NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 16, 2009

Ever wonder how effective your child's teacher is?  Officials in Albany would rather you didn't know.  At least that's the lesson one has to take from their refusal to allow data systems to match students to teachers, though doing so would help the state compete for a pot of perhaps hundreds of millions of federal dollars.  Narrow political interests stand in the way of improving our schools and easing New York taxpayers' burdens, says Marcus A. Winters, a Senior Fellow with the Manhattan Institute.

States must develop data sets that track the individual performance of students over time and match those students to their teachers.  Unfortunately, New York has deliberately refused to take that step, says Winters:

  • The state already has a sophisticated system for tracking student progress, but it doesn't allow this statewide data set to match students to their teachers.
  • No technical or administrative factors prevent the state from doing so, only political obstacles stand in the way.
  • The premise underlying the policies favored by the teachers' unions, which govern so much of the relationship between public schools and teachers, is that all teachers are uniformly effective.
  • Once we can objectively distinguish between effective and ineffective teachers, the system of uncritically granted tenure, a single salary schedule based on experience and credentials, and school placements based on seniority become untenable.
  • The unions don't want information about their members' effectiveness to be available, let alone put to practical use, and thus far they've successfully blocked New York State's use of such data.

Along with its refusal to improve its data system, the state has kept cities from adopting reforms, says Winters:

  • When New York City hinted that it would use its own data system to evaluate teachers based on student test scores, the state legislature passed a law banning the practice.
  • Fortunately, that law is set to expire next year and may never actually be enforced, thanks to the city's new reading of it, which frees city officials to use test scores for tenure decisions this year.
  • Still, the legislature's actions illustrate its opposition to using data in any way that would identify ineffective teachers.

Source: Marcus A. Winters, "Teachers' Unions vs. Progress -- Again; New York resists reforms that would bring in millions and improve teacher quality," Manhattan Institute, December 14, 2009.

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