Teacher Ratings to Remain Hidden

July 19, 2012

If you think the new education reform bill means you’ll get to see what grade your child’s teacher receives on his or her evaluation, think again.

The grades, part of a teacher tenure reform bill that sits on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk, would be kept secret.

The proposal for yearly evaluations for teachers and principals sailed through both houses of the Legislature last month. But the 18-page bill contains a barely noticed, one-sentence passage shielding the grades: “Information related to the evaluation of a particular employee shall be maintained by the school district, shall be confidential, and shall not be accessible to the public.”

Proponents of the bill say teachers will still be held to task for their performance. But the privacy clause means parents, taxpayers and other stakeholders won’t know what was detailed in a teacher’s review under a plan that will cost millions of dollars to implement. Teachers will receive grades of “ineffective,” “partially effective,” “effective” and “highly effective.”

“It’s ridiculous. It stinks,” said Brielle resident Tizzie Cregan, mother of an 11-year-old daughter. “It’s very important to know if perhaps a teacher’s evaluation showed they have poor classroom management. Depending on where the teacher falls off, you want to know where you can pick things up at home with your child, how to help your child cope.”

But Monmouth County Vocational School District Superintendent Tim McCorkell said he thought opening reviews would be unfair to teachers, adding he couldn’t think of any other public or private industry in which evaluations are made public.

“Usually they’re personnel matters; they’re protected by any number of legal provisions,” McCorkell said. “What other professions do that?”

Yet some states allow public access to teacher grades — something teachers unions have fought vigorously.

Under a recently enacted New York law, parents will be allowed to see evaluations of their children’s current teachers, and other members of the public will be allowed to see evaluation data only with the names of the teachers removed.

A spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said public disclosure of evaluations “has been done in a couple of places with disastrous results,” noting the 2010 suicide of a Los Angeles teacher.

“Sometimes a question will arise about a teacher and the first conversation for a parent should take place with that teacher,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer. “Then talk to the principal. When you start prying open the file cabinets and pulling out everybody’s evaluations, that’s extremely problematic.”

A database of evaluations for every teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District was published in 2010. The suicide of a teacher has been linked by Los Angeles union leaders to when the teacher’s “less effective than average” rating was made public.

Wollmer said those who advocate for making teacher ratings public “should put themselves in the shoes of a teacher.”

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, who sponsored the bill, could not be reached for comment.

The proposed law directs superintendents to file tenure charges against teachers who receive two consecutive negative ratings on annual evaluations. The teachers don’t automatically lose their tenure but could eventually be fired, though they maintain the right to appeal during the process.

Christie has until Aug. 3 to take action on the bill and has indicated he will sign it, but he also has the option to conditionally veto parts with which he doesn’t concur.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said: “We are still considering the bill and each of its provisions, and the governor will make his position clear when he takes final action. Beyond that, I refer you to prior comments by the governor since the bill was passed.”

Christie has touted the bill’s potential to directly tie tenure protections to whether teachers consistently draw positive evaluations.

If the bill becomes law without changes, that’s fine with Janine Pugliese, mother of two children, ages 14 and 15, at Manalapan High School.

Pugliese said she can trust the system.

“If it’s a true evaluation, they want the good teachers in there,” said Pugliese, who also works as a substitute teacher for the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional Schools. “We as lay people could misinterpret something (in a public evaluation). If they feel somebody’s not doing what they’re supposed to do, I as a parent trust (evaluators) to know better than anybody if the teacher should not get their tenure for a certain reason.”

Wendy Green, a teacher at the Marine Academy of Science and Technology in Sandy Hook, said she personally isn’t worried about evaluations being made public.

“In my mind, if I’m not doing my job, I don’t belong there,” Green said.