Teachers Protest Against L.A. Times For Grading Their Performance

In response to The Los Angeles Times series that published data purporting to show teacher performance and quality, hundreds of educators from the local teachers union demonstrated in front of the Times building Tuesday, accusing the paper of reckless and shoddy reporting. The Times recently released a database rating the performance of 6,000 Los Angeles Unified School teachers.

Members from the United Teachers Los Angeles union blocked off a portion of 1st street between Spring and Broadway, loudly denouncing the Times.

The Times has used what's called "value-added analysis" that purports to show the impact a teacher has on a student's achievement test scores. The series has been hailed as an important eye-opener by parents, school reformers civic leaders and Education Secretary Arne Duncan; others, including the union, have questioned whether value-added analysis is a good measure of teacher quality.

"These so called journalists use the so called value-added analysis to publicly humiliate John Smith," said Michael Ontell, a 4th grade teacher from Liggett Street Elementary School in Panorama City, who drew attention to a teacher mentioned in the Times report. "Some of my colleagues feel despondent over the rankings."

In a "Spartacus" like moment, Ontell said that he was proud to call himself John Smith and led the crowd to chant "I am John Smith!" Smith's fifth grade students consistently start out the school year slightly ahead of students in the classroom next door, but wind up trailing badly by the end of the year, according to the Times report.

During the rally, Jason Felch, one of the story's authors, stood on a balcony of the Times building with a few others looking down on the crowd. Some protesters pointed at the journalist and yelled "That's him in the plaid. That's the bastard who wrote it!" During his speech, UTLA President A.J. Duffy egged the reporter to come down and face the angry mob. Felch just waved back in response.

Elizabeth Hammond, who has been teaching at 96th Street Elementary School in the Watts area for 13 years, expressed dismay when she first read the Times story.

"I was horrified and I called to cancel my subscription," Hammond told the Weekly. "The article doesn't take into account the social conditions that the kids go through." She noted that most of her students live in crime-ridden neighborhoods with some often coming into her class hungry and without shoes. (The series actually pointed to teachers thriving in difficult conditions.) Hammond also blasted the newly opened $578 million Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex, arguing that the money should have gone to schools that badly need the funds. (The money came from a bond issue for school construction and can't be used for ongoing operations.)

At the close of the protest, union leaders delivered their own assessment of the paper carrying a large and uncomplimentary "LA Times Report Card" banner inside the Times building.

Read LA Weekly's recent piece on the Times series and the union's longstanding efforts to prevent data from reaching the public.

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