DOE can release flawed data reports, judge rules

Finding that “there is no requirement that data be reliable for it to be disclosed,” a Manhattan judge ruled on Jan. 10 that the Department of Education can release the names and rankings of more than 12,000 teachers to the news media.

The UFT intends to appeal as soon as possible and will be asking the Appellate Division, First Department, to halt any release pending its review of Justice Kern’s decision. Lawyers for the city said the data reports would be kept confidential pending the outcome of the appeal.

The UFT went to court in October to try to block the DOE from making public the Teacher Data Reports on the grounds that the Freedom of Information Law does not require their disclosure. The UFT argued that the data used to generate the rankings is inaccurate, teachers’ privacy rights would be violated, and the state tests upon which they are solely based have been found to be unreliable gauges of student achievement.

The UFT presented hundreds of pages of supporting documents in court to show that the data reports can falsely and irrevocably tarnish teachers’ professional reputations.

“We are disappointed that Justice Kern, citing a Court of Appeals decision that found that ‘there is no requirement that data be reliable for it to be disclosed,’ has determined that the Department of Education can release Teacher Data Reports with teachers’ names attached, despite the DOE’s written pledges not do so,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “The reports, which are largely based on discredited state tests, have huge margins of error and are filled with inaccuracies, will only serve to mislead parents looking for real information.”

In a 10-page decision, Justice Cynthia Kern found that public interest in how teachers perform trumps the union's concerns over privacy — and noted that the courts have repeatedly ruled that the release of job-related information is not an invasion of privacy.

"This information is of interest to parents, students, taxpayers and the public generally," Kern wrote. "Although the teachers have an interest in these possibly flawed statistics remaining private, it was not arbitrary and capricious for the DOE to find that the privacy interest at issue is outweighed by the public's interest in disclosure."

The judge did not order the DOE to release the reports of individual teachers; instead, she ruled that it was not arbitrary and capricious for the DOE to determine that none of the exceptions in the Freedom of Information Law applied in this case. In a 2008 letter, former Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf assured then-UFT President Randi Weingarten that the reports “will not and should not be disclosed.” The DOE later changed its tune.

Five New York City news organizations have asked the DOE to turn over the test-based data reports, with teachers’ names attached.

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