Controversial But Half-Forgotten LA Times Series Resurfaces

 

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Blogger Anthony Cody called out the LA Times a few days ago for its widely-circulated critique of the Gates Foundation’s education reform efforts.

But Cody doesn’t support the Gates Foundation — far from it. He just thinks that the LA Times should, when criticizing Gates, take a look at its own work:

“How can the LA Times chastise the Gates Foundation – and their disciple John Deasy, without acknowledging their own embrace of Gatesian reforms?  The LA Times did not just report on the issue – they created their very own VAM system, and criticized Los Angeles Unified for not using such a system to weed out “bad teachers” and reward those identified as “effective.” They were active advocates, instrumental in the war on teachers that has been so devastating to morale over the past decade.”

Six years ago, the LA Times and a few other outlets published teachers’ performance scores. In the last few days, the decision has resurfaced as a still-controversial example of media coverage in the school reform era.

It’s one of the most controversial pieces of education journalism of the last decade, getting right at the central question of what if any role media coverage played in fanning the flames of what some have called an education reform bubble.

As you may recall, the publication of teachers’ scores by the LA Times and others came about in 2010-2011, around the height of the reform movement, when “Waiting For Superman” was out and Michelle Rhee was still heading the DC Public Schools.

The decision was controversial even at the time. Some outlets refused to participate, while others pursued the story aggressively. Harvard’s Nieman Lab praised the LA Times series for its aggressiveness and reader response rates. Some reformers claimed the publication of scores would speed the pace of improvement, while others (Gates and TFA founder Wendy Kopp) thought it was an unwise thing to do. According to a CJR account, unnamed education NYC education reporters threatened to quit over the decision. LAUSD itself urged against the LA Times’ decision.

Cody isn’t the only person to raise questions about the LA Times editorial and the seeming disconnect with its newsroom coverage.

The Seventy Four’s Romy Drucker writes that the editorial page “didn’t bother to talk to any educators, or read the paper’s own previous education coverage.” She also notes that the paper published teacher’s scores, adding that Gates opposed the practice. “An honest conversation begins with fairness and facts. Particularly in a newsroom where such facts have been reported time and again, by colleagues just down the hall.”

Agree or disagree with the decision (or the notion that newsrooms and editorial pages need to agree), it certainly deserves a closer look. I’ve written about it several times over the years, but never done any real reporting. Over the next few weeks I’m going to try and interview as many of those who participated in the process as possible, get their reflections, and share them here. Please feel free to share any ideas or insights you might have — especially if you were involved or near the action.

Related posts: NYT & WNYC Publishing Old, Inaccurate Teacher Scores (2012); How Reporters Got Sucked Into Value-Added Debacle ( 2011); Hechinger Head Disavows LA Times’ Value-Added Decision (2010).

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.