I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Self-Pimping Journalism

Still waiting for Superman? Wait no more: he's here, disguised as mild-manner reporter Jason Felch!
In February, fifth-grade teacher Miguel Aguilar stood in the front of a class, nervous and sweating.

The subject — reading and comprehension — was nothing new. But on this day, his students weren't 11-year-olds in sneakers and sweatshirts: They were 30 of his fellow teachers.

It was the first time anyone at Broadous Elementary School in Pacoima could remember a teacher there being singled out for his skill and called upon to share his secrets school-wide.

"A teacher coming forward … that hadn't happened before," said Janelle Sawelenko, another fifth-grade teacher.

Months before, Aguilar had been featured in a Times article as one of the most effective teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District at raising student scores on standardized tests. Many of his students, the article noted, had vaulted from the bottom 30% in the district to well above average.

The article contrasted Aguilar's performance with that of the teacher next door, John Smith, who ranked among the district's least effective teachers. Pupils in both classes faced similar challenges in the poor, predominantly Latino community.

When the article appeared — followed soon after by a database ranking about 6,000 Los Angeles elementary school teachers — it ignited debate nationwide. Educators, teachers unions and experts warned that publicly rating teachers would pit one against the other.

Seven months later, Broadous teachers and the principal say the opposite has occurred. They've noticed a new openness to talking about what works, an urgent desire to improve. "It's encouraged them to collaborate," said Eidy Hemmati, the school's intervention coordinator.

Indeed, Broadous teachers — including Smith — have repeatedly sought out Aguilar's help this school year, despite the potential for hard feelings.

All you haters out there - bet you're wishing you hadn't harshed on Jason Felch so much! He's saving the schools! Why, if it hadn't been for Felch, a teacher would never have given a professional development class to his colleagues! And we all know how rare that is!

(You have to wonder sometimes if some education reporters have ever even walked into a school...)

Perhaps Felch wrote this article in response to the National Education Policy Center's original evisceration of the LA Times database. Perhaps he wrote it in response to their subsequent evisceration of the LAT's ill-informed and mendacious response (see the same link).

Perhaps Felch wrote this article to salve his guilty conscience following the suicide of a teacher who got poor ratings in the LA Times database.

I can, however, say this with great certainty: Felch wrote this article in part to justify the original project. He is using an anecdote to pimp his original work. And that's the problem: how can Felch or the LAT possibly report on the issue of VAM rating objectively when they have so much skin in the game? 

We know that major researchers in this field have serious objections to using VAM this way. Yet the LAT decided to go ahead with it's teacher-rating project anyway - complete with paid advertisements. How many inquiries into teacher ratings have led to click-throughs to "discover one simple trick to burn more belly fat"?

This is all about jacking up revenues for a failing paper by any means necessary. Bad education policy? Unethical journalism? Unnecessarily ruined teaching careers?

All secondary concerns to the bottom line.

1 comment:

Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

When your entire career is the hallmark of yellow journalism like Felch's, dabbling as a amateur statistician and defending discredited databases come pretty natural.

One thing's for sure, Felch and Song were both found to be Highly Effective Liars in the Eli Broad Campaign to privatize public education.

VAM, especially the LA Times/Rand Corp. rendition, is a farce exceeded only by corporate reformers like Rhee. Are Value Added Methods (VAM) the new Flat Earth? How long do discredited theories linger