The apparent suicide of Rigoberto Ruelas, an LAUSD teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Gate, has led to rampant speculation by Los Angeles TV and radio stations that Ruelas couldn't bear to live following an L.A. Times series that published the names and scores of 6,000 teachers — and showed Ruelas to be a below-average teacher whose students' progress somewhat lagged other kids at the same school.
See our report on Ruelas from this morning.
Today's broadcast media speculation, quick to blame the Times, seems based on thin evidence. First, word so far does not indicate that any note was found.
And whose theory are KNX and KCAL and other radio and TV stations so heavily relying upon?
There's some unnamed family members. Then there's a South Gate Police Department spokesman named Tony Mendez, who told the local CBS affiliate KCAL, “He was stressed out because of the teacher ranking in the L.A. Times because it wasn't a direct reflection of his performance.
“He was an outstanding teacher,” Mendez went on. “His coworkers have praised him for the outstanding work he does at work. His students always speak very highly of him. And parents also. So he's very well liked. And he takes his job very seriously. He's very dedicated to his job. He was stressed out.”
If Officer Mendez is a psychiatrist, he's not identified as such by KCAL, and let's stipulate that he's not.
Suicide is one of the most mysterious of all human mysteries.
To pin the blame on what amounts to a bad performance review at work is quite a thing.
And it's not as if the L.A. Times or its series could have any direct impact on Ruelas — it's a newspaper, not his boss.
In addition, Ruelas was named along with hundreds and hundreds of other ineffective teachers among the 6,000 the Times scored in its series.
Police have likely talked to family, and they've likely raised the specter of the L.A. Times series, which is obviously a reasonable and maybe even comforting thing to do.
But as in any suicide, there are many questions unanswered: Did he suffer from a history depression? How was his family life? What kind of life did he lead outside work?
Dr., er, Officer Mendez offers no clues to any of these questions.
Although in addition to his vast knowledge of psychiatry, Mendez is apparently also an education expert and knows the teaching abilities of Ruelas.
Except that, you know, more than likely, this officer hasn't a clue what he's talking about. But he's a local cop, so, hey, that's good enough for local media.
One key finding of the L.A. Times series is that there are many teachers and schools that seem effective and that are well-liked and sought after by parents, but, it turns out, aren't actually very effective in the classroom.
There's an important strain of the education reform movement that seeks to help these well-meaning teachers become more effective using fairly simple techniques that many teachers simply haven't been exposed to.
Read this New York Times Magazine story, for instance.
The L.A. Times released a statement of condolence but has held off making any reportorial judgment on the suicide, other than a quick blog post.
They're probably doing some shoe-leather reporting the radio and TV stations aren't likely to be doing. Thank God for print media.
Not surprisingly, the teachers union is exploiting this for all it's worth.
United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy called the publication of the list of teacher ratings “despicable,” and the union issued a statement calling on the Times to remove it from its website.
“UTLA is appalled at the L.A. Times,” Duffy told KCAL. “We predicted there would be problems. This teacher was a great teacher by all accounts — loved by students, parents, and respected by his colleagues.”
Again, just because a bunch of people think someone is a great teacher doesn't make it so.
“I will be reaching out to Superintendent (Ramon) Cortines and Deputy Superintendent (John) Deasy to join forces to implore the L.A. Times to take the names of individual teachers and test scores off the website and cease and desist from publishing any in the future,” Duffy said.
-With reporting from City News Service. Got news? Email us.