The Los Angeles Times, Value Added Teaching, and Control of the Value of Education
by Rich Gibson, Emeritus Professor, San Diego State University
Substance News September 2010
The Los Angeles Times, in mid-August, launched a data-attack on school workers by publishing a “Value-added Measure,” list of teachers who, in a given year, appear to have taught more successfully to high-stakes tests than, for example, the teachers across the hall. Enormously popular, right off, educators can expect to see the Times’ work turning up all over the country, and at bargaining tables as well (the corrupt leadership of the United Teachers of LA already announced they would reopen bargaining based on the Times’ story while the San Francisco Chronicle editors supported the Times’ work on August 22nd and, on the 25th, a consortium of foundations and charter schools released a statistical report on Detroit schools, based on test scores, showing at least 3/4 of them are failing).
It’s classic demagoguery, designed to split school workers from school workers, educators from parents and the community, as well as to explain away booming inequality, all under the guise of “science.”
Top education researchers responded quickly. Stephen Krashen, for example, pointed out the many variables that lead to test scores, demonstrating the Times’ work lacked both reliability and validity. Importantly, Krashen added that, “ poverty is a stronger factor than teacher quality in predicting achievement. The best teachers in the world will have limited impact when children are undernourished, have high levels of lead in their bodies, live in noisy and dangerous environments, get too little sleep, and have no access to reading material.” (See Krashen linked below).
Krashen’s nexus of school to society is too often left aside by other education researchers who seek to pile their school-based facts up against the Times, against other for-profit analysts or the flatly disingenuous work at PBS’ Learning Matters.
While expert responses to the Times assault are assuredly vital in this era where reason itself is assailed, it is equally important to recognize that many Americans cannot distinguish one “fact” from another and, thus, end up measuring who has the biggest heap–likely to belong to the Times, et. al.
It follows that the connection Krashen makes, school and society, is at least as important as the point that utilizing scores on high-stakes exams to appraise anything significant is, at the least, an error.
Another angle is necessary as well.
The LATimes lies.
What does the LATimes lie about?
The LATimes reporter Tony (The Embedded)Perry lies about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan all the time. He lied at the outset of the invasions and he lies still. Now he insists on the WMD myth about Iraq and claiming the US might win in Afghanistan--that it is a good and decent project (now, tossing in the de rigueur line that the US is saving women). The LATimes fired the only reporter who had an inkling that his paper was lying: Robert Scheer.
Imperialist war is a key reason for the current efforts to win greater control over what has always been a capitalist education system--in order to produce witless troops who consider warfare a duty (nationalism), or a job (indifference).
The LATimes lies about the nature of class war, in Los Angeles and out of LA, and it always has.
The Times’ antipathy to organized labor goes back more than a century. Following the lead of, for example, Otis Chandler, the LATimes built its empire on racism, devotion to developers, exploitation, and imperialist warfare, culminating in it relentless support for the man who may still stand as the worst president in US history: Richard Nixon. Today, as a decaying business, the Times laid off dozens of its reporting staff, shifted editors nearly as quickly as schools switch superintendents. In 2008, James E. O'Shea, editor since November 2006, quit the paper, claiming “he was forced out after disagreeing with Times Publisher David D. Hiller's plan to shrink the newsroom budget.” The “value-added” model is something of a paradox when applied to the Times itself.
Yes, sometimes the LATimes comes close to the truth, perhaps in its movie reviews, dedicated reporting on Lyndsay Lohan, and its attacks on Cesar Chavez (designed, not to win anything for farm workers, but to make everyone cynical). How shall we judge a civilized paper that still runs a horoscope?
In any event, the LATimes lies about the social context of school. The Times, like D.C’s notorious Michelle Rhee, not only wants to split the relationship of school and society, the Times wants to obscure the reason poverty exists: the rule of the few over the many: exploitation.
Here is Rhee speaking to an assembly of principals, scaring them:
"Our responsibility is to deliver the goods, no matter what the situations our students are in. The reform is in the schoolhouse. You are here because we believe you are the right people to deliver this reform. The election is not our concern, the election is not your concern. Go hard or go home!"
Rhee is the stick that lives, happily, along side the many carrots who also serve as bosses in US schools.
But that is a partisan, ground-up, view.
From the LATimes owner's perspective, they tell the truth on behalf of important sections of the ruling class, and occasionally those sections fight it out both on the editorial pages and in the rest of the paper too.
