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Why The New York Times Is Asking Me To Validate Myself

Jose Vilson Jose 18 Comments

Not sure if you’ve heard, but, against their own wishes -ahem-, the NYC Department of Education is releasing their infamous Teacher Data Reports, a set of papers ostensibly compiling a teacher’s student scores on English and Math scores from 3rd to 8th grade to determine their effectiveness, normalizing scores for effects like poverty and growth. For anyone that finds this as absurd as I do, you’ll know that not only is there a huge margin of error on using such a report to determine teacher effectiveness, it’s so narrow and limited that parents probably won’t get much information about the teacher they seek. If anything, it might obfuscate the debates that happen in principal offices and households when kids vouch for their teacher, but adults with no understanding of pedagogy point to the scales and rebuke opponents.

I said it. Twice. Diane Ravitch said it. Bill Gates said it. Yet, they’re being released in papers large and small.

Almost every outlet has salivated at the chance to put these reports out (except for Gotham Schools). At first, I thought we would just see the yellow rags like the New York Post and Daily News post these, as they proliferate the bad teacher framework. I’m sure the other media outlets like the Village Voice or Manhattan Times has some intention to do something with these reports, but by the time they do, the bomb will have already dropped on our industry.

However, the one rag that considers itself the vanguard for objective journalism is the New York Times. While I’ve shared my disappointment with one of their events in the past, I still understood their role in pushing forth the news of the day and the voices they’ve highlighted from Bob Herbert and Charles Blow to the inimitable ones, Stephen Lazar and Arthur Goldstein. I still read the Times a fair amount, and even when I disagree, I also get that they often set the table for certain discussions.

Thus, believe me when I say how disappointed I am in the fact that they’re asking teachers to justify their reports to them. From their website:

With SchoolBook’s partners at WNYC, The Times has developed a sophisticated tool to display the ratings in their proper context, a hallmark of our journalism.

But we want to take that a step further, by inviting any teacher who was rated to provide her or his response or explanation. We are seeking those responses now, so they can be published at the same time as the data reports.

If there were special circumstances that compromise the credibility of the numbers in particular cases, we want to know.

We plan to include those responses alongside the ratings themselves, so readers can consider them together.

No. I don’t want to justify or get validation for whatever the reports say about me. With this huge body of evidence and the growing backlash against such reports, why would any respectable publication diminish their own journalistic credibility by publishing them and systematizing them in their website? I have serious doubts about the validity of doing this insofar as asking teachers to contribute to the further deprofessionalization of teaching.

The logic is simple: if we give in to telling the New York Times about our data reports, then we’re actually responding, and by responding in the manner they’ve chosen, they’re actually telling us to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion.

I get that it’s the New York Times. I also get that the UFT chapter leader Michael Mulgrew encouraged us to give in to the process, probably as a form of protest. I respect that this is an opportunity to talk to the establishments that need our assistance in this matter. However, I just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.

All these intangibles I can’t quite calculate, and all these numbers I’d rather not validate.

Jose, who just won’t accept it …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 18

  1. Hugh O'Donnell

    This is a perfect time for all NYC teachers to have each others backs. No doubt there are a few who should find work as political aides or even politicians, but the majority don’t deserve the public gauntlet, especially with a grossly embarrassing margin of error and no controls for the quality of the blueberries.

    Close ranks, ignore the press, refuse to justify. Then when the dust settles and the bureaucrats seek victims, jump on them with both organized union feet.

  2. Ilana

    Absurd doesn’t begin to cut it regarding these ratings.

    I am no defender of weak teachers but I am a defender of teachers, particularly those who have dedicated their careers to teaching students who don’t get private tutors, have college educated parents who know how to play school, who are newcomers to this country, or whose lives beyond school are in crisis in some way. There are no tools for normalizing data that get at this level of nuance to tell who — specifically, not just by race or SES — was in a particular class. And how that child’s presence interacted with others. And how resourced that classroom was. And how effective the school leader was at providing support. And on. And on.

    At a bare minimum, can we do the reductio ad absurdum of this logic? Can we imagine giving a teacher *no* resources and *no* support and then measuring his effectiveness? Literally putting him in the same vacuum in which we are analyzing his or her performance, modulo the students’ race and class?

  3. aaryn b.

    I’m a parent on the West Coast and am watching this unfold with my mouth agape. It is absurd that any paper is publishing this meaningless information, thereby granting it some aura of validity. But it is especially offensive coming from the NYTimes, a once highly respected news organization that (further) sullies it’s image by doing this. Such sloppy work is that which I’d expect from The Enquirer. And that the paper is giving teachers some sort of platform (permission? granting permission for them to speak before the rulers?) to defend themselves is insult to injury.

    Teachers should, as a group, refuse to fill out the form provided to them by the NYTimes. Teachers should refuse to engage in this false debate. There is nothing you could possibly say to make the situation better. It’s a trap. Hopefully, the public will see this for what it is.

    I’m so sorry…

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  6. J. Sideris

    NYT:

    “But because value-added research is so new, he said, “we know very little about it.” Releasing the data to the public at this point, Dr. Harris added, “strikes me as at best unwise, at worst, absurd.”

    The NYT has joined the group of “yellow press” in this country.
    I will never read this paper again!

  7. Clix

    Will you be sending this post (or something along these lines) in instead? I hope so, because I doubt that anyone from the NYT has – or will – read it here. I mean, if the NYT paid attention to ACTUAL TEACHERS, I kind of think we wouldn’t even be in this situation! ;D

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  9. Asad

    First off, its been awhile since I have visited the homepage (I read via Google Reader)…nice redesign! Second, I have heard/ read about this report all the way out in my neck of the woods, and the most important thing in my opinion is the solidarity you and all teachers show. Remain committed to real results, not appeasing evaluators!

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