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Birmingham Patch Editor Unnecessarily Fans Flames of Teacher Bashing

Birmingham Patch Editor misreports average pay of public school teachers and struggles with a retraction.

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.

Simple mistake?

Unlikely.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Marcia Robovitsky January 31, 2013 at 02:27 PM
I think it would be useful to read the article Mr. Jackson is referring to in this blog. http://birmingham.patch.com/articles/state-superintendent-michigan-teachers-should-make-100k It should also be pointed out that the referenced article was by Laura Houser and Jessica Carreras. Not just Ms. Houser as Mr. Jackson suggests. The first six paragraphs of that article concern the statement made by Mike Flanagan, who is the state Superintendent who heads up the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). That statement as printed in the article was: "If you want better qualified math and science teachers, you have to pay them more." The last four paragraphs of that article site statistics for teacher salaries and gave the link to those statistics they used in the article. THEY ended the article: "Will increasing the salaries of Michigan teachers attract more math and science teachers?" This comment by Mr. Jackson in this blog is uncalled for and I feel he owes Ms. Houser an apology. "There she "discovered" what seemed an opportunity to join in what has become a nationwide past time: public school teacher bashing. " Take the time to read the 41 comments (maybe more by now) following the Birmingham article. The one I found most interesting, but basically ignored by all that followed was the second comment which pointed out that ONLY Birmingham (BSD) in the state of Michigan reported salaries to the MDE...that INCLUDED fringe benefits. Thus the higher numbers.
W. F. Moigis January 31, 2013 at 03:12 PM
A tempest in a tea cup?
b-ham parent in troy January 31, 2013 at 05:53 PM
Gross overreaction, what a turn-off.
Jenny Greenwell February 01, 2013 at 03:21 PM
You know, if Birmingham teachers feel they are owed an apology, I suppose they can ask for it themselves.....
Gabrielle Mason February 01, 2013 at 07:16 PM
How sad. Laura's reporting is not the problem here-- she did a fine job, as she always has. If she weren't a good and capable reporter, none of you would be regulars on this site. You would find another outlet to spout your narcissism. What is a concern is how BPS was able to let that incorrect data just there for three years without contacting the MDE to fix the mistake. A government website should be more than considered a credible source for Laura to cite. To further illuminate the sloppy record-keeping on behalf of BPS, when Laura contacted the district to get the correct numbers, they weren't readily available for her. According to the comments section of the original article, Laura said the district had to "calculate" the figure and get back to her. How is such important information not at the ready for ANY BPS community member? I think what is most appalling, however, is how many grown adults have turned into pouting children as a reaction to this error. In the comments section of the original article, Laura was called unprofessional and lazy... by TEACHERS, for an error that was not her own. If this is the example teachers are setting for our kids, it's no wonder bullying is an epidemic in our schools.

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