A reader wrote to tell me that public school teachers in Los Angeles are continuing a boycott of the Los Angeles Times. This boycott stems from the Times decisions to create value-added evaluations for thousands of LA teachers and to publish them online in 2010. The accuracy of the evaluations were hotly contested by teachers and disputed by scholars who disagreed with the methodology; the reporters at the Times defended their findings and their methodology.
A month after the Times’ series was published, along with the public release of the names and ratings of teachers, Roberto Riguelas committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. He was a fifth grade teacher whose rating had been published. The family said he was depressed by the ratings; the Times did not accept responsibility. And of course it is impossible to know who was responsible and whether there was some other cause.
Two important comments on the LA Times release of its own value-added ratings. When it happened, Secretary Arne Duncan was very pleased, but very few scholars of testing agreed. John Ewing, a mathematician wrote an excellent article called “Mathematical Intimidation,” in which he excoriated the misuse of value-added as well as the reporters’ actions in browbeating a National Board Certified teacher, whom they said was a bad teacher. http://www.ams.org/notices/201105/rtx110500667p.pdf
I wrote about all this in the new last chapter of the paperback edition of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
An interesting footnote: When New York City followed LA’s example and released value-added ratings to the media (the media in NYC, unlike LA, did not create the ratings), Bill Gates wrote an opinion piece saying it was a bad idea; Secretary Duncan came out against the release, and so did Wendy Kopp. In fact, almost everyone came out against the public release of teacher ratings except Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
And the public school teachers of Los Angeles are still boycotting the Los Angeles Times. If Eli Broad should buy it, they will have good reason to continue their boycott.