July-August 2012 Issue
June 27, 2012

A big win for teachers

Author: NYSUT United staff
Source: NYSUT United

Teachers' names will now be kept out of the media. They won't be pilloried in headlines or labeled the worst in their profession — thanks to a new state law that respects the privacy of educators.

"This is a tremendous victory for NYSUT and its members," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, noting that protecting privacy rights for teacher evaluations was the statewide union's top priority.

"Along with 2010 legislation that established collective bargaining as the tool for shaping the evaluation process, this represents a significant win — one that rightly defends the privacy of our members, who deserve respect for the important work they do and protection against the media's shameless focus on sensationalizing a process dedicated to advancing student learning."

Legislators, made acutely aware that a new set of teacher data is to be released in mid-August, overwhelmingly agreed with NYSUT's position that a law was needed to avoid a media frenzy if evaluations were made public.

The law, which takes effect July 1, "reinforces the bedrock principle that accountability does not equate with public servants being shamed and humiliated in the press," Iannuzzi said.

NYSUT mounted a non-stop campaign for teacher privacy after the courts in February allowed the public release of pilot evaluation data for about 18,000 New York City teachers. Tabloid media published flawed scores and shamefully described some teachers as "the worst" in the city, publishing their photos and staking out their homes.

Outraged NYSUT members and leaders from across the state inundated legislators with examples of why privacy was needed. Members sent 85,967 faxes, and made thousands of phone calls and hundreds of visits to lawmakers at the capitol and in their home districts.

"Our dedicated leaders, activists, legislative staff and the whole NYSUT team worked tirelessly and successfully conveyed to lawmakers the reasons why teacher accountability is not the same as media sensationalism," said Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta.

Glenn Cotler of the Greenburgh 11 Federation of Teachers welcomed the new privacy law.

"A teacher's professional life now does not have to be tried in the public," he said. Cotler was among scores of members who traveled to Albany to speak with lawmakers. It was his first time. "Obviously someone was listening," he said.

Iannuzzi noted that the New York State AFL-CIO, under the leadership of President Mario Cilento, actively lobbied for legislation with support from both public and private sector unions.

Cilento praised NYSUT for its part in focusing on solutions that improve outcomes through the partnership of teachers, parents and administrators, while at the same time protecting the rights of those who have dedicated their lives to our children. He said the legislation has "broader implications for all workers. It demonstrates once again that giving workers a voice at the table is the best way to move our state forward."

Gov. Cuomo, in a statement, noted how "the teachers' unions made important points" on the legitimate right to privacy.

Law preserves purpose of eval

The law, which originated as a program bill initiated by Gov. Cuomo, permits only parents and legal guardians to request the final effectiveness rating of their child's current teacher. It acknowledges the important partnership between parents and teachers in helping children to learn, while respecting teacher privacy by prohibiting full disclosure of annual performance reviews of individual teachers and principals.

"This law preserves the purpose of evaluations, which is to provide opportunity for continued growth and improvement. It has potential to serve as one more piece of information in a comprehensive process where parents and educators, working together, can ensure that all students have a quality education," Iannuzzi said.

"We very much appreciate Gov. Cuomo's leadership on this issue and appreciate that both the Senate and the Assembly passed this critical legislation."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver noted that "teachers are tasked with the enormous responsibility of educating our children and they perform one of the most important jobs imaginable. This legislation governing the disclosure of evaluations strikes a fair balance between a parent's right to know information about their child's educators or schools and a teacher's right to privacy."

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said the law "strikes a good balance between parents' right to know and some form of confidentially."

No public shaming of teachers

Media reports described the legislation as a win for unions and teachers. The union's privacy message was embraced by at least two major newspapers — The Buffalo News and the Times Union in Albany — which published editorials in support of teacher privacy. The New York Times called it a loss for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, which lobbied fiercely for full disclosure of scores and names.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised the legislation for finding "an appropriate balance — ensuring that parents can have information about their children's teachers, while helping to prevent the kind of vilification of teachers that resulted from Mayor Bloomberg's insistence on releasing the misleading and inaccurate Teacher Data Reports last year."

New York State Education Commissioner John King noted the evaluations "help teachers and principals improve their practice, which in turn helps students improve their performance. Public disclosure of individual ratings would just get in the way of that progress."

NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who testified before state lawmakers in June on the overemphasis and misuse of standardized tests, said the law "ensures student testing data is used to help improve teaching practice and student learning — not to publicly shame teachers and principals."