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Thompson: Fact-Checking the LA Times

Links Someone needs to introduce reporters Jason Felch et. al at the Los Angeles Times to the hyperlink concept. They are trying to soften the paper's latest attacks on teachers by praising Park Elementary for posting the district's greatest growth in math scores.  But click to the Times' own value-added web site, where the school is rated as "Least Effective," and nine of the 15 math teachers as "Less than Effective" or "Ineffective."  Should the Times guesstimates be used to praise the school, or to fire its principal and most of its teachers?  As the Times also campaigns against seniority, it should provide a link to the scores at the troubled Markham M.S. where the veterans who replaced the laid-off younger teachers posted higher value-added.   The more experienced teachers, that the Times wanted to lay off, increased scores more than any other middle school.  Perhaps hyperlinks would help Felch's editors to check whether the facts match his reporting editorializing? - JT (@drjohnthompson)       


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Can you link to the data showing that the senior teachers who replaced the younger teachers at Markham had a higher value-add? Very interesting. Thanks for the post.

Funny you should ask. When drafting the post, every time I used the LA Times search engine, I received an google error message. Today, I twice typed in Markham and got the info for Middleton Street Elementary.

But check out the Markham graphic, and a commenter reported more data that disputed the article.


I'm about to follow his link.

Thank you so much for writing this. When I read the article it made no mention at all about WHY Markham made gains. Makes sense now. Of course they wouldn't want to reference the fact that seasoned teachers might have made the difference. That would fly in the face of the Gates/Duncan edu-reform agenda.

John Thompson appears to have missed several points we’ve made in our recent reporting. First, the score for Park Elementary he linked to in our database is an average of the school’s performance on value-added measures between 2003 and 2009. Our recent story highlights improvements made at Park last year, 2009-2010. As we’ve noted, that new data, which only became available recently, will be included in an update to the Times’ value-added database in the coming weeks. The update will also include year-by-year scores for elementary and middle schools that show how their students’ growth has changed over time. As for Thompson’s remarks on seniority, our stories have noted that there is no significant correlation between seniority and performance. New teachers, on average, are no better or worse at raising test scores than more experienced teachers. Ignoring effectiveness during layoffs leads to more teachers losing their jobs and the dismissal of many highly effective teachers. Finally, I would point out that what he calls our “attack on teachers” has cast a bright spotlight on many of the district’s most effective instructors – the very hard-working people whose work has never been recognized or acknowledged by their school district or union.

Jason Felch again misses the logic of why his editorializing is wrong-headed. Firstly, he should have included hyperlinks in this article, and in previous articles, where the actual evidence is different than his spin, and let the readers decide. Secondly, if these primitive VAMS had been in use from 2003-09, how many effective educators would have had their careers’ destroyed, so that they would no longer be around in 2010 to help raise scores? Thirdly, again he doesn’t tell the other side of the story on seniority (which should be mended not ended). He should report the whole story about the dangers of using test scores growth as proxies of effectiveness. Under the system he’s campaigning for, who would dare to resist pressure for non-stop test prep, question the scripted curriculum, and other forms of educational malpractice being impose by “reformers?” Who would dare seek the enforcement of discipline, or efforts to address attendance? All of those dynamics make it tougher for neighborhood teachers to meet our test growth targets, and would encourage an exodus of effective teachers from urban schools. Especially in the scapegoating environment stirred up by Felch and the Times, how many effective teachers would abandon schools where it is more difficult to raise test scores, as they are pressured to use rote learning CYA methods that even Gates describes as ineffective? If Felch doesn't believe teachers on this, then he should go into the schools and do some actual reporting.

Perhaps the worst example of Felch's propaganda is the false statement that was previously reported as fact that:

"Value-added" is thought to bring objectivity to the process and, because it compares students to themselves over time, largely controls for influences outside teachers' control, such as poverty and parental involvement.”

Who other than Felch would go on the record with the unambiguous statement, that "classroom effectiveness can be reliably estimated by gauging the students' progress on standardized tests"? But then he made a worse mis-statement by completing his sentence with “ the Gates foundation study shows” when the Gates foundation offically asserted the opposite.

Finally, thanks for repeating in your comments your standard troupe, concluding with your standard soundbite about hard-working teachers. Educators are not seeking your spotlight. Yes, we are routinely disrespected, but we aren’t waiting for a pat on the head from teacher-bashers as they campaign against our unions and our profession. Again, you completely miss our logic. By equating teaching and learning with guestimates of effectiveness, you are committing sacrilege. We see what your praise is, and we don’t want it.

Jason Felch says: Ouch!

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