Advancing a Free Society

Right Newspaper, Wrong Pulitzer Story?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Times, for winning a Public Service Pulitzer for its coverage of the salary scandal in Bell, Calif. It was that series – “Breach of Faith” – that’s become something of a poster child for greed and excess (not to mention downright criminality) in these times of limited government services. But, with all due respect to the good folks at Pulitzer Prizes, I wonder if this is a case of right newspaper, wrong story. Specifically, I’m thinking a more prize-worthy endeavor would be the Times’ analysis, also in 2010, of how effective Los Angeles Unified School District teachers have been at improving their students’ performance on standardized tests. The difference? While the Bell expose is truly a great of investigative journalism, it’s the LAUSD analysis that arguably has the greater impact of folks’ lives. As the Times itself writes:

Since The Times began publishing the series, L.A. Unified has moved swiftly to conduct its own value-added analysis and will give teachers their confidential score by October. The district has said the scores could be used to guide training for struggling teachers. In addition, the district and the teachers union have agreed to begin negotiations on a new evaluation system. Top district officials have said they want at least 30% of a teacher's review to be based on value-added. But they have said the majority of the evaluations should depend on observations. Some school districts across the country are doing just that, finding that the approach provides a measure of objectivity for teachers' performance reviews, which are overwhelmingly based on short, prearranged classroom visits by administrators and other subjective measures. Even the staunchest supporters of the value-added approach believe it should be only one part of a teacher's evaluation.

That’s pretty powerful impact. Getting a powerful (and stubborn when it comes to reform) teachers union to see the error of its ways may not be a Herculean feat, but it strikes me as an achievement that should not go overlooked nor unrewarded.

(photo credit: Kris Bautista)