Leaving Finland

Lake Jyvasjarvi I have never lived anywhere for 5 months other than Jyvaskyla, Finland. As my Fulbright journey concludes, there is so much to still digest. It will take months, if not years, to truly assimilate all the learning. Before I left Southern California, I wrote about the what I would miss the most from home and what I  looked forward to experiencing in Finland. It is safe to say I met my goals. Top 7 Goals 1. Discussing Education Helsinki Workshop Through professional development programs, Fulbright Finland connected teachers with scholars and researchers, for the purpose of putting inquisitive minds together. The Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats seminar provided participants with fascinating research and presentations. 2. Nordic Model Bus station in Espoo What does an efficient and earnest country look like?  It looks like Finland. Yes, people pay higher taxes, but get so much in return. I for one appreciated the well-maintained ro

When Newspapers Save Parents From Themselves

photo from msnb.,msn.com.
The community of South Central has been struck with another painful blow, in a part of town already plagued by crime, poverty, and violence.  This week, a teacher, a respected and integral part of the Miramonte community took his own life, due to pressure faced about his public job rating, according to family members.

According to parents, students and co-workers, this was the kind of teacher who changed lives and served as a real-life role model for his students and their families.  Making out of the neighborhood is a challenging obstacle for many kids; fewer than 10% actually make it to and graduate from college.  Rigoberto Ruelas defeated those odds, but he did not leave the ‘hood.  He came back, put down roots, and decided to make a life out of helping English learners like himself overcome the obstacles of our stratified society.
Former students of Rigoberto Ruela (from left): Karla Gonzalez, Alicia Hernandez, and Perla Cruz
 photo by Brian Watt/KPCC

Parents loved Mr. Ruelas.  They looked forward to placing their children in his class.  Former students came back and visited often.  He took entire families to the beach, to help them navigate the culture of the Westside, and to enjoy the beauty of nature by the sea.  To parents, Mr. Ruelas was a hero, one that had the power to protect their kids from the temptations of gangs, or of disconnecting from school.

But according to the Los Angeles Times, these parents were wrong.

The L.A. Times labeled Mr. Ruelas as an ineffective teacher.  The value-added method, they explained, took out all the subjectivity in evaluations, and produced a hard number that allowed for comparisons between teachers and schools.  This “value added measure” took into account poverty, language difficulties, etc. and could be considered a reliable evaluation.  It was so reliable, they espoused, that they felt confident in labeling people according to these scores (while at the same time stating they should only be considered as one criterion with which to measure teachers.  Nevertheless, this did not stop them from taking their data manipulation to label teachers as Most Effective, Effective, and Least Effective. 
Letters & Drawings honoring Rigoberto Ruelas posted on a memorial wall outside Miramonte Elementary School. 
 photo by Brian Watt/KPCC

Which leads me to my question, who gave these outsiders the right to judge who is best suited to teach the children of South Central?  Or put it this way; why does this newspaper think they know better than parents?  The paper issued a statement saying it published the data so that "the public could judge it for themselves."  The public never had that chance.  The LA Times reporters, Jason Song and Jason Felch did that for us by taking the raw data, and drawing conclusions from it.  Conclusions they published for the whole world to see.

Maybe a parent doesn’t have the technical expertise to read data graphs, or formulas.  Maybe a parent can’t tell the different between criterion-referenced or norm-referenced tests.  But they know when their child is being challenged.  They can see the light in their child’s eyes either brighten or dim, depending on their experiences at school.  They can tell when a teacher is trying their best or when they are skating by.  They may not be college graduates, but they are no fools.

This community loved Mr. Ruelas.  This community respected the maestro.  But now, a classroom of students is left without a teacher, a school is deprived of a noble leader whose simple presence at school taught students volumes about perseverance and hope.  Qualities, which cannot be measured by any test.

If would like information about the L.A. Times boycott, click here.

To learn more about the life of Rigoberto Ruelas, click here.

Martha Infante aka avalonsensei


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