ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Teacher evaluations will be kept secret from most taxpayers after state lawmaker's overwhelmingly passed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's bill Thursday, giving a major victory to teachers unions, who opposed wider disclosure of the appraisals.
Under Cuomo's bill, a teacher's evaluation will only be released to the parents and guardians of students in his or her class. Without the bill, all evaluations for teachers and principals would be public, based on a court decision.
"The intention of this bill is to avoid media exploitation," said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, a Rockland County Democrat who sponsored the bill. She explained the state committed to evaluations and some disclosure when it applied for and accepted more than $700 million in federal funds last year under the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition to improve instruction.
She said that under a recent court decision forced by a New York Post lawsuit, teacher evaluations would start to be available beginning Aug. 15 to anyone under the Freedom of Information Act unless Cuomo's bill was enacted.
Teachers and their unions were outraged at the release of New York City teacher evaluations in articles that compared the effectiveness of schools. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had argued full disclosure was the fastest and most effective way to improve instruction and motivate teachers.
Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz, a Queens Democrat, said he saw no reason to release the evaluations "except to sell newspapers."
"What sells newspapers better than a little controversy?" he asked in the two-hour floor debate. "How will the student be served by the newspapers having this information?"
The Senate passed the measure 58-1 while the Assembly passed it 118-17. But many of those in support said they were cornered into voting for a bill from Cuomo because the alternative — full disclosure — would be worse for teachers.
"It just seems like we have the torches and the pitchforks out and we're going after teachers," said Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Greene County Republican and husband of a teacher. "I think in hindsight we should have told the feds to keep the $700 million ... we're branding these teachers."
Supporters defended the bill as part of improving education, which Cuomo said costs New York more than most states while getting only middle-range results.
"I believe the shakeup of education in New York state is a good thing and long overdue," said Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick, a Suffolk County Republican. "As a property tax payer on Long Island, I am tired of the shakedown I experience each and every year from the education system."
"Data is now a fact of our lives," said Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Catherine Nolan, a Queens Democrat. "And, yes, let's not sell our parents short: They have a right know."
"I believe in disclosure, I want accountability," said Assemblyman Vito Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat. "My first, second and third priority are the children of New York City."