Monday, August 16, 2010

LA Times: Who's teaching L.A.'s kids?

This from the LA Times:
A Times analysis, using data largely ignored by LAUSD, looks at which educators help students learn, and which hold them back.

The fifth-graders at Broadous Elementary School come from the same world — the poorest corner of the San Fernando Valley, a Pacoima neighborhood framed by two freeways where some have lost friends to the stray bullets of rival gangs.

Many are the sons and daughters of Latino immigrants who never finished high school, hard-working parents who keep a respectful distance and trust educators to do what's best.

The students study the same lessons. They are often on the same chapter of the same book.
Read the full story


  1. Read the whole article. It's a lot more important than the gossip about Kim-Shree Maufus's daughter.

  2. This is a groundbreaking investigation/analysis. The education-news blog has an interesting review of the LA Times analysis and the hornet's nest it's stirred up

  3. It's an important article.

    Look at your own school, look at the disparity between teachers teaching the same grade. Look at our own teacher's union and the lengths they will go through to preserve the job of a bad teacher.

  4. A sub par teacher was ousted at our school last year and replaced by someone better, and the parents had everything to do with it, so it can be done.

  5. 12:37, Would you mind naming the school and describing the parent actions that were effective in removing the sub-par teacher?

  6. But what can parents do about this? Even if I know what teacher is good or not. I can't request a teacher for my child. It's just luck if you get a good one.

  7. Very interesting report. I thought the most positive thing was that all the teachers for whom the statistics showed a problem were open to hearing about how to change their teaching method to improve. And the equally interesting was that parents and principals were sometimes wrong about which teacher was really the "bad" one. For these reasons, I'd rather get out of this teacher union bashing stuff, which is just counterproductive and doesn't help anyone. Rather, it would be great if the research could continue and guidelines developed with lists of the "do's" and "don'ts" of successful teaching based on it. I could easily see "case studies" developed of successful versus unsuccessful teachers -- stuff that every teacher would welcome.Let's get out of the name-calling and start doing some constructive research like this! (And I'm not a teacher, just a concerned parent who would rather see progress than name-calling.)

  8. There really are some bad teachers, but few, maybe 5%. Getting rid of them without negatively impacting the majority of teachers who are good requires a scalpel. The methodology of this study is not a scalpel but rather a chainsaw.

  9. This article is a disgraceful collapse of journalistic standards and ethics, an escalation of open warfare against teachers, public schools, school communities and the children in those schools.

    To begin with, the value-added methodology on which the analysis is based is adored by opponents of public education but discredited by most researchers. Here's some reasoned discussion of that point, from Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss' blog:

    Here's a tweet from Diane Ravitch, former U.S. education official and author of the bestselling book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System": 'LATimes should publish names of heart surgeons and patient mortality rates, plus lawyers win/lost scores. Why stop with teachers?'

    As to reporters -- entirely untrained in education -- sitting in on classrooms, passing judgment on teachers' classroom manner and printing their names -- well, their observations may be valid in this case. But are you comfortable with the press doing this with your profession, perhaps with you? Is the press qualified to judge your professional skills? I hope this is a rhetorical question. In return, are they willing to be subjected to the same treatment?

  10. So we ket the awful teachers continue to fail our kids, and do nothing about it, because it isn't "nice" to evaluate their performances?

    Most professions have people checking up on the work employees are doing (or not doing).

  11. Caroline -- I'm not surprised you would have a negative reaction, I am surprised at the vehemence of it. There are definitely some teachers who are more effective than others. And sometimes the teachers don't know it -- and, here's the surprise, sometimes the principals and parents don't know it either. I find that it resonates with our family's experiences -- i.e., we've had teachers that (some) parents view as wonderful, who we found to be completely ineffective in the classroom. I agree that mentioning specific teachers' names is uncalled for, but I do think that, done properly, these types of analyses can really help teachers. And I was comforted that both teachers who had issues in the article were eager to see what they could do to change. So I'd concur with the view above -- let's get out of mentioning specific teachers and bashing the teachers' union, and see how research like this could actually help teachers.

  12. Yes, mentioning the teachers by name was uncool, but it was so great they were gracious about finding out they didn't do so well, and how they wanted help to be better.
    If this was all about ONLY assessing teachers by the test scores, I would be against it, but that is just one part of it.
    And the critics who say that it will make teachers not want ELLs or SPED kids in their class are just wrong, because they take into account where the child starts out, and how much (if at all) they improve ... kid by kid basis, not just overall scores.

  13. You may find the issue of teacher accountability (or lack thereof) more compelling than the ongoing soap opera that is Kim Shree Maufas' career, but don't overlook the connection between the two. Maufas was elected to her current position on the school board in 2006 with the full support and endorsement of the UESF, the local teachers union.

    Here's Maufas' answer to a candidate questionnaire from 2006, from the organization SF for Democracy (reprinted on the SF Schools blog); the question was "What are the top three challenges facing the San Francisco Unified School District? If elected, what will you do to address these challenges?"

