No thanks, NY Times, but you are welcome to explain yourself here

My colleague Jose Vilson has written an important piece entitled, Why the NY Times is asking me to validate myself. The NY Times, which is publishing the value-added data reports on individual teachers (my commentary is here), has created a means for teachers to explain any special circumstances that affected their value added score.

They write:

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.

Like Jose, I’m really not buying this as a sophisticated tool or an example of good journalism. The NY Times has published pretty extensively about the shortcomings and flaws with the value-added measures. Not only would I not know how to explain my score (since I have no involvement with the system or algorithm that created it), but the notion that any teacher should feel compelled to explain potentially unseen factors in their students’ test scores to the entire world is really shocking and gives me great concern.

In fact, I urge other teachers not to take up this invitation. It smells like a trap. You know when a misbehaving student tries to argue with you in front of the class when you attempt to redirect their behavior? To divert your attention from the actual desired outcome? Over time, you learn not to fall for this one, right?

The NY Times’ invitation to explain aspects of our work that may or may not have anything to do with a public ranking, which is completely innappropriate and narrow in the first place, seems like a diversion from the real problem here—the undermining of teachers as professionals—and desired outcome—the professionalization of teaching. Explaining my rating only validates the process of publicly ranking teachers based on standardized test data. (The analogy only holds for the diversion tactic and the need not to fall for it, not the actual issue. In other words, when students misbehave, I’m not suggesting that they are undermining the teaching profession!)

Bottom line: I do want to be recognized for the skills I develop as a teacher over time and the impact I have on students. I want to do this based on a meaningful and reliable measure of my impact as a teacher through a process vetted by members of my profession within a professional structure, not the daily paper. I want this information to be thoughtfully employed in productive ways that will help me and others in the profession continue to grow.

So, no thanks, NY Times. I will not be explaining anything about my score. I write every month about my work in teaching. I invite you instead to explain what you hope to accomplish by publicly ranking your city’s teachers. You may use the comments section below.

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