one man's libel...

Union and city spar over public release of teachers' scores

Calling the city’s reports on teacher effectiveness “misleading and grossly flawed,” lawyers for the teachers union argued that the city has no right to release them with teachers’ names attached.

Attorneys representing the city’s Department of Education, United Federation of Teachers, and several city news outlets made their arguments for-and-against the information’s release in New York’s Supreme Court today. Over the summer, several reporters asked for teachers’ effectiveness scores with names included under the Freedom of Information Law. Though the city initially planned to give reporters the scores, it left the decision in the court’s hands after the union sued to prevent the release of teachers’ names.

Contained in documents called Teacher Data Reports, the scores measure how a teachers’ students performed on state math and reading tests against how a model predicted their students would perform. Though the city and union have agreed to include these scores as a factor in teacher evaluations, they’ve become a lightning rod for criticism as some academics have questioned their reliability.

Arguing before Justice Cynthia Kern, a lawyer for the union said the scores with teachers’ names attached are exempt from disclosure under Freedom of Information law because they are intra-agency documents and because they have the potential to harm teachers, impinging on their right to privacy.

“These reports were to help teachers improve themselves and to help principals,” said union lawyer Charles Moerdler. “If there’s anything that’s intra-agency, it’s that. It isn’t for the purpose of providing fodder for the media.”

Senior lawyer for the city Jesse Levine argued that while the analysis and data that go into producing the reports are considered intra-agency materials and not subject to FOIL requests, the reports themselves are not.

“The statute is very clear: it does not allow us to withhold these statistics and that’s what they are,” Levine said. “They are factual, they are objective, and the numbers speak for themselves.”

Moerdler contested this point, saying that the reports may contain statistics, but the data used to create them is subjective.

“If you look at their Teacher Data Reports, it says this is the predicted score of the person, not the actual score — not a score that is something that is certain,” Moerdler said. “A prediction is not objective. It is layer upon layer of subjective information.”

Moerdler also argued that a deal made in 2008 between then-president of the United Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten and Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf that the city would keep the reports private, amounted to collective bargaining. He said that the city had bargained away its right to release the scores with names and that, in the past, when reporters had submitted FOI requests for “all” the data reports, the city had declined to release them with teachers’ names.

Now, the city’s intent to release them with names is “arbitrary and capricious,” Moerdler said.

“The city cannot bargain away the public’s right to those documents,” responded David Schulz, a lawyer representing several news outlets. He also argued that teachers, as public employees, lose their right to privacy when they take jobs working for the government.

After the hearing, Moerdler told reporters that he believes that, outside of the law, there’s a moral problem with the city’s eagerness to release teachers’ names along with their effectiveness scores.

“It’s morally wrong, it’s ethically wrong, to put out libelous material,” he said. “Particularly at this time of the year, you do not go out and hurt people,” he said, invoking the holiday spirit.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.