by Carol Lloyd
Any hour now the New York Times is supposed to publish the "value-added" data on 12,000 New York City public school teachers following a court ruling yesterday ordering the Department of Education to release the scores.
In the world of education politics, there's not much everyone agrees on. The teacher's union goes to the ends of the earth to protect teachers (even bad ones sometimes), while the scorched earth reformers like Michelle Rhee have made it their stock in trade to blame incompetent, negligent teachers for ruining our schools and damaging the lives of our school children one ill-planned lesson at a time.
But the plan to release the names of thousands of New York City's teachers - and how much they did or did not raise student test scores - has created some odd moments of assonance. Yesterday Bill Gates, who has spent millions of dollars to investigate teacher effectiveness and improve the teacher evaluation process, wrote an editorial in the New York Times arguing that shaming teachers would do more harm than good. GothamSchools explained why they would not be publishing teacher data with names attached: the statistics don't stand up to scrutiny - with margins of error that you could drive a truck through. Ed reform blogger Alexander Russo quotes Teach for America's Wendy Kopp and a spokesperson from Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst speaking out against publishing teacher's names attached to their data.
It's not the first time teachers have been forced to wear the scarlet number of value-added scores. In 2010 the Los Angeles Times published similar data for all public school teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District. Soon after that public shaming, one teacher who had been among those who felt demoralized by the airing of his low scores committed suicide.
Ostensibly publishing these scores should serve the public: people whose children attend our public schools. Do you want access to such information about your child's teacher? Even if it might be wildly inaccurate? And if you object to the publishing of such information, would you refrain from using it to get insights about your child's teacher?
Therein lies the rub. No matter how misleading I'm told the data is, I can imagine circumstances in which I'd take a peek. In fact, my kids have had teacher where I definitely would've looked. In those cases, I would've been too curious to keep from probing further than I really think is fair or right. In this era where data transparency is extolled as the highest virtue, it's worth remembering that sometimes it only exposes the worst in us.