Slate's Jack Shafer Weighs In On L.A. Times LAUSD Education Series

Slate's Jack Shafer, the online magazine's raffish, tough press critic, looked at the L.A. Times ongoing education series and gave it a rousing endorsement. To review, the reporters have created a database using math and reading scores and then conducted a "value-added analysis" that seeks to rate teachers on their students' progress from year-to-year. Most crucially, and controversially, the Times has named names, calling out good and bad teachers.

Shafer, who we should note has libertarian leanings and so is no friend of teacher unions, loves it.

Here's the cannon blast lede:

Nobody but a schoolteacher or a union acolyte could criticize the Los Angeles Times' terrific package of stories--complete with searchable database--about teacher performance in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Shafer goes on to mock union leaders A.J. Duffy, Joe Nunez and Randi Weingarten for their "inane" criticisms of the series, which boils down to the idea that teachers can't and shouldn't be judged by objective measurements like tests, an opinion they, and they alone, share.

He goes on:

The Times findings, which took bravery to express in liberal, union-enslaved Los Angeles, are hardly incendiary. The paper found that effective teachers "often go unrecognized"; that the school district does not act on the information it's gathered to fire ineffective teachers because it basically fears the union; that the best teachers are scattered throughout the system, not concentrated in the rich neighborhoods or the "best schools"; that parents are denied "access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets"; that seniority determines pay and job protection; and so on.

Elsewhere, Matthew Yglesias, one of the smartest, most closely read bloggers on the left side of the spectrum, has also been paying close attention to the Times series and has also endorsed the reporting:

If you care about recognizing the contributions teachers make to society, you should be supporting the development and deployment of measures of quality. Excellent teachers deserve to be paid enough money to keep them teaching, and they deserve acknowledgment for the crucial role they play in shaping the nation's future for the better. But it's impossible for them to get the acknowledgment they deserve if we assess them only on crude measures like "does she have a master's degree?" and "did she show up on time for recess?" The main point of school is to teach kids stuff, so we need to measure what kids are learning.

On the flipside, the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-backed liberal leaning think tank, produced a paper calling for a balanced approach and not just a heavy testing regime.

A review of the technical evidence leads us to conclude that, although standardized test scores of students are one piece of information for school leaders to use to make judgments about teacher effectiveness, such scores should be only a part of an overall comprehensive evaluation. Some states are now considering plans that would give as much as 50% of the weight in teacher evaluation and compensation decisions to scores on existing tests of basic skills in math and reading. Based on the evidence, we consider this unwise.

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