Birmingham Patch editor Laura Houser owes Birmingham Public School teachers an apology. And, I think, she owes Patch readers a full explanation.
In a story that ran on her page yesterday, Houser cited State Superintendent Mike Flanigan's comment that teacher pay should average 100k in order to draw more math and science teachers.
Here is what Houser did to generate her story. She wrote up a quick press release and clicked on the statistics of the MDE. There she "discovered" what seemed an opportunity to join in what has become a nationwide past time: public school teacher bashing. This national practice is in full heat here in Michigan. Surely she knows the context if only by reading other local Patches.
Here is a snippet from her story, the snippet that she generated solo, without press release help:
"In Birmingham, the average teacher salary is pretty close to Flanagan's goal. According to statistics released annually by the MDE, the average teachers salary at Birmingham Public Schools was $94,703 in 2010-11 — No. 1 in the state.
The teachers salaries in neighboring districts, meanwhile, vary widely. In Bloomfield Hills, the average teachers salary is $69,764. In Troy, the average salary is $76,726 while the average teachers salary was $69,584 in Rochester.
However, Birmingham is the exception, with average teacher salaries varying by tens of thousands of dollars across the state. No district's average salary hit $100,000 in 2010-11."
That is, rather than hesitate for a second and consider why the Birmingham average radically outpaced local competitors (I mean, we aren't counting "Bistros" --Troy probably is ranked highest), Houser identified Birmingham as an "exception" and clicked "submit." Commenters, including the Birmingham teachers' union, quickly called for a correction and retraction. MDE, many knew, posted inaccurate information last year.
There are about a thousand stories on education in Michigan more important right now than Flannigan's quote about math and science teachers. Houser ignored those stories, as she does many other major stories on public education, state or local. She chose this one, and then chose to ignore the point about math and science teachers in her editorializing on Birmingham pay. Furthermore, when corrected, she chose to say this is the MDE's fault and that BPS administration "admitted" -- as if they had committed a crime -- that the publicly posted numbers were off. She has them scrambling to give accurate numbers on a day when one or two other things might be going on. She went on to say she was waiting for "updates," as if this was a breaking story in Kabul where she was on the ground covering events as they unfolded and she was carefully observing. Her take? The MDE was the only "official" average. What teachers told her about their own salaries? Who cares? The union? Obvious thugs. Generate those comments!!
If this criticism seems harsh, Ms. Houser perhaps now has a better understanding of what public school teachers and administators deal with on a regular basis. When other professionals choose to play recklessly with information about teaching they injure that 3 million person workforce for their own benefit and damage the public education process tout court.
If Ms. Houser was being "measured" by the "Race to the Top" metrics she would get something lower than a "D." But she is not. She is in the private sector where "competition" will correct for her shortcomings. Uh-huh.
If Ms. Houser wants to blog -- have it. Happy to hear any personal criticisms you have about BPS. I sure got some of my own (teacher pay certainly isn't one). But don't call it news.