    Maufas' answer:
    "I see that lack of funding and resources for our schools and staff as the root cause for the crisis in our public school and in the SF School District. We also need to create smaller learning environments to assist in addressing the non-reduction of the achievement gaps, high stakes testing concerns, and the behavioral health issues that are also at the forefront of the important issues in the SF School District. I believe that the lack of an open budget process means that money meant for our schools has not been getting to the classroom and to teachers, paraprofessional, nurses, secretaries, counselors and other school workers who are the backbone of our public education system. I'm committed to getting money to the classroom that will support our staff and teachers."

    In short, more money for teachers represents two of her top three concerns, and the closest she comes to mentioning anything about accountability is to have "concerns" about high stakes testing.

    When push comes to shove, do you really believe that this school board member will prioritize students over protecting teachers?
    Oh, and word is that she has already lined up an early endorsement from UESF for the November school board race.

  14. Public school teachers are public employees, paid with tax dollars. Both doctors and lawyers, whether or not public employees, are subject to malpractice lawsuits and license revocation if they screw up. Teachers are not. I think that's a flawed analogy.

    Second, nobody is proposing that the "value added" methodology be an exclusive means of evaluating teacher performance, only a component. Public school teachers are hired by the state to teach content standards prescribed by the state. Why should we, the taxpayers, not be permitted to measure whether they are succeeding, particularly if the measurement is a long-term measurement that gathers a lot of data over time rather than a one-off comparing this year's scores to last years?

    Third, whether the press is qualified to evaluate my professional skills: depends on the profession. Rocket science, no. Many things, yes. Samuel Johnson is supposed to have said something along these lines, justifying the practice of criticism: Though I cannot make a table, I may say whether a table is well or poorly made; it is not my trade to make tables. We've all been to school. We can see and report whether a teacher engages students or leaves them apathetic. Juries decide whether lawyers are doing a good job all the time. How is that unethical.

  15. 12:43, the teacher who was replaced last year was at Lafayette, 2nd grade. I was not there to witness it, but have heard about it through parents with a kid in that particular class.

  16. Forgetting the total waste of water and unecological aspect of it, McKinley really shouldn't be trying to mix school board politics with fundraising.

  17. 11:13 hit the nail on the head - teachers and other public school employees are paid with tax dollars - our money! We pay their salaries, benefits and generous pensions, while most of us toil in jobs with no pension, no job security and where we're judged every day on our performance. But this isn't just a financial issue, these people are influencing our children, their achievement and their futures.

    The LA Times tackled the problem of bad teachers in public schools because it's a massive problem that lots of people care about and yet in Los Angeles and other school districts, little or nothing is being done to fix it.

    The New Yorker had a very good piece about a year ago about the same problem in New York City, and noted that most large cities have the same problem - teachers' unions prevent school districts from firing bad teachers.

    Bravo to the LA Times for tackling this difficult and important subject and busting it wide open!

  18. It is really so sad what this kind of treatment of teachers will do to public education! If this is how public school teachers are judged, then any reasonable teacher will choose to emphasize drill and kill over the art projects or the field trips. I for one want my children to not be educated in a drill and kill environment --- therefore, I'm choosing private school for my kids!

  19. Well, let's see - Medicare Says It Won’t Cover Hospital Errors ( and every single hospital gets their death rates published (Hospital death rates unveiled for first-time comparison: Individual doctors are subject to a licensing board and are chased by lawyers that impose monetary penalties for incompetence.

    Lawyers have public records of their wins/losses, but more importantly their record with the State Bar which has an extensive code of ethics - resulting in fun things like published every month:

    DERK W. SCHUTMAAT [#163633], 54, of Los Angeles was summarily disbarred Nov. 26, 2009, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20.

    Schutmaat pleaded guilty in 2008 to two counts of embezzlement and one count of embezzlement or identity theft from an elder adult. Because the convictions were for forgeries involving moral turpitude, Schutmaat was eligible for summary disbarment. He had attempted to resign from the bar, but the Supreme Court rejected the resignation.

    The bar charged him in 2006 with 30 charges of misconduct in nine cases, many involving misappropriating money from his clients. In one case, the bar accused him of taking almost $67,000 from a client’s settlement proceeds.

    He also was suspended and placed on probation in 2001 after stipulating to three counts of misconduct, all of which involved money matters.

    I can't think of a profession that isn't subjected to scrutiny.

  20. 8:20, you're talking about a criminal case, not a situation in which the press is passing judgment and naming names on regular working people.

    Even some high-profile "education reform" advocates are voicing discomfort with the public shaming by name -- Joanne Jacobs and the American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess among them.

    The “new media” project California Watch has posted a thoughtful response (by its education editor Louis Freedberg, a veteran journalist and former San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer). The Times is firing back at Freedberg in the comments section. It’s war! Or rather, it was already war on teachers -- now it's war between factions of the press too.

    Here are comments two teachers posted on Facebook:

    "Maybe they should bring back the scarlet letter. Not only would it have the desired effect, but it might indirectly kindle an interest in literature for some children. Lord knows with the undiluted test prep awaiting them at school, there won't be any interest kindled there."

    "I prefer the Taliban method of stoning low scoring teachers to death."

