More L.A. Times criticism, and a question for Hechinger’s Richard Lee Colvin

A brief follow-up this morning to my criticism of the Los Angeles Times' disclosure of point estimates from a single model of teacher test-score raising prowess: Dana Goldstein points out that media critic Jack Shafer's commentary is factually wrong (as well as vicious), and the Kingsbury Center's John Cronin takes the same line I do with regard to the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics and the Times' choices. Aaron Pallas discussed what he called "the cardinal sin" on September 2 and September 8.

One minor tidbit on underwriting: Pallas publishes his blog on the Hechinger Institute site. The L.A. Times series was underwritten by Hechinger. Is Hechinger responsible for noting the questions raised about the ethics of its funded project?

Note: Earlier today, I missed the passage in the Hechinger item on the series that disclosed Hechinger's funding, an embarrassing error Aaron Pallas corrects in comments. Mea culpa. Pallas adds that Hechinger did not tell the Teachers College liaison board about the project until after the fact..

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6 responses to “More L.A. Times criticism, and a question for Hechinger’s Richard Lee Colvin”

  1. Aaron Pallas


    The Hechinger Report item on the series does include the following statement: “The analysis, which makes use of seven years of individual student-performance data, was supported in part by a grant from The Hechinger Report.”

    I serve on a Teachers College liaison committee to the Hechinger Report which includes a number of faculty. The committee was not informed of Hechinger’s support of the LA Times work until after the fact. If you have specific questions for Richard Colvin, I can ensure that they get to him.

  2. CCPhysicist

    I was particularly interested in Pallas’ Sept 8 article linked above, if only because of my own concerns that teachers are generally stuck in a school and could be assigned a particularly problematic set of students by a principal out of a desire to give them a good teacher or out of malice toward that teacher. The huge jumps between quintiles could result entirely from this detail.

    But I’ve got an even better example: Watch “Hoarders” on A&E and tell me what has a bigger effect on the school performance of the three little girls on tonight’s episode – their teacher or the house they are living in.

  3. alexander

    glad you’re keeping on this, and very interesting about the TC faculty committee —
    you can find lots more about the topic on twitter by searching for the term #latvam — including this post in which a former LA Times reporter debunks the notion that the story package was about anything other than VAM

  4. Aaron Pallas

    The Hechinger Report’s affiliation with Teachers College is a new configuration that raises interesting challenges for how to think about the links between journalism and educational research. We’re all kind of feeling our way with this. But there’s no mistaking the fact that the LA Times made some editorial choices that are open to criticism on ethical grounds. Although journalistic ethics were not in the foreground of my Hechinger posts criticizing the Times’ reporting, the concerns I raised could be framed as ethical issues.

  5. Glen S. McGhee

    Unfortunately, ethics are irrelevant in this case.

    As David S. Allen demonstrates historically in his book, Democracy, inc. : the press and law in the corporate rationalization of the public sphere, 2005, the corporatization of journalism has neutralized ethical considerations.

    Glancing at the stated “ethics,” I am reminded of accreditation standards, and how they never seem to scale up to the massive bureaucratic systems they were meant to tame. Compartmentalized incentive structures that emerge with role differentiation and teh division of labor systematically rule out umbrella standards. There is simply no way to scale-up the value to cover everything.

    In fact, the reverse occurs: moral displacement upwards, toward the peak of the power pyramid, and the social production of moral indifference below.