Aftermath of LA Times “Grading the Teachers”

So, to catch everyone up, about a month and a half ago the LA Times published an article about LAUSD’s most and least effective teachers, which the newspaper determined using value-added analysis of reading and math test scores from various 3rd-5th grade teachers’ classrooms. They got this data from LAUSD, who don’t seem to have been doing much with it. Later on, the newspaper published a database online — that the public could use to search for individual teachers.

This week, one of the teachers labeled “less effective” overall by the Times committed suicide. Although he didn’t leave a suicide note, his family said that he had been upset about his ranking. He was a veteran teacher and, by many accounts, a good one. In its coverage of his death, the LA Times stated that:

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.

It’s not possible to say exactly why this man took his own life. But I think that the LA Times (and maybe some other folks in the education reform movement) forgot some key values, namely respect and humility. This man (and many others in their database) chose to teach, with dedication, at a poor school in a rough neighborhood for fourteen years. That’s a long, stressful time of seeing a lot of kids come through your doors with a lot of problems that are outside your control. Not that every single teacher at an inner-city school is a saint, much less every single teacher, but many of them became teachers to make a difference. So let’s use the data to help them do that, not bring them down.

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