'L.A. Times' Database Angers Teachers, Union
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
How effective are your local public school teachers? If you're a parent, you'd probably love some concrete answers to that question. And the Los Angeles Times is trying to provide them. The paper created an online database ranking about 6,000 elementary school teachers in L.A. In the process, they've also waded into the huge debate about how to evaluate teachers and their students. The method they're using is known as value added. We have two reports about that method in this part of the program.
First, the L.A. rankings. Here's NPR's Ina Jaffe.
INA JAFFE: Second-grade teacher Elaine Korowitz doesn't see much good coming out of the Times' series publishing the names and rankings of all those teachers online.
Ms. ELAINE KOROWITZ (Teacher, Wilshire Crest Elementary School): I think it's such a negative, negative point of view from the L.A. Times.
JAFFE: Korowitz says she lucked out. She teaches second grade, and the Times only looked at grades three through five.
But Caroline Lund, her colleague at Wilshire Crest Elementary, was devastated to be ranked on the Times database as one of her school's least effective teachers.
Ms. CAROLINE LUND (Teacher, Wilshire Crest Elementary School): It's not fair. I'm willing to work with the students that are hard, challenged, but it reflects in the L.A. Times by showing me with a low test score.
JAFFE: Wilshire Crest Elementary has students of every race and from many countries. And this morning, Lund and Korowitz were in their classrooms getting ready for the new term - even though it doesn't begin for two weeks, and they're not even on the payroll yet.
Lund worries that the L.A. Times database is just going to be a big distraction.
Ms. LUND: I have so much to do to focus on teaching the students, and I feel like this is going to sidetrack me away from focusing on the students and focusing on defending myself.
JAFFE: The data the paper used came from standardized tests in math and English taken each year. The analysis of the data is known as value added. In other words, based on the child's previous scores, did the next teacher help the child exceed expectations, that is add value or not? This kind of data is used to evaluate teachers in many school districts, says Jason Song, one of the lead reporters on the L.A. Times series.
Mr. JASON SONG (Staff Writer, L.A. Times): And we knew that value added was not something that the L.A. Unified School District has done. And so we wanted to take a look and do our own analysis to see what information that could tell us about the nation's second-largest school district.
JAFFE: All of the raw data used by the Times was obtained through public records requests. Song says the decision to post the names of the teachers with their rankings was something they thought about long and hard. But teachers, says Song, are public employees and so...
Mr. SONG: We thought that if we provide enough context for the material, that it would serve the public's interest.
JAFFE: That context was the warning that value-added scores don't tell the whole story of what goes on in a classroom. But A.J. Duffy, the president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, the teachers union, says that's not the way the material will be viewed.
Mr. A.J. DUFFY (President, United Teachers of Los Angeles): People don't get past the first couple of lines in a story. They see the headline, they see the splash, and that's what sinks in. So for the greatest number of the public, what they're seeing is certain teachers are bad teachers because their standardized test scores over a period of years is bad.
JAFFE: The L.A. Times series has provoked more than howls of rage from many teachers. It's also opened up a dialogue about how teachers should be evaluated, and whether value-added analysis should play a part. Teachers union president A.J. Duffy says negotiations on that with the school board will probably begin in a few weeks.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
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