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Privacy worth preserving Partial disclosure on evaluations is fair to teachers and parents

Some critics, no doubt, will howl at the deal reached in Albany on disclosure of the results of teacher evaluations, and while we understand – and even sympathize with – those who want all the details made public, the arrangement is not only reasonable, but useful.

Under terms of the agreement, the names of teachers and results of their individual evaluations will be made known only to the parents and guardians of that teacher's students. Parents will not be able to see the scores of individual teachers other than their children's, while the public will be offered a version that gives the evaluations, but doesn't link them to individual teachers. Without the agreement, a court has already ruled that the information would have been available to anyone. It's not a perfect compromise, but it's a fair resolution to a difficult question.

Generally, we support full disclosure of information relating to how public money is spent and the results of that spending. But there are some distinctions to be made here.

One is that the point of the evaluations is to improve the quality of education by helping teachers who need to improve. It was never supposed to be a gotcha game in which lower-performing teachers were subject to public humiliation.

Secondly, personnel matters have always been given special deference, even in open government laws. Government bodies are permitted to meet behind closed doors when discussing personnel matters, for example. Teachers and other non-policy-making public employees don't give up their right to a certain amount of privacy just because they work for taxpayers.

The public will still be able to get all the information produced – by school, grade and subject – but without the teachers' names. Thus, if a family of a sixth-grader is moving from Long Island to Buffalo – or Amherst or Lockport or Hamburg – the parents would be able to access, online, the ratings of sixth-grade teachers in each school in each of those districts. Plenty of information remains available to help parents make the right choices and to pressure under-performing schools to improve.

Not everyone is happy. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was nearly apoplectic, believing that maximum results come from maximum disclosure. He may be right, but to be consistent, personnel files would have to be declared open across governments. That's not appropriate.

On the other side, Assemblyman Steven F. McLaughlin, R-Greene County, protested that it "seems like we have the torches and the pitchforks out and we're going after teachers." Evidently, McLaughlin believes that it is good policy for the state to run a multibillion-dollar operation with no accurate measures of how well it is performing. We hope that outlook has to do with the fact that his wife is a teacher and that he didn't learn it in his career as a commercial airline pilot. Without measurements, there is no route to improvement. That there have been no measures in New York for so long is the state's shame, not its virtue.

This change has been a long time coming, but with the leadership and determination of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, education in New York appears to be turning a corner. Even in Buffalo, the teachers union recently agreed to an evaluation formula after months of costly refusal.

Implementation of this policy will no doubt be stressful, and it is possible that under the evaluation policy some teachers will eventually lose their jobs. But, as the agreement on disclosure shows, that is not the goal. The aims are to help teachers become better and, more importantly, to ensure that in an increasingly competitive world, New York students are getting the educations they need and to which they are entitled. This will help.