The public has no right to know the names of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers in connection with their job performance ratings, according to a court ruling issued Wednesday.
In denying a request for disclosure by The Times, a three-judge state appellate court panel found that keeping the names confidential served a stronger public interest than releasing them. The panel overturned a lower court ruling ordering disclosure and rejected The Times' assertion that the public interest of parents and others in knowing the ratings of identifiable teachers outweighed the interest in confidentiality.
Instead, the panel accepted L.A. school Supt. John Deasy's contention that releasing the names would lead to resentment and jealousy among teachers, spur "unhealthy" comparisons among staff, cause some instructors to leave the nation's second-largest school system, and interfere with teacher recruitment.
The judges said the specter of parents battling to place their children with the highest-performing teachers was of "particular concern."
"Clearly, the public has an interest in avoiding these consequences in its schools," said the opinion, written by Judge Russell S. Kussman.
But Kelli Sager, an attorney representing The Times, said the district presented no evidence that such harm would occur. The state Supreme Court recently ruled in another case that the California Public Records Act required a showing of specific harm to justify keeping public records secret, she said.
"You can't simply speculate on harm," she said. "You have to have specific evidence of specific harm in a specific case."
Deasy, when asked for evidence documenting harm to teachers, did not produce any; instead he said in an interview Wednesday that "it's [his] belief" that would occur.
He said the public could monitor how the district is evaluating teachers though data released annually on tenures granted, teachers dismissed and other markers.
He said the district had crafted a strong teacher evaluation system in the last few years based on student testing data, classroom observations and other measures. That system, he said, is being effectively used to hold teachers accountable for their performance, demonstrated by a decline in tenure granted and an increase in those receiving unsatisfactory evaluations and eventually dismissed.
Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., said the ruling was "unbelievable" and that accepting "conjecture" as evidence to deny public disclosure was "without precedent."
"How a speculative declaration can rise to the level of clearly outweighing the public interest in disclosure is a mystery to me," he said.
The Times sought three years of district data, from 2009 through 2012, that show whether individual teachers helped or hurt students' academic achievement, as measured by state standardized test scores. L.A. Unified has provided the data but without the teacher names or their schools.
Using a complex mathematical formula, the district aims to isolate a teacher's effect on student growth by controlling for such outside factors as poverty and prior test scores. The district sought to use the analysis in teacher evaluations but was resisted by the teachers union, which called it unreliable.
The court did not rule on the validity of the analysis, known in L.A. Unified as Academic Growth Over Time.
The judges did find that the public might have a right to know the schools where the anonymous teachers worked. They sent that issue back to the lower court for consideration.
Sager said The Times was "exploring its options" on its next steps.