has a higher rating. The problem here is obvious and I wonder if this occurred to the mayor. Unlike a business, where consumers may decide to shift their patronage, a teacher can accommodate a limited number of children. If a school has 500 students, and Ms. Jones has the highest rating in the building, her classroom can still enroll only a certain number of students, between 25 and 34, depending on the grade. What happens if the parents of 200 students or all 500 students want to be in her class? It doesn’t work, and it makes no sense.
Furthermore, given what we already know are the huge margins of error built into the ratings, Ms. Jones may not be the best teacher at all. The consumers may be misinformed.
Mayor Bloomberg has a faith in the value of the standardized test scores that shows how little he knows about measurement. The scores measure student performance, not teacher quality. When used to assess teacher quality, the rankings produced are inaccurate, unreliable and unstable. A teacher who appears to be effective one year may not be effective the next year. And the more that schools use test scores to rate teachers, the more they incentivize behaviors that actually undermine good education.
As it happens, I just read a blog by a teacher in Los Angeles who announced that he had changed his mind about using test scores to evaluate teachers. He concluded that they are misleading, that they needlessly demoralize almost all teachers, and that they aren’t good for students or for education.
I agree with him.