Teachers, we honor and respect you!

It’s teacher appreciation week; and in a  letter in EdWeek published today, Arne Duncan attempts to convince teachers  that his policies actually reflect respect towards their profession.   Sabrina Shupe Stevens provides the perfect rejoinder:

Actions speak louder than words. Though you often have nice words to say about teachers, what you do is more important, and your actions thus far do not indicate that you respect, value, or support teachers and our profession as much as you claim.

Please read the rest of her post for all the evidence of how his policies have undermined the profession.   I would only add that if Duncan really respected teachers, he would honor their word that the best way to improve their effectiveness is to reduce class size, which is their response in numerous surveys, instead of supporting “selective increases” in class size, as he recently proclaimed in a speech before the American Enterprise Institute.

Indeed, rather than giving teachers the esteem they deserve, Duncan, Bill Gates and others are pushing for their performance and their job security to be to be judged primarily on the basis of unreliable  reductionist measures like value-added test scores.

See the excellent critique of value-added models, written by John Ewing, former executive director of the American Mathematical Society  and now president of Math for America, who points out that “making policy decisions on the basis of value added models has the potential to do even more harm than browbeating teachers” and  calls a recent Brookings report “fatuous”:

Why must we use value-added even with its imperfections? Aside from making the unsupported claim (in the very last sentence) that “it predicts more about what students will learn…than any other source of information”, the only apparent reason for its superiority is that value-added is based on data. Here is mathematical intimidation in its purest form—in this case, in the hands of economists, sociologists, and education policy experts.

And if we drive away the best teachers by using a flawed process, are we really putting our students first?

Whether naïfs or experts, mathematicians need to confront people who misuse their subject to intimidate others into accepting conclusions simply because they are based on some mathematics. Unlike many policy makers, mathematicians are not bamboozled by the theory behind VAM, and they need to speak out forcefully. Mathematical models have limitations. They do not by themselves convey authority for their conclusions. They are tools, not magic. And using the mathematics to intimidate— to preempt debate about the goals of education and measures of success—is harmful not only to education but to mathematics itself.

Especially this week but every week, parents should let their children’s teachers know how much they value their hard work, their caring, and their sacrifice, especially at a time that they have been treated so harshly by the oligarchy that has been engaged in a non-stop campaign to demean them, and then adds insult to injury by trying to convince them that they are really elevating the profession.

As anyone who has ever volunteered in a classroom knows full well, teaching is  one of the hardest jobs in the world, and they deserve better from our government and from the think thanks, the venture philanthropists, the privateers, and the hedge-fund managers who devalue their contributions every day.

Posted on by admin Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to Teachers, we honor and respect you!

  1. Dave

    Well said, Leonie & Sabrina. It is great to see teachers providing point by point rebuttals to the histrionics of the “ed reform” movement dilettantes, which includes Arne Duncan. Its also great to see others like John Ewing expose the fallaciousness in reformers rhetoric. Many more teachers, professors, and educators need to weigh in with the truth about teaching so the public is not swayed by the very few bad apples in the teaching profession or the rhetoric of the well-funded reformers bent on dismantling public education for their financial gain.

    Additionally, teachers, and their unions, need to realize that protecting “retired in place” teachers, or others who should not be teaching, for whatever reason, is not helping the cause of teachers across our country. Perception is reality in life, and the ed reformers are manipulating perception to fit their view of reality. Teachers must make it clear, incessantly until the onslaught abates, that the overwhelming majority of them give their heart and soul to students in ways that no VAM-based rating could ever capture. Removing the passion and commitment from teachers by continuing to impose narrow curricula enforced by ill-suited standardized tests will further erode our nation’s intellectual capacity, not expand it.

  2. Nancy Flanagan

    Thanks for this excellent piece, PAA.

    I once saw a roomful of doctoral students in an advanced Quantitative Measurement class argue about the mathematical validity of one particular VAM model for nearly an hour, then conclude that internal contradictions in the model rendered it “virtually useless.”

    The man leading the discussion went on to oversee his state’s K-12 testing program. Which is now based on VAM, because the state was seeking RTTT dollars, and value-added was supposed to be “what the USDOE was looking for.”

  3. Pingback: Parents United for Responsible Education » Blog Archive » PSAT for 5-3-11: Three ways to honor teachers