Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining: Jason Song and Jason Felch Leave’s Questions Unanswered about LA Times Project

Title Source: Judge Judy’s Autobiography Title

This picture sums up my feelings during the Felch/Song chat from Thursday.

Have you ever watched paint dry? Have you ever watched a spider spin its web? Have you ever watched a documentary made in the 1970’s? I would imagine that for at least the former two most would say “no.” I would also imagine that it would be seem as something utterly boring and a complete waste of time. Well, today we can add the “chat” with the authors of “Who’s Teaching LA’s Kids,” Jason Song and Jason Felch.

Initially, I was excited to be able to have a very candid, but informative discussion about the purpose, rationale, and plans in regards to their article from Sunday. However, that is not what I got. That is clearly not what Sabrina from the “Failing Schools Blog” got either. (If you have sensitive eyes you should skip the next sentence). That hour was the longest disingenuous attempt at a masturbatory “conversation” I have witnessed in a long time. It was more upsetting, because it was supposed to be coming from journalists, whose job is to be transparent – they failed miserably.

Cherry Picking Questions

It was clear that Sabrina attempted to ask some questions that many may have had on their mind, but as you can see from her tweets, Song/Felch cherry-picked the questions that they wanted to answer and had no interest in a substantive debate or conversation.

“I’ve sent 4 comments so far, all asking about the possibility of misleading the public by offering no context. 1 fragment made it through.”

“I think I’m up to 8 comments submitted, and one “pending” on the site itself. #headdesk”

“9 comments. Instead we get softballs like “will you do more profiles in the future?”

As journalists, I would have expected that the Jasons would have been more transparent in their intentions, furthermore more clear and concise to the answers to the chat member’s questions. However, the entire hour felt like a political stump speech. The few cherry-picked questions that were answered did very little to address the concerns that exists across the blogosphere.

Issues with Valued-Added Assessments

One of the many concerns that came up across the blogosphere is the limitations of value-added assessments. It became clear throughout the “chat” that Felch/Song was intent on circumventing the actual issue by either justifying it with “expert analysis” or using ambiguous words to describe why they are still effective in assessing teacher performance.

[Comment From Clay Landon]
Diane Ravitch wrote on your paper’s editorial page that a standardized test is an awful way to measure a child’s educational achievement. Why do you feel such a test should be used as a measurement of teacher effectiveness?

Jason Song:
One thing all experts said is that value-added analysis shouldn’t be the sole factor in determining a teacher’s effectiveness. Most districts that use it count on value-added for 50% or less. But the test are aligned to state educational standards, so many feel they could be a valuable evaluation tool.

How does this answer Mr. Landon’s question? The mere fact that the tests are “aligned to state educational standards” is not an all-inclusive answer to demonstrate the benefits of the use of tests as a means for evaluating teacher effectiveness. Additionally, the answer was not all-inclusive of the potential problems that may arise from using test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness. The answer Mr. Song gave to this question clearly indicates that he is possibly aware of the problems, which is why he wanted to make clear that “most districts…count valued-added for 50% or less” on evaluations. If he was not acknowledging the problems, he clearly didn’t make it clear he wasn’t.

One of my favourite comedians in the world is George Carlin. Since his early days of being a comedian used the phrase (a phrase I use in my classroom) that “language will always give you away.” I love that phrase because it is concise in saying that the words you choose reveal the way you are actually thinking about things. It was clear that Mr. Song and Mr. Felch knew that there were many reservations (including from education statistics experts) of the value-added approach. Despite the knowledge of the reservations they insist on using it and justified it by detailing their “methodology.”

[Comment From Kev]
How can factors such as severely emotional chaos at a student’s home and local gang activity, for example, factor in to a teacher value? My wife teaches in Highland Park where very few parents seem to really care that their children are learning, and certainly don’t care if they advance past their own education which is frequently illiterate.

Jason Felch:
The value added approach has limitations, but its strength is that, for the most part, it does score judge teachers by who their students are — something they have little control over. How can it do this? By measuring student progress against their own past work, not that of other children. Statistically speaking, this controls for many of the factors beyond a teacher’s control: student poverty, limited English, chaos at home, etc. The assumption underlying the approach is that many of these factors are consistent in a student’s life…if a student was poor in 2nd grade, they’re likely to be poor in 3rd.

If my student wrote a paper using the words “for the most part,” “controls for many” and “assumption” I would question their argument as something that they aren’t clear or convinced of themselves. I believe that these answers speak to my blog piece “Editorizing Fear.” There is a convoluted dismissal of the research that shows that it is difficult to control for many factors that a teacher may have to deal with on a daily basis, and they justify it by following it up with their “research findings.” Clearly, Mr. Song and Mr. Felch are advancing an agenda one, that prays on the desperation of a chronically failing urban school district and using the teacher as scapegoats. (P.S. You should read @TeacherSabrina’s piece “Scandalize their Name” for more on the scapegoating).

Effects with Releasing the Scores

One of the most ubiquitous concerns across the blogosphere concerning the article and the LA Times project is the releasing of teacher’s value-added scores. Many of the concerns centred around the fact that releasing the sores could cause undue hostility from parents, some who are ill-informed to properly analyze the data. Once again, Song/Felch does little to address these concerns.

Given that parents generally want the “best” teachers, do you worry that this will generate more parental pressure on teachers and cause more teachers to “teach to the test” rather than focusing on providing a more wholistic learning experience?

Jason Song: It could generate parental pressure, but, as I said before, value-added analysis is only part of the picture. It only measures performance on math and English standardized test scores right, so if a parent wants to make sure their child gets exposure to art or other subjects or a teacher’s classroom manner, they’ll have to find other sources of information or visit a school.

