New York Teachers' Union Loses Bid to Keep Names Off Performance Reports

New York City may disclose the names of public school teachers along with their performance reports, a judge ruled.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Kern today rejected a petition by the United Federation of Teachers to stop the city’s Department of Education from releasing the names with evaluations that are intended to show the success of individual instructors in boosting their students’ test scores.

The court wasn’t making a determination as to whether the performance reports with the teachers’ names should be released, the judge wrote in her decision. The only question before her was whether the Department of Education’s decision to do so was “arbitrary and capricious,” she said.

Charles Moerdler, an attorney for the union, argued in December that the data was flawed and intended for teachers and administrators, not public release. He warned of damaging teachers’ reputations and said a city agreement not to disclose the material is binding. UFT President Michael Mulgrew today said the union would appeal.

“The reports, which are largely based on discredited state tests, have huge margins of error and are filled with inaccuracies, will only serve to mislead parents looking for real information,” Mulgrew said.

Regardless of Flaws

Kern said in her opinion that arguments about the quality of the Teacher Data Reports are without merit.

“The Court of Appeals has clearly held that there is no requirement that data be reliable for it to be disclosed,” she wrote. “The unredacted TDRs may be released regardless of whether or to what extent they may be unreliable or otherwise flawed.”

News organizations sought the release of the reports with the names under the state’s open records law.

Jesse Levine, now senior counsel in the NYC Law Department, argued the reports were a “statistical tabulation” not exempt from the law. Levine said after the ruling that the city would await the results of the union’s appeal. That means that in the meantime, the reports won’t be released.

The judge also said the city’s Department of Education, which oversees the biggest U.S. public school system, could have rationally determined that releasing the teachers’ names was not an “unwarranted invasion of privacy,” saying it was job- performance related information.

The department’s assurances that the reports would remain confidential can’t shield them from disclosure, the judge wrote.

News Organizations

The Wall Street Journal, New York Post and New York Daily News were among the news organizations that sought to have the teacher ratings disclosed. Bloomberg News also filed a request.

David Schulz, an attorney representing news organizations including the Post, told the judge in December that the quality of the information wasn’t a reason to withhold it.

“FOIL exists to expose agencies that are incompetent in doing things with taxpayers’ money,” Schulz said.

New York City’s public school system has 1.1 million students, according to the Department of Education website. Its performance ratings use “value-added” analysis to assess teachers, according to a court filing by the union. This approach attempts to determine whether pupils make larger or smaller gains than their previous test scores would have predicted.

Case Law

“No case law supports the withholding of statistical data solely because it contains errors,” Levine wrote in court papers filed on behalf of the department. The data went through a verification process and “individual claims of error are addressed,” Levine wrote.

A 2008 letter from a deputy chancellor of schools to the union agreeing to help keep the data confidential, along with other information provided to teachers and principals, assuring teachers of their confidentiality, does not matter, the judge said. The Board of Education can’t give away the public’s right to access to public records.

“The letter explicitly said, ‘We’re going to give you privacy,” Moerdler argued in December. “No teacher will ever again participate in any pilot project if this is not the case.”

Moerdler described a hypothetical story in the New York Post with the headline, “the 100 Worst Teachers in New York” and said reputations might be ruined based on flawed data.

The Los Angeles Times in August published a series of articles that analyzed 6,000 Los Angeles elementary school teachers’ effectiveness in raising students’ math and English scores. The release of the data spurred union protest, and one teacher committed suicide after the articles’ publication.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Freifeld in New York at kfreifeld@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

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