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Bloomberg: City will aggressively push teacher evals to parents

The city will exploit every letter of a new law that sets out exactly who can see the results of teachers’ annual evaluations, Mayor Bloomberg announced today.

The announcement came less than 24 hours after legislators in Albany signed off on a compromise bill meant to shield the results of new teacher evaluations from public scrutiny. The legislation, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced, blocks the results of new teacher evaluations from being subject to Freedom of Information Law requests, preventing news organizations from obtaining them. But it created a process for parents to request the evaluation results of their children’s current teachers.

Bloomberg opposed the bill, arguing that the public has a right to know how individual teachers perform and that the request process was so onerous that few parents would be able to use it.

So during his weekly radio address this morning, Bloomberg announced that city schools will bring the process to the parents.

“We are going to have our schools call every single parent,” he said. “We will tell [them],’You are entitled to this information and if you want it say yes right now and we will send it to you.'”

Department of Education officials offered more specifics about Bloomberg’s promise this afternoon. They said schools would send home letters letting parents know the ratings are available; let parents access the ratings on ARIS, the department’s data warehouse; and create a hotline that parents can call to register their requests. They also said the city would publish every teacher’s rating, but without information that would identify who the ratings belong to.

And the officials said principals and assistant principals at each school would shoulder the burden of carrying out Bloomberg’s promise to call families. School administrators will call parents and guardians and every single student in the school system — who number about 1 million — to let them know the evaluations are available.

It’s exactly the scenario that Bronx lawmaker Michael Benedetto imagined when he explained his vote for the bill on the Assembly floor Thursday. “I’m sorry for you principals out there for what we’re doing to you today,” he said. ”I’ll be voting for this very reluctantly.”

It’s also theoretical at this point. The city, unlike most districts across the state, has yet to hammer out a teacher evaluation deal with its union, so there won’t actually be detailed teacher ratings to disclose this fall except in the seemingly unlikely event that a compromise is reached. Department officials said today that if new evaluations are not adopted by January 2013, teacher rating data would not become available until 2015.

Districts will eventually have to adopt more stringent ratings systems that take student performance into account under the evaluation law passed earlier this year, and Cuomo has steadily ramped up pressure to get them adopted quickly. He has said districts that do not adopt new evaluations by next January will not see their state aid increase.

But the city and union have not even been discussing evaluations since negotiations broke down in late December, when they were trying to secure a pot of federal funds that hinged on them. After Bloomberg announced a workaround to one evaluations deadline that required cutting thousands of teachers loose from their schools, relations between the city and union deteriorated even further. And Bloomberg’s comments today showed that there had been no improvement.

“No matter where they’re good or bad, the union is not there to help our students. Don’t ever think that,” he said on the air. “The union is there for its members. To protect them. When they’re sex offenders, they protect them. When they’re criminals, they protect them. They do anything to protect then. They don’t do anything for the students. They just use the students as a ploy.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew responded swiftly to the attacks by pointing out that Bloomberg alone thought the bill was not strong enough.

“The mayor’s statement is a transparent attempt to divert attention from the fact that his attempts to vilify teachers have been frustrated by the governor and legislature, including a virtually unanimous Republican delegation in the State Senate,” he said in a statement. “The fact is that New York City parents have always had the ability to find out the ratings of their children’s teachers — a right the UFT fought to maintain in the recently passed legislation.”

The city and state teachers unions joined lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supporting the compromise legislation. The unions were satisfied that the law would prevent a reprise of what happened this winter, when the city released 18,000 teachers’ “value-added ratings” from a pilot evaluation project that took place from 2008 until last year. The ratings, which were based entirely on calculations using student test scores, caused a frenzy of news stories about the “worst teachers” in the city.

Today, Bloomberg said that he was pleased that the bill allows districts to release tallies of how many teachers receive each rating at each school. But he said the idea of disclosing ratings to parents only once their child is assigned to a teacher made little sense.

“There’s no provisions in this to let you find out the ratings for the teachers who your child might be put in a classroom with,” he said during his radio appearance. “”It’s nice to know the rating of your teacher, but what do you do with it? … You’re already in the middle of the school year and you can’t move your child then.”

In February, when the city’s ratings were released to several news organizations that had filed legal requests for them, principals were advised not to accede to parents’ demands to have their children moved to classes whose teachers had higher ratings.

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