April 13, 2012

Iannuzzi: Drawing the Line on Teacher Privacy

Source: NYSUT Media Relations

"Can a balance that addresses the appropriate needs and concerns of parents, teachers, principals and school officials - not to mention students - be achieved?" asks NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi in commentary that aired on WAMC Public Radio April 13, 2012. Audio and complete transcript available below.


Drawing the Line on Teacher Privacy

By Richard C. Iannuzzi

Let me introduce you to an excellent teacher in an excellent school. I'll call her Angela.

Angela teaches small classes of immigrants who speak almost no English. Her sixth-graders frequently take state tests in English and Math even when they've only been in her classroom - in fact, in this country - for a few months.

She is so hard-working and skilled, her principal is quoted as saying she wouldn't hesitate putting her own children in Angela's class.

So imagine her shock and hurt when giant tabloid headlines declared her the "Worst Teacher in New York City," after the city betrayed its teachers by failing to argue against the release of more than 12,000 teachers' ratings-widely misleading rating by their own statements-based solely on grossly inaccurate student test data.

One paper shamelessly ran a deliberately unflattering picture of Angela on the front page, revealed her salary, and sent reporters to harass her at her home. They banged on the windows. They questioned her father, demanding to know what he thought of his daughter, telling him she was the worse teacher in the city. Twice the police had to be called to end the harassment.

Of course, it came as no surprise to anyone who knows Angela that her rating-the byproduct of incredibly flawed methodology and invalid measurements-were wrong, proven to be totally inaccurate.

Only after her reputation was sullied, and too late to avoid the confusing feelings of shame and embarrassment that accompany this kind of malicious attack, did the public learn that the Board of Education "imputed" test scores for her and others. "Imputed" by the way is the testing bureaucracy's word for invented-made up.

When I talk to teachers, they get it; they tell me they understand accountability. They want to put the needs of children first, and they know that teacher accountability and continual growth is critical to student learning.

Teachers also understand the vitally important role parents play in a child's education. They understand that parents have a right to information about their child's educational experience, and that accurate, meaningful information in an appropriate context helps both the teacher and the student to maximize teaching and learning.

But, assuring parents that their child's teacher is a dedicated, skilled and caring professional, strengthening the bond between parent and teacher, is achievable without allowing broad publication and dissemination of individual teachers' names and ratings. And when teachers are not up to the task, that, too, should be between the teacher, parent and principal-not an opportunity to sell papers or increase your twitter and facebook followers and friends by vilifying others.

Can a balance that addresses the appropriate needs and concerns of parents, teachers, principals and school officials - not to mention students - be achieved?

Can we maximize the value of the teacher evaluation process without the public shaming of teachers in the news media?

Can we prevent a tragic story like Angela's from reoccurring, yet still keep parents well informed?

Can Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders protect teachers from this raw and crude exploitation by the news media without trampling on the rights of parents?

Are we finally ready to abandon the notion that all that matters is what you can measure-accurately or inaccurately?

The answer to all these questions, I believe, is yes.

That leaves one question still to be answered:

Are Albany's elected officials prepared to put educational excellence ahead of political posturing?

Richard C. Iannuzzi is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.


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