I can’t remember the last time I saw something on Slate that I agreed with more…
The L.A. Times Flunks L.A. Schoolteachers
The newspaper takes on the two L.A. sacred cows—teachers and unions—and lives to print again!
By Jack Shafer
Posted Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010, at 5:44 PM ET
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.
Union leader A.J. Duffy of the United Teachers Los Angeles stupidly called for a boycott of the Times. Boycotts can be sensible things, but threatening to boycott a newspaper is like threatening to throw it into a briar patch. Hell, Duffy might as well have volunteered to sell Times subscriptions, door-to-door, as to threaten a boycott. Doesn’t he understand that the UTLA has no constituency outside its own members and lip service from members of other Los Angeles unions? Even they know the UTLA stands between them and a good education for their children.
Duffy further grouched that the Times was “leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by … a test.” [Ellipsis in the original.] Gee, Mr. Duffy, aren’t students judged by test results?
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten also knocked the Times for publishing the database that measures the performance of 6,000 elementary-school teachers. Weingarten went on to denounce the database as “incomplete data masked as comprehensive evaluations.” Of course, had the Times analysis flattered teachers, Weingarten would be praising the results of the analysis.
Teachers’ union lobbyist Joe Nunez attempted damage control of his own when he told a Times columnist that the newspaper was “completely misusing the test data.” The tests were supposed to be just a “dipstick” measurement of schools, Nunez said. But isn’t a dipstick a useful gauge of an engine’s well-being? Wouldn’t a dipstick be a good indicator of a school’s health?
Duffy’s, Weingarten’s, and Nunez’s protests, however inane, were almost completely nullified by the sensible Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, who endorsed the Times series. “What is there to hide?” Duncan said. Well, plenty. But the schools and the unions have no right to hide it. Under the California Public Records Act, the public is free to inspect such data and manipulate them in any fashion it desires. The Times dared to put a human face on the failure of Los Angeles schools by profiling by name both teachers who scored high and who scored low in the newspaper’s analysis.
The Times has done its readers a great service by exposing Duffy, Weingarten, and Nunez as enemies of open inquiry, vigorous debate, critical thinking, and holding authority accountable—essentially the cognitive arts that students are supposed to be taught in schools. That Duffy, Weingarten, and Nunez don’t bother to mount a serious defense of Los Angeles teachers indicates they have no case. Their only job—and they know it—is to protect the jobs of the members of their unions.