Thursday, September 30, 2010

LA Times: L.A. Teacher committed suicide, possibly due to teacher rankings published in the Times

This from the LA Times:
As a teacher in an impoverished, gang-ridden area of South Los Angeles, Rigoberto Ruelas always reached out to the toughest kids. He would tutor them on weekends and after school, visit their homes, encourage them to aim high and go to college.

The fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School was so passionate about his mission that, school authorities say, he had near perfect attendance in 14 years on the job.

So when Ruelas, 39, failed to show up for work last week, his colleagues instantly began to worry. And their worst fears were confirmed Sunday morning. In the Big Tujunga Canyon area of the Angeles National Forest, a search-and-rescue team with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department discovered Ruelas' body in a ravine about 100 feet below a nearby bridge.

Ruelas' death stunned Miramonte students, teachers and parents. Many left hand-written notes, flowers, candles and white balloons at an impromptu memorial. By evening, dozens gathered to light candles, sing Spanish-language hymns and recite the Rosary. Ruelas' family, too, came to the school and slowly walked along the memorial wall, thanking parents and reading the messages.

Ruelas did not leave a suicide note, authorities said, and it remained unclear why he took his life.

Teachers union President A.J. Duffy said his staff was told by Ruelas' family that the teacher was depressed about his score on a teacher-rating database posted by The Times on its website. The newspaper analyzed seven years of student test scores in English and math to determine how much students' performance improved under about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers. Based on The Times' findings, Ruelas was rated "average" in his ability to raise students' English scores and "less effective" in his ability to raise math scores. Overall, he was rated slightly "less effective" than his peers.

"Despite The Times' analysis, and all other measures, this was a really good teacher," said Duffy, who called on the newspaper to take down the database. Many parents also asked that Ruelas' page on The Times' website be taken down.
Read the full story


  1. You obviously meant to say "committed suicide" as opposed to "committed", which has an entirely different meaning.

  2. how devastating. I feel so sad

  3. LA Teacher committed (suicide). That was a Fruedean slip to leave out "suicide." It hurts. I would not have wanted to say it either.

  4. 1. The demoralizing effect of bad grades. The hard working teacher got a bad grade from the LA Times and the teacher committed suicide.

    2. The consequences of focusing only on test scores. The book, Freakomomics, had a section on how teachers cheat in response to standardized exams. We must also add demoralization and suicide.

    3. The test scores in LA pinpointed to specific teachers is newsworthy. This is the reform that we are getting out of Washington DC. Look for the low test scores. Call the teachers bad who had those students with low scores and fire those teachers.

    With logic like that, doctors should be blamed for the illnesses of the world, because doctors are around a lot of sick people.

    4. Who does the LA Times think it is grading specific teachers? They never saw the classrooms for themselves. They never tested the students before and after the school year. And how useful were the tests?

    5. Don't believe everything you read. Also, just because it's on the Internet doesn't make it true. It's just my review, and your review, and his review, and her review.

  5. Tragic, but clearly this poor teacher had mental illness. Getting a bad report would not lead to suicide - untreated mental illness does. It would be great is if other teachers with "bad scores" modeled the behavior they would expect to see in their students. Learn from the experience and work hard to improve.

  6. That's a huge tragedy, but people don't commit suicide because they receive a bad review. And if so, it's the sign of something much, much greater -- not the review itself. It's very sad for the his family and friends and for his students, but I think it's a bit disgusting that they are using this tragedy to make a point about the LA Times report.

  7. How callous to object to the family's explanations for their relative's suicide. If you were in their shoes, how would you feel if some stranger told you you were full of ****, as you just said, 7:32? That's disgusting.

  8. It is not disgusting to question the qualification of the LA Times to evaluate teacher performance, or to question the validity of how they judged the teachers.

    It is one thing to say that test scores at that school, with that teacher, always stayed low. It is another thing to blame the teacher.

  9. Question, yes, but blame them for a suicide???

  10. The LA Times reported on themselves, that they had this database on their website and that they has evaluated, in some crude fashion, whether Mr. Ruelas was an average of less effective teacher. If you do not like the word, blame, use another word, such as connection. There is a connection from the bad grades given by the newspaper to the suicide. How did the paper contribute to his death?

    Was its evaluation fair? How do you evaluate teachers? How do you publish newsworthy information in a responsible fashion?

  11. It was irresponsible of the Times. Evaluating teachers is beyond the scope of journalists, and experts in statistical analysis seem to be solidly lined up in opposition to the notion that value-added is a sound and effective way to evaluate a teacher. Overruling the preponderance of expert opinion and deciding on their own what was a valid measure was also beyond the scope of journalists.

  12. It is a sad story.

    However, the number one quality I want my kid to learn is to be resilient.

    I really doubt that the ranking is the real reason, and I hope it is not the reason; because if it is, he is teaching the kids wrong things.

  13. It is obvious that teachers in this country are the new scapegoats. They take the blame for all the ills of society. God forbid we should make society, parents, and students accountable. See what happens when you take God, common sense, the paddle, and respect out of schools? It is common knowledge that a lot of the successful schools we all hear about...are actually cheating. How do we know this? The students will tell would seem that it is no big deal. When will this madness cease? Never, as long as the government has anything to do with it, and Lord knows they will never give up that control. SAD!