Editorializing Fear: Should the LA Times Release the Teachers “Value-Added” Scores to the Public?

The LA Times journalists who wrote the "Who's Teaching in L.A.'s Schools?" crossed the line between reporting and editorializing.

The article was fairly brief and to the point. It seemed like your typical article for the L.A. Times discussing the nature of education written by Jason Felch, Jason Song, and Doug Smith called “Who’s teaching LA Kids?” The article read “in Los Angeles and across the country, education officials have long known of the often huge disparities among teachers….but rather than analyze and address these disparities, they have opted mostly to ignore them.” Coming to set the record straight is Felch, Song, and Smith who will use value-added statistics to determine whether or not a teacher is effective. They calm the “[controversy] among teachers and others” by telling us that “the method has been increasingly embraced by education leaders and policymakers across the country, including the Obama administration.” To calm your fears even more, they give you a wonderfully bullet-pointed list of statistics that show how teacher “effectiveness” affects student achievement. Later on they give you information about what has come to be known as the “status quo” and the need to gain the parent’s trust. For those of you who read the article, you may be thinking…didn’t he skip a lot? I did. Honestly, I wished that Mr. Felch, and Mr. Song had done the same.

However, they didn’t stop there. They decide to use their journalistic “abilities” to malign two teachers in the article – John Smith and Karen Caruso. Mr. Smith described as teaching students who “start out slightly ahead and fall behind.” Ms. Caruso who thought that weekly vocabulary quizzes were “old school.” Again, if they had stopped there it wouldn’t have been so egregious and infuriating. The “journalists” took the opportunity to compare them to the two more “effective” teachers – Miguel Aguilar and Nancy Polacheck. All of this “journalism” comes from bits and pieces of information and an observation in classroom from one lesson. So there it was, all perfectly clear. But what wasn’t clear is how any journalist can gather any ACCURATE information from one classroom visit? It isn’t clear how a journalist could dismiss the fact that Ms. Caruso is a teacher of twenty-six years, a national board certified teacher, a avid attendee of professional development, a leader of the reading circles, and a PROFESSOR of future educators? However, what is clear that Mr. Felch, Mr. Song, and Mr. Smith was not out to report the news, they were out to forward an agenda. The same agenda that has been praised by their covenant “policymakers across the country,” like Bill and Melinda Gates. They are forwarding the same agenda of the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top education “reform” policy, which clearly is not as favourable as he had hoped. However, the “journalists” will categorize the controversy among “teachers and others” as a group who has over the years clearly “opted to ignore [ineffective teachers].”

Felch, Song, and Smith claim to speak on behalf of the parents who “even the most involved mothers and fathers have little means of judging instructors other than through classroom visits and parking lot chatter.” Felch, Song, and Smith claim to speak on behalf of true education reform that focusing on student learning. How dare Mr. Felch? How dare you Mr. Song? How dare you Mr. Smith?

The LA Times piece creating an unnecessary fear in the public.

No, Mr. Felch, Mr. Song, and Mr. Smith your words were not based on the consideration of parents or students. Your words were based on fear. They are trying to elicit the unfounded fear that a teacher with over twenty-years of experience and an educator of educators still lacks in her ability to be an effective teacher. They spread the fear that a teacher is simply unaware how an effective he/she really is. Spreading the fear that a principal like Ms. Oh, at the Third Street School, has the inability or the consistent ability to evaluate her teachers. We see how these “journalists” will elicit fear. Who would DARE go against the New Teacher Project who claims that teachers have long been evaluated based on brief, pre-announced visits by principals who offer a confidential and subjective assessment of their skills, [that] how much students are learning is rarely taken into account, and more than 90% of educators receive a passing grade.” This “revealing information” is based on the survey of 12 districts in 4 states – none of which were revealed or detailed in the article. The “revealing information” for them New Teacher Project who has sided with other covenant “policymakers across the country” and the Obama Administration.

This is nothing but the use of fear tactics and egregious editorializing up with which no one should tolerate. I hope that the LA Teacher’s Union does everything they can to demonize these “journalists” as much as they have demonized the teachers in this article and the teachers and principals in LA schools.

And instead of addressing the concerns of many people in the education blogosphere and the LA Teacher’s Union president who argued “that publicizing the idea of using student achievement to identify what makes for successful teaching might be, in his words, “leading people in a dangerous direction.” The LA Times choose to attack the union with rhetoric like:

• “If you are a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who likes playing Follow The Leader, you are probably not reading this column today”

• “What’s really dangerous is that kind of thinking: Cover your eyes and everything looks fine.”

• “If that represents the union’s logic, it’s no wonder students in Los Angeles are struggling and public support of teachers appears to be dropping.”

The arrogance is deafening. They cannot see past their agenda driven fear-mongering eyes to engage in a serious dialogue about problems plaguing the country. The advancement of the “value-added” agenda, the maligning and comparison of teachers (using their names), and the creation of the ludicrous “effectiveness” database only will lead to a DECREASE in quality teachers in the district. Teachers will leave the LA District, focus their instruction solely on standardized test scores, or cheat like what was done in Atlanta.

So there it is. The LA Times journalists will be allowed to do what they will. Surely, the Obama Administration won’t come out against it, especially in light of Arne Duncan’s ENDORSEMENT of the release of the scores.His endorsement comes under the dubious claim that the “public disclosure of the value-added results would allow school systems to identify teachers who are doing things right.”

Whether or not claim is dubious, the effects to his career are negligible. The effects of the inevitable strained parent-teacher relationship, the public humiliation, and the fear of being fired from a controversial assessment for LA teachers is incalculable.

Still one imperative remains. If these journalists retain any trace of dignity and honor the least they can do is reconsider the public database. Otherwise we will be subject to what Bonnie Weiss positively describes as “[the] creat[ion] a more market-driven approach to results.” We all know the problems with that.

Weigh in!

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About mpal219
Educator, Student, Reader, Reformer, & Activist

One Response to Editorializing Fear: Should the LA Times Release the Teachers “Value-Added” Scores to the Public?

  1. Roland says:

    I can’t believe they have the audacity to release the names of the teachers. Where has respectable journalism gone? I doubt these teachers consented to having theses scores and their names released. How then, can these men even be called journalists? They are, as you said, fear mongering, self-centered assholes who can’t seem to understand the damage they are doing. How DARE they do this to these poor teachers. AND the DATABASE??? If they go ahead with this, I hope the LA teachers union sues them for all they are worth and railroads their careers! This is unacceptable!

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