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Death, Data and Destroying the Dream

September 27, 2010

Chuck Olynyk has done a much more insightful job than I ever could discussing the tragedy of Rigoberto Ruelas, who killed himself after increased work pressure brought on by inaccurate value added scores apparently led him to despair.

ABC actually did a sensitive  job of highlighting the Times value added data base as a factor in Ruelas death.

ABC story

The LA Times, not surprisingly,  put out an incredibly insensitive statement while never mentioning the cause of Ruelas’ suicide in its own reporting:

“The Times published the database, which is based on seven years of state test scores in the LAUSD schools because it bears directly on the performance of public employees who provide and important service and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to judge the data for themselves.

And what do parents and the public know about value added?  They don’t care about the numbers, they are looking at the “effective” and “least effective” rankings -they won’t bother to try to interpret anything.

And of course there was the contrast of the weeping, distraught staff of Miramonte and the Assistant Principal  at the end of the ABC news piece  who couldn’t have sounded more uncaring and insincere had he tried.     But then,  it is reported that it was the Miramonte administration putting so much pressure on the teachers.  Now I guess it’s time for them to cover their asses.  They’re doing a piss -poor job of that.

I definitely wasn’t in the mood then for my first night class at Cal State LA which is  – you guessed it-  my education research class.  The professor  began the class by boasting about how many charter schools he was on the board of, including the Accelerated School, which has had its share of major problems which he of course, failed to mention.  He did however,  project a slide of API comparing his charter schools to schools like Garfield,  Manuel Arts and Fremont.  I pretty much shut down after that.

In a clever little tactic, he demonstrated some outdated medical machinery from the early 1900’s as quackery because it wasn’t based on “evidence-based research.”  But I’m way ahead of him- he is going to try to posit that education is an exact science the way economists try to do with free market economic theory.   I just won’t be buying what he is selling.   Oh  and he also told a story that insulted a middle school teacher he implied was unable to motivate a few students in her class.   This little story coming from someone who never taught public school.   He may go unchallenged by the rest of the students, but not by me.

Because I know that all of this obsession surrounding  “data-driven instruction” is really about who controls the knowledge that will be delivered to students -and who will benefit financially. It used to be that teachers wrote curriculum- and they were damn good at it.   Teachers like Bill Lacey at Fountain Valley High who co -wrote Interact simulation curriculum with his fellow teachers.   Most new teachers today would probably be stunned to see the creativity in the lessons, trials, activators and other activities – and wouldn’t know how to implement it because it is so foreign to what is being pushed at PD’s  in LAUSD.   Then of course there is Linda Tubach’s brilliant curriculum units for the Collective Bargaining workshops she used to put on before she retired this year.  You can still get her curriculum, if you contact UTLA.

Now of course what passes for curriculum is scripted- some of it used to be pretty good- History Alive for example, until they gave in to the testing pressures and did away with most of their press conferences and other highly interactive lessons.   And  now instead of great coaches,  LAUSD hires “access to core specialists” who teach from a script.

For the next few weeks I’ll be wearing a black armband in honor of Reulas and I hope you will all do the same.   There is also a day of action coming up in early October.   In addition,  there are UTLA elections on the horizon.   Choose wisely.   Think about whether you want a hand-picked successor to the current leader who did nothing to help Fremont teachers. Talk is cheap.   Think about who has sacrificed for us and who has actually spent a significant amount of time in the classroom as a teacher and you might find it’s not those in the current UTLA power structure.   If you don’t choose bravely and wisely,  the dream of public education for all- currently on life support-  could be destroyed.

And please remember Mr. Ruelas.  If someone that beloved, with such strong roots in his community and legions of former students who love him- if he could feel so isolated and demoralized that he would take his own life,  how do you think many more teachers with fewer personal ties who were subjected to slander by the Times are feeling?  What must they be thinking?   I have a feeling they know exactly the despair of Rigoberto Ruelas.   RIP.

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