Politicians at the state Capitol plan to continue duking it out over how Connecticut teachers will be evaluated, including the role that student and parent feedback will play. But one group that will never see those teacher evals: students and parents.
Connecticut is among the most transparent states in the nation when it comes to public employees, with laws and a powerful Supreme Court ruling that makes it clear that citizens have the right to know about the job performance of those whose salaries they pay.
But the state’s expansive freedom-of-information laws contain a particular loophole large enough to drive a school bus through.
In 1984, the state Freedom of Information Commission, on a complaint brought by the Journal-Inquirer newspaper in Manchester, ruled that teacher evaluations were fair game. Legislators, aghast at the prospect that residents would find out about the qualifications of their kids’ teachers, rushed to draft a bill exempting “records of teacher performance and evaluation.”
Groups representing teachers and boards of education – often on opposite sides of legislative fights – lined up arm-in-arm to support secrecy. Proponents argued that evaluators wouldn’t be honest if there was a chance the public would see what they had to say. Others said parents would “teacher-shop” and jockey to get their children in certain classes if they knew who the good teachers were.
Those arguments won out over pleas for transparency, and in a moment of legislative exuberance, politicians defined the word “teacher” to include all certified professionals below the level of superintendent. So evaluations of assistant superintendents? School principals? All off limits.
In Connecticut, as elsewhere, the debate rages over new measures of accountability for teachers. Just not accountability to the public.