June 21, 2012
The high-profile debate on public access to teacher evaluations ended today when lawmakers signed off on a bill making the data available to parents, despite reluctance and opposition on both sides.
The bill, which was introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, passed the Assembly 118-17. Cuomo called it a compromise between those aligned with the teachers unions, who opposed releasing teacher performance data, and officials who wanted full disclosure of the data.
Not everyone was satisfied by the compromise. Many assemblymen said they felt the bill still left teachers vulnerable. Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement that he felt the opposite.
“I believe that parents have a right to full disclosure when it comes to information about their child’s education, and I am disappointed that this bill falls short of that goal,” he said.
Many assemblymen said before the vote that they were supporting the bill in the spirit of compromise, although they said the bill itself was weak. One New York City lawmaker apologized to principals for the bill because he said he believed it would give them a host of new responsibilities in order to comply with the law.
“I’m sorry for you principals out there for what we’re doing to you today,” said Bronx lawmaker Michael Benedetto. ”I’ll be voting for this very reluctantly.”
“Like most others, I will vote for this bill as a necessity,” said Barbara Lifton, a Democrat from Ithaca. “But I hope this discussion today is the beginning of a plan to start a new conversation in New York.”
Early iterations of the bill were highly-restrictive to parental access, but the final version provides them more. Districts must now notify parents about their rights to request teacher and principal performance information and parents can receive and review it in any format, including over the phone.
How much notification is unclear from the bill’s language. It says districts must provide “conspicuous notice” to parents, although it does not describe what that entails. The lack of specificity could be a point of contention down the road, as administrators and principals implement the law in their schools.
Joel Miller, a retiring Republican from Poughkeepsie, said he was disappointed with his colleagues for saying they voted for it in spite of their qualms.
“This bill is no damn good, and we’ll wait around until you give us a better bill,” he said.
UFT president Michael Mulgrew praised the new law as striking an “appropriate balance” between ensuring parents’ right to information and the prevention of teacher vilification. State Education Commissioner John King said the law was a “welcome step.”
And Ellen Jaffee, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly said legislators should have faith that parents will not misuse the information.
“We’ll have to trust parents’ judgement,” she said.
Some assemblymen said they expected to amend the bill in the future, but the governor said he considered the case closed.
“Maybe with another governor, but not with me,” he said. “I have no intention of revisiting the bill in six months.”