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I believe that the L.A. Times’ McCarthyite “outing” of teachers it (inaccurately) deemed “ineffective” last year will go down as one of the darkest moments in modern education reform history.
It was also a dark moment for American journalism.
Last month, researchers at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado released a report calling out the Times for inaccuracy in it teacher evaluations claims. Researchers Derek Briggs and Ben Domingue conducted a study of the L.A. Times’ methods and found them seriously problematic.
“The research on which the Los Angeles Times relied for its August 2010 teacher effectiveness reporting was demonstrably inadequate to support the published rankings. Using the same L.A. Unified School District data and the same methods as the Times, this study probes deeper and finds the earlier research to have serious weaknesses.”
Meanwhile, more and more evidence is piling up to show that perfectly good — even great — teachers are being falsely accused of mediocrity by these faulty “value-added” and high-stakes test score measures, as this recent N.Y. Times story shows: “Evaluating New York Teachers,
Perhaps the Numbers Do Lie.”
Back in October of last year, I e-mailed this letter to a number of editors at the L.A. Times. Not a single L.A. Times staffer replied. I realize that the paper may feel no obligation to reply to a writer from Seattle. But to act as though its role as a major West Coast newspaper of record reporting on a national issue like education reform does not spark interest or repercussions elsewhere in the country is disingenuous.
I also, perhaps naively, hoped that at least one reporter or editor might have had concerns about its management’s decision to publish this questionable “report.” But, as of yet, I have heard nothing from the L.A. Times.
So, for the record, here is my letter:
Subject: Questions from a public schools parent: The L.A. Times, ed reform & the death of Rigoberto Ruelas
I am a public schools parent, journalist, and the co-editor of a blog about education, Seattle Education 2010. I was shocked and appalled by your series on L.A. school district teachers, your nonscientific and inaccurate database and your vile pretense of journalism which consisted of publicly humiliating professional teachers. It is not a stretch to say this false “journalism” more closely resembles McCarthyism.
Have you no decency?
I suspect there are some among you who will tell me you “stand behind” your report, who will deny that “value added measurements” are fraught with error. But I am hoping that there is someone, someone among you who has a pang of remorse and doubt about what you did and will assure me that the Times will not undertake such a vile and damaging “project” again.
And I hope you will please speak up.
I am a writer, a professionally trained journalist myself. I have a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University. One of the most important classes I took at Stanford was called “Journalism Ethics.” We don’t have an official code of conduct or a Hippocratic Oath or the equivalent of a Bar exam and the possibility of being disbarred in our profession, but that does not mean that our profession has no responsibilities to truth, fairness, factual accuracy and basic decency.
These are confusing times for our profession as we navigate the transition from print journalism to the boundless world of the Internet. But that doesn’t mean that our profession should become an ethical and factual free-for-all.
So shame on you for what you did to the teachers of your city and the ripple effect of fear and shame that had on teachers across the country. Shame on you for whatever part you played in the suicide of Rigoberto Ruelas — a teacher you deemed ineffective, but whose school valued greatly. Do you not realize that there are qualities in a teacher that no database will ever capture?
The L.A. Times seems in thrall to the corporate ed reform dogma and agenda. I suspect that having Eli Broad in your backyard has something to do with it. But for god sake, do your job as a newspaper and report the truth objectively and fairly and don’t mindlessly cheerlead and buy into the “Race to the Top” rhetoric of the moment.
There are now multiple studies from Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives that show that merit pay does not work; and a major study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) that shows that privatizing our public education system with charter schools will not improve educational outcomes for our kids.
Have you read them? Why don’t you publish the truth about the bankrupt ideas of ed reform instead of playing an unconscionable role in pushing the agenda of a few billionaires with foundations and zero expertise in education, by persecuting one of the most overworked, underpaid and unappreciated professions in the country: teachers?
I sincerely hope to hear from you.