[Comment From Effective Teacher]
Jason and Jason — The two of you are doing profound damage to select LAUSD teachers. Your cautionary notes that this data only provides one facet of the true picture will be lost on parents who see their children’s teachers labeled as ineffective.

Jason Felch: And what about all of those incredible teachers who, like one we featured in the story, are eating lunch in their classrooms, unrecognized and unstudied? In the end, we came down on the side of publication. We’re trying hard to put the data in context, and giving all teachers an opportunity to provide additional context or comments before the scores go live.

Mr. Song was completely nonchalant when addressing the issue of teachers possibly teaching to the test. I guess to Mr. Song that fact that releasing the value-added scores “could generate parental pressure” is not much of a problem. Apparently, Mr. Felch doesn’t seem to care either. Mr. Song’s weak justification for this is “valued-added analysis is only part of the picture.” However, he has done little to show that valued- added assessments are only part of the picture. He essentially editorialized VAA as the best measure to assess teacher performance. Parents, who are not equipped to analyze the data, are then left to interpret something that is flawed and in his words not complete. However I guess it’s okay for a teacher to get fired while a parent “make[s] sure their child gets exposure to art…[and] a teacher’s classroom manner…[through] other sources of information.” Mr. Felch’s weak justification is that “we came down on the side of the publication.” How is this journalism? Isn’t journalist supposed to supply the whole picture? At least he was honest, coming down on the side of the publication means choosing what will sell. With the current demonizing of teachers in the media, it is clear that any “parental pressure” or that the “true picture will be lost on parents” is just a negative externality.

Journalist Education Credentials

[Comment From LA Times Subscriber]
What credentials do you hold to judge the teaching profession? Do you guys have degrees in education?

Jason Song:
I don’t think many people would label either me or the other Jason as an educational “expert.” But we observed many teachers multiple times and have researched value added analysis for almost a year and checked our findings with leading experts, so I feel we’re on solid ground as journalists.

[Comment From Guest]
They should actually teach for a year, too. 😉
Jason Felch:
I thought you’d never ask! Before going into journalism, I taught middle school and high school students. I also founded and ran an after school program for “inner city” kids in San Francisco, and am very familiar with their challenges. My colleague Jason Song has covered the city’s schools for years.

It was clear that Mr. Song and Mr. Felch tried to maintain their image as an authority on the matter. Mr. Felch even went as far as saying that he taught middle school and high school students before he became a journalist. I am not negating that it is true. However, it is clear that Mr. Song and Mr. Felch are not aware of the daily realities of a teacher, especially a teacher in a urban school. Why? Because of the answer to this question.

[Comment From Mr.G]
What are your plans for “Grading the Administrators”?

Jason Felch:
Good question. Research shows that teachers are the most important influence on a student’s learning. But principals are also important. Many also used to be teachers. We’re exploring ways to reliably get at this with the data. Stay tuned!

I guess that Bill Gates and Jason Felch are looking at the same “research” when making the dubious claim that “teachers are the most important influence on a student’s learning.” Any teacher knows that they are very influential on their student’s learning, but that there is a lot more that influences children. What happened to the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child?” However, when talking to teachers in affluent suburban school districts, magnet urban schools, and some private schools they all sight many factors including parent involvement, home status, and personal issues. It is and will always remain a RIDCULOUS notion that teachers are the most important influence on a student’s learning. Especially when teachers have to combat with many different influences including some of the horrifying ones detailed in the “Failing Schools” blog. If there is going to be an examination of teachers, then there should be concurrent examination of administrators. Not only do they hire the teachers, they set the tone for the school. Read “Stepping Up to the Plate” by my good friend Erin for more information on that.

I think my tweet and Sabrina’s tweet sums up the sentiment of the entire “chat” from Felch and Song.

@mppolicy: The #LATimes chat was one of the most unproductive hours of my entire life. #smh #ineedsomeair

@TeacherSabrina: Wow, that was a total sham. I wish I’d saved the comments I submitted in vain.

Shake my head Felch/Song.

Advertisements

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

6 Responses to Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining: Jason Song and Jason Felch Leave’s Questions Unanswered about LA Times Project

  1. Roland says:

    the fact that they beat around the bush for every question indicates that their work was not well founded. They are playing the “politics” game spewing talking points instead of actually answering the questions. Ugh

  2. Phill Lombardo says:

    Jason Felch claimed that he was a teacher at an urban school before becoming a journalist.

    I couldn’t find any record of his credential in the CDE data base, so I don’t believe that he’s telling the truth.

    Jason, if you’re telling the truth about being a teacher, prove it.

    What school did you teach at, and what were your students’ test scores?

    • mpal219 says:

      Thank you so much for that information Mr. Lombardo. That is very enlightening information. Like I suggested in the blog post, his credential was only used to justify the mounting evidence against them in regards to their project. I call it the “I am one of you” tactic.

  3. Pingback: Stories Sell: How the Jasons and Doug Covered They Eyes and Put their Fingers in their Ears, while Telling a Story « The War on Mediocrity

  4. David B. Cohen says:

    We should definitely challenge their assumption that it’s valid to compare students to themselves on the basis of a single test. Comparing today’s nine-year-old in the middle of health or emotional trauma to last year’s eight-year-old testing on a day when everything in life was fine will not yield an accurate result. VAM used for teacher evaluation and comparison also assumes one or both of the following: a teacher’s work conditions are consistent from year to year, OR, changes in work conditions affect teachers equally. Neither is a valid assumption in my 15 years of experience.

  5. Pingback: Liveblogging/Tweeting Education Nation! « Failing Schools

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: