Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Road Warrior

Note:  D'Val Westphal is an assistant editor and columnist for the Albuquerque Journal.  She is best known as The Road Warrior, a monicker she adopted for a column she writes about road conditions in the city.  After the departure of Leslie Linthicum, a front page columnist whose tastes and perspectives were often diametrically opposed to Westphal's, she (Westphal) was promoted to the front page and began writing about topics that had little to due with potholes, orange barrels, and traffic jams.  One of those topics was education.  The e-mail below was written in response to articles she wrote in March and May of 2015.  The most recent article was about a middle school teacher who was retiring in disgust due to irresponsible and misguided school "reforms" that Ms. Westphal supports.  The article appeared on the front page on the last day of the school year.  

Hello D’Val:

I wrote to you last week after your article on [retiring middle school teacher] was published.  My e-mail was returned, so I thought I would write to you again.

After reading the article, I called Ellen Hur to see if she was really a teacher, as you state in your article.  As it turns out, she is not.  She was a teacher from 2001-2004 in a private school in Colorado.  She never made it past what in NM is considered beginner, probationary teacher status.  I don’t believe she is certified to teach in New Mexico.  She was never subject to the punitive regulations of NCLB or RTTT and was never evaluated by NMTeach or anything like it.  She has a masters degree in education, but she also has an MBA, the latter likely being the degree that got her the job at the NMPED.  She is a product of Michelle Rhee’s TNTP, a right wing group that promotes private and charter schools, fast-track teacher certification, and other practices antithetical to public education in the U.S.  She also worked for McKinsey & Co., a global financial management company for which David Coleman, principal author of the Common Core ELA standards, also worked.  Coleman is associated with some of the most destructive elements of the “reform” movement, including invalid and excessive high stakes testing, teacher evaluations linked to that testing, school privatization efforts, the PARCC consortium, and so on.  

I inform you of this because I believe your statement that she is “also a teacher” is disingenuous, misleading, and deceptive, at best.  Instead of referring to her as something she is not, perhaps to lend her credibility she does not have, an accomplished journalist of your stature should have taken five minutes to investigate her background and include what you found in her story.  Five minutes is all it took me to discover the information above.  If you had done that, you could have presented a more honest portrayal of Ms. Hur to your readers.  

After your story was published, [retiring middle school teacher] wrote me an unsolicited e-mail.  In that e-mail he made it clear that he felt you twisted his story in such a way as to make him and other teachers appear less favorable and the PED to appear more favorable to your readers.  He stated that he had written a letter to the editor in which he was critical of NMTeach.  Instead of publishing his letter, the Journal decided to do a story on him that essentially turned his critique of the system into a validation of it.  He was not happy about it, and I don’t blame him.

In addition to telling the truth about Ms. Hur’s credentials, I believe it is incumbent upon you to tell the truth about your own credentials, especially as they concern the field of education.  You are known in Albuquerque as “The Road Warrior,” a self proclaimed expert on road conditions and traffic issues.  Indeed, over the years you have earned some credibility in that area.  However, your lack of credibility in the area of education becomes more evident with every column you write.  

This was perhaps most evident in the column you wrote for the March 13, 2015 edition of the Journal.  For that column, you cherry-picked letters written in English to the PED by Santa Fe high school students.  It seemed to me and many other bilingual educators that many of the student letters you chose were written by English language learners.  They therefore contained errors the students may not have made had their first language been English.  To many of your readers it was apparent you used your position and power to publicly humiliate these students and their parents.  Could you write as well in Spanish?  Other educators and I considered the publication of these selected letters a malicious attempt to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of New Mexico teachers and to make fun of hard working students even as they demonstrated through their letters their desire to be educated.  In their letters they made it clear that excessive testing, not their teachers, was impeding their access to a quality education.  

In an e-mail to me recently, Mr. Walz stated that the Journal editorial board was not anti-teacher; it was pro student.  What you did to these students and their teachers makes a mockery of his assertion. 

Furthermore, I would be interested in knowing if you obtained the student letters from the PED by means of a FOIA or IPRA request?  If so, would you please send me copies of the correspondences between you and the PED in which you requested the students' letters?  How many student letters did you obtain and read?  What were the criteria you used to select letters to critique and publish in your column?  Did you contact the students whose letters you reproduced in the article?  If so, what sorts of questions did you ask them?  Did you ask their consent to publicly display their letters in your newspaper?  

Finally, I urge you to issue a correction or retraction regarding your portrayal of Ms. Hur as well and [retiring middle school teacher] in the May 22 article.  I requested as much of Mr. Walz over the Memorial Day weekend.  He stated that no correction or retraction was in order.  Since you are a member of the editorial staff and must therefore bow to his authority, I doubt you can overrule him.  Nonetheless, he did promise me you would respond to me as soon as you returned from your vacation.

I await that response.

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