The Los Angeles Times might indeed be the nation’s worst newspaper, but yesterday, they did a real service for Los Angeles residents: somehow they got data out of LAUSD, comparing the relevant test scores by individual teacher before the students entered these teachers’ classes, and after. The idea is to make comparisons of teachers based on how the students’ scores change, and to do so within a school. Such a method, while hardly foolproof, helps isolate important aspects of teacher quality, because it helps to control for the fact that so many teachers teach in low-income neighborhoods with social pathologies. The story found several teachers in low-income neighborhoods doing amazing work in bringing up their students’ test scores. In fact, it found that many of the most effective classroom teachers work in the poorest neighborhoods. As they say, read the whole thing.
The story was particularly heartening for me, not simply because of the results, but because a couple of the teachers who did not do so well in the results didn’t complain. They didn’t dismiss the findings. They didn’t act defensively. Here’s one:
Told of The Times’ findings, Smith expressed mild surprise.
“Obviously what I need to do is to look at what I’m doing and take some steps to make sure something changes,” he said.
Here’s another, known as an involved, energetic and caring teacher:
Caruso said the numbers were important and, like several other teachers interviewed, wondered why she hadn’t been shown such data before by anyone in the district.
“For better or worse,” she said, “testing and teacher effectiveness are going to be linked.… If my student test scores show I’m an ineffective teacher, I’d like to know what contributes to it. What do I need to do to bring my average up?”
This is exactly what you want to see. These teachers aren’t complaining. They aren’t making excuses. They are dedicated, and they seem to care about their students. Something seems not to be working, and they want to know more.
And then there is A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, who reacted to yesterday’s story this way:
The Los Angeles teachers union president said Sunday he was organizing a “massive boycott” of The Times after the newspaper began publishing a series of articles that uses student test scores to estimate the effectiveness of district teachers.
“You’re leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by … a test,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has more than 40,000 members.
Duffy said he would urge other labor groups to ask their members to cancel their subscriptions.
This is a classic in what some have called “reactionary liberalism” — a defense of an interest group with bromides and talking points.
If progressives want to reinstitute faith in government, then we must demand the best possible results from public institutions. And we also need to confront directly dinosaurs like Duffy who simply refuse to accept any accountability for his profession. President Obama deserves a lot of credit for taking on the education establishment nationally, and the Times deserves a lot of credit for publishing this report.
It would be nice to have an adult conversation about precisely what these scores mean and what they do not mean, how we can help teachers who are underperforming despite their real dedication, and how to weed out those who simply cannot perform well. And we will not have that conversation until we can get rid of people like AJ Duffy.