Within that context of what is really their truth, the value added research "works," in that it sees school workers (who have always been workers and have been professionals almost only when bosses want educators to make sacrifices) as people whose minds must be stripped; their minds and creativity replaced with the minds of managers as in the common (bourgeoisie) core standards, in other regulated curricula, in high-stakes exams (production quotas), and who must be won to this alienation as a necessity for, on one hand, the chance to keep a job, and on the other hand, for the good of the nation's kids (future workers and warriors).
In this "truth" of the Times, it follows that what is always a social relationship, education, is taken as an individual problem of productivity. And many teachers agree, or are browbeaten into shame for bad scores.
That seems to me to be because teachers are taught that the social context of school is like fate, normal, maybe the highest possible form of human existence, and they see themselves isolated, alone, in a room full of kids (widgets) to which they are to add some, specific, form of value.
It is, indeed, normal in capitalist society for people to be forced to work for wages (as they have no real property), to then be shoved into a war of all on all for jobs and health benefits, to lose control of both the methods and products of their work, and the more they do this, the more they enrich those who profit from the misery of the vast majority of people.
The separation of educators, or any workers, from the methods of work, from the products of work, that is, from some of the most significant moments of their lives; this abolition is key to subordinating labor to that powerful minority who own.
The force that lies behind schooling, as in any capitalist relation, often goes unnoticed. However, in our action research tour about two years ago, Susan Harman, Bob Apter, and I, saw that fear is driving nearly all aspects of school life. Kids, parents, school workers, all fear the false logic of the tests, and each of them faces consequences. More, when kids don't go to school, we force them in (other than the home-schoolers who are for another day).
When the LATimes lies about value added teaching, what they are doing is not so much misusing research, but using it for their own, exploitative, purposes, one standing above all the rest: protecting US capitalism. Capitalist journalism seeks to veil capital and to convince most people that we cannot understand and change our lives--achieved by taking a piecemeal, segmented, approach to society (as if a unifying whole did not exist) and by attacking real struggles for social change.
When union leaders (like Reg Weaver, paid $686,949 in his last year as NEA boss, or UTLA’s well-paid President Duffy), refuse to take direct action to halt today's surge on the schools, they do so because they know that they themselves benefit from the arrangement described above.
Their wages are related to US success in imperialist wars, to disguising and hiding the necessity of recognizing the whole of the social system as capital and the equally necessary need to connect fighting one aspect of it with all aspects of it (bottom up class war). And, like the Times, the truth of the union bosses is that they must demolish the potential of a mass, class conscious movement to rescue education from the ruling classes (not preserve the myth of "public" schooling) or that movement would demolish them---as it should.
Schools are now the central organized place in North American society, and other societies too. It should be no surprise that they are battlegrounds now. At issue is--who will win? Who will, on our side, take the lead in controlling the methods and products of our labor, that is, take on the fight between the real, “leading out,” purpose of education, and the fallacious, social-control, purpose of those who hold power today?
Don't forget the day of strikes and action, October 7th, the call coming from the student leadership that organized the massive school-based demonstrations, occupations, and teach-ins on March 4th. .
Here is Marx: "If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, a schoolmaster is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation. Hence the notion of a productive labourer implies not merely a relation between work and useful effect, between labourer and product of labour, but also a specific, social relation of production, a relation that has sprung up historically and stamps the labourer as the direct means of creating surplus-value. To be a productive labourer is, therefore, not a piece of luck, but a misfortune. In Book IV. which treats of the history of the theory, it will be more clearly seen, that the production of surplus-value has at all times been made, by classical political economists, the distinguishing characteristic of the productive labourer. Hence their definition of a productive labourer changes with their comprehension of the nature of surplus-value." (Capital Vol 1 p477 Lawrence/Wishart edition)
Good luck to us, every one.
Stephen Krashen’s full commentary is at: http://susanohanian.org/show_nclb_atrocities.php?id=4024
On the LA Times and Nixon, see David Halberstram, “The Powers that Be.”
For the LATimes vs Labor, see Mike Davis, “City of Quartz.”
For the LATimes’ devotion to developers, see Carey MacWilliams, “Southern California, an Island on the Land.”
O’Shea pushed out as LATimes editor: http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jan/21/business/fi-oshea21
Rhee quoted in Washington Post, August 23 2010: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcschools/
LATimes Daily Horoscope:
UTLA’s President, A.J. Duffy makes a base yearly salary of $102,051. (Source: Substitutes Alternative Voice for Education).