Few education stories have excited me as much as the series on teacher assessment being done by reporters Jason Song, Jason Felch and Doug Smith of the Los Angeles Times. They have dug up a goldmine of data on the student test score gains of 6,000 individual elementary school teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, information that the district has refused to show to parents despite pleas from its staff to do so.
The latest story in the series, “L.A.’s leaders in learning,” does many things that I think are crucial to improving American education, and fit what I have been trying to do calculating the level of challenge in high schools, nationally and in the Washington area, the last 12 years.
The latest Times story focuses on how schools as a whole, not individual teachers, are doing in raising achievement. That emphasis encourages schools to create team-like cultures in which everyone works to make everyone else better. The story buttresses the central point of the series–that schools that seem similar to parents trying to choose where to send their children look very different when unreported data like relative test score gains are revealed. It also shows in a dramatic way the uselessness of our usual means of rating schools. Those that have the highest test scores are considered the best, even though achievement measured that way reflects the average incomes of the parents far more than it does the quality of the teaching.