Should teachers have details about their job performance made public? The Los Angeles Times sure thinks so. In recent months, the newspaper has waged a legal battle to have data about specific teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District published so that it can better interpret whether the schools do a good job of firing teachers with poor performance marks.
Certainly, making teacher evaluations a matter of public record could inform the debate on public school teacher tenure. As it stands, journalists and politicians have to look at broader information available to judge whether the schools are doing a good job of firing low performing teachers. If, for example, outside parties could see the criteria used to measure specific teachers and whether or not they were kept on the job, they could determine the effectiveness of the existing teacher retention protocol.
Still, that transparency would come at the cost of the teachers’ right to privacy. It’s not as though most employees – including other government employees – have their job evaluations publicized for the world to see. Furthermore, considering that evaluations are largely determined by standardized testing scores – a measure that is already largely disputed for being inaccurate and/or meaningless – it isn’t necessarily fair to publish teachers’ names alongside scores that aren’t necessarily representative of the work they’ve put in to their jobs.
Although the Times won an initial case to have this teacher evaluation information disclosed, the LAUSD appeal was successful with three state appellate court judges. They side with LAUSD’s reasons why releasing this data on specific employees could be harmful:
- It could establish an unproductively competitive environment for teachers.
- It could cause resentment among fellow teachers.
- It could stop teachers from seeking employment at LAUSD.
- It could drive existing teachers away from LAUSD.
- It could prompt a rush of parents to try to transfer their children into the classes of the best performing teachers.
“Clearly, the public has an interest in avoiding these consequences in its schools,” wrote Judge Russell Kussman.
The Times’ lawyers were unimpressed with the judges’ concerns about speculative problems. LAUSD provided no hard evidence that any of these situations would actually occur if the data was to be released, so they continue to argue that they lack sufficient grounds to block the data disclosure.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy says he agrees with the court’s decision and vows that improving teacher performance at the schools is already being handled internally. Aafter the evaluation system was refined a few years ago, Deasy claims that there has been a surge in not granting poor performing teachers tenure and dismissing them from their jobs.
However, this court battle isn’t entirely finished. The judges believed it was perhaps acceptable for data to be made public about individual schools rather than individual teachers. Rather than deciding this issue themselves, the judges are handing that back to the lower courts to reach a verdict.
What do you think? Is this just another way to publicly trounce teachers already trying to navigate a difficult profession or is it a smart solution for demanding accountability from our education system?