    And by the way, decrying public shaming and pointing out that newspaper reporters are spectacularly unqualified to and utterly out of line in passing judgment on individual teachers is not the same as claiming that teachers should not be accountable. Effective site and district administration is critical; the PAR program provides an avenue in SFUSD for working with low-performing teachers and, when needed, easing them out of the classroom. There's an effective way to cope with problems, and there's a bloodthirsty and unethical way to cope with problems.

  21. In response to the claim that because teachers are public employees, their names and performance reviews should be accessible by the public, a blog comment provides an effective response:

    (The claim): Public-school teachers’ salaries are paid by taxpayers. Taxpayers are entitled to more information about public employees’ performance.

    (The response): "That’s just not true. Our contracts are certainly public, but personal details are not, nor should they be, except as required in legal proceedings. By the way, where do you work? If it’s a publicly traded company and I own stock in that company, I assume you’d be comfortable having me review and publish your performance review, right? Or if it’s a private company that has any government contracts, same deal. Regardless of the flaws in the review, the reviewer, or the lack of contextual information."

    And by the way, it certainly appears to me that the L.A. Times and other teacher-vilifiers are proposing that value-added methodology be an exclusive means of evaluating teachers. Why else would the Times be setting up a database that will evaluate teachers exclusively based on value-added methodology?

    That's in response to the comment: "nobody is proposing that the "value added" methodology be an exclusive means of evaluating teacher performance, only a component." (Funny how often I've seen the defensive claim that "nobody is suggesting/proposing/accusing..." when the suggestion/proposal/accusation is right there in black and white, making it quite clear that somebody IS suggesting/proposing/accusing whatever.)

    When I refer to ethics, I'm talking about journalistic ethics, an area in which I have some expertise as a longtime daily-newspaper editor. It is not ethical for a newspaper to devise its own evaluation system for an entire profession and then publish the names of those who "fail" based on the newspaper's self-created system. That goes far beyond the scope of journalism, beyond the expertise of reporters and editors, beyond the bounds of objectivity. It's a total breakdown of journalistic standards and ethics.

  22. And here's a quote from a post on the blog Failing Schools -- the post is titled "Scandalize their Names," from a Paul Robeson classic.

    "Though it sounds great in theory, value-added analysis is simply too imperfect a science (at present) to be fairly used while making important decisions about public schools. The most commonly used methods of assessing a teacher’s added-value have very high error rates, and that’s in addition to the inherently problematic nature of the Data upon which those calculations are based. The writers of the Times article even note that the National Academy of Sciences has said that “the approach [is] promising but should not be used in ‘high stakes’ decisions– firing teachers, for instance– without more study.”

    "Felch, Song, and Smith go on to write that “no one suggests using value-added analysis as the sole measure of a teacher. Many experts recommend that it count for half or less of a teacher’s overall evaluation.” And yet, the Los Angeles Times has taken it upon itself to publish the names and statistics of thousands of Los Angeles teachers because the organization has decided that it “offers the closest thing available to an objective assessment of teachers.” Never mind that the quality of the tests may change from year to year, or that what is considered “proficient” may also change, or the lack of random assignment of students to teachers, or any of the other factors may affect the comparability of student test performance from one year to the next. And never mind the fact that it’s pretty difficult to decide how to control for factors that are known to affect student performance– socioeconomic status, language status, giftedness, etc.– let alone the ones that we can’t and don’t reliably measure (how supportive the school environment is to teachers or students, students’ resilience, emotional stability, confidence…).

    "Apparently, it is now OK for a newspaper to contract with whatever “expert-for-hire” they like and paint scarlet numbers on public school teachers.

    "There are many things about the article that I find disturbing. For instance, Felch, Song, and Smith’s language sometimes crosses the boundary between objective, accurate reporting and editorializing."

  23. That was a 3-part post, due to length, and one part vanished. I'll just restate one piece and let the rest go.

    It is a breach of journalistic standards and ethics for the press to set its own standards for evaluating a profession, and then publicly name the individuals who fail to meet those standards. It's beyond the scope of journalists' role, outside their area of expertise, and outside the bounds of impartiality, fairness and objectivity.

  24. Well, I found it interesting.

  25. 8:20, you're talking about a criminal case, not a situation in which the press is passing judgment and naming names on regular working people.

    The state bar proceedings are not criminal proceedings. The criminal proceedings are in addition to the state bar process (so Mr. Schutmaat also faces criminal charges from the district attorney's office in addition to being disbarred and never being allowed to work again). Honestly, given some of the stagerringly bad teachers I had (and I'm talking about the violent or drunk ones in my lovely top-rated suburban Connecticut school), I wish there was a system to publicly shame and prevent them from ever working in a school again (much like child abusing priests, molesting coaches, etc).

  26. OK, I'll rephrase - we're talking about flat-out wrongdoing, including the violent or drunk teachers you mention. But that's not what the L.A. Times was publicly shaming teachers by name for -- it was publicly shaming them based entirely on their students' test scores, even though most experts say those test scores are not a valid gauge of teacher quality.