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Teachers, We Honor and Respect You!

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It's teacher appreciation week; and in a letter in EdWeek published Monday, 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 contribution.