If you live on the West Coast, chances are you’ve heard about Rigoberto Ruelas, a 5th grade teacher in LA who was found dead this weekend in Angeles National Forest. His death was ruled a suicide, and his family reports his fatal depression was caused by his low ranking on the LA Times teacher-rating database.
In the LA Times story about Mr. Ruelas’s death, they describe him as a man who “always reached out to the toughest kids.” They say, “He would tutor them on weekends and after school, visit their homes, encourage them to aim high and go to college.” The paper goes on to praise him as someone “so passionate about his mission that, school authorities say, he had near perfect attendance in 14 years on the job.”
Yet in their ranking of Mr. Ruelas, the LAT rated him “average in his ability to raise students’ English scores and “less effective” in his ability to raise math scores. Overall, he was rated slightly “less effective” than his peers.” These rankings, based on standardized test scores, are offered by the outlet as a “public service.” But they’ve resulted in a public memorial for a teacher clearly well-loved by all who knew him.
The President of the LA teacher’s union, A.J. Duffy, says in response to Mr. Ruelas’s tragic ending, ”Despite The Times’ analysis, and all other measures, this was a really good teacher.” Duffy and many parents at Miramonte Elementary School have asked the paper to remove the database from their website.
I feel it’s important to mention that I’ve been avoiding writing this post all day because it’s such a serious issue, and one that I don’t think anyone can tackle in just a few paragraphs. There is so much I want to say about our society’s blind faith in the Internet as a truth machine, which when coupled with the speed at which we do things today – perhaps most importantly, the speed at which we share stories and information with and about each other – can clearly leave people disgruntled, half-informed and hurt. This rapid flow of information electronically facilitates bullying, slander, libel, snark – and even when it is disseminated with good intentions, as I believe the LA teacher-rating database was – it can be incredibly harmful. Bullies are being desensitized by virtue of their anonymity, power-players are re-affirmed by the overwhelming access and authority posting on the Internet can provide. Of course technology has the ability to bring us together in amazing, positive ways as well – and I am more than grateful to be employed in a medium that allows me to share my voice with others. But we seem, as a culture, not to be taking enough time to consider the obvious ways in which our rapid-fire (and sometimes sloppy, rude or incomplete) analysis of one another is doing us all a great disservice.
In this instance, a teacher was lost. A teacher who inspired students like 13-year-old Andromeda Palma, who says Mr. Ruelas told her, “It is not about where you are from but if you don’t go to school you are nothing in this world,” adding, “Now I am doing real good because of him.”
You cannot quantify that type of success on an Internet database. But you can see it in the show of love at his memorial site.
Education columnist for The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss, wrote yesterday that “The newspaper’s database and its score are not responsible for the suicide of 39-year-old Rigoberto Ruelas. Suicide is complicated, and the reasons someone decides to take his own life are complex and often unknowable.” But, she says, “Many critics of the database argued last month when it was released that it was unfair and judged teachers strictly on student standardized test scores.”
The database is still live on the LA Times site, you can see it here. A service will be held for Mr. Ruelas today at 5 p.m. at Presentation Catholic Church in Los Angeles.
Photo: LA Times
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