Does our society value teachers? By objective evidence, you may say no. After all, teachers are not paid as well as lawyers or doctors. And we can’t ignore the fact that quite a few legislatures have passed laws to remove teachers’ due process rights or to tie teacher pay to student test scores. Indeed, the Obama administration has forced this noxious idea on most states as a condition of getting Race to the Top funding.


Consequently, many teachers suffered the humiliation of getting a rating based on student scores,then seeing their rating posted in public. That happened in Los Angeles, and one teacher–Rigoberto Ruelas–committed suicide. That happened in Néw York City, at the in sustenance of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and the teacher with the city’s worst rating was featured on the front page of Mr. Murdoch’s tabloid. But as it turned out, the “worst teacher” was a very fine teacher of immigrant students who cycled in and out of her class all year. And, sadly, Arne Duncan praised the act of creating and published these lists of teacher ratings.


We can be grateful that Race to the Top is defunct, but its worst effects linger on. The charter industry expanded at the behest of RTTT, leaving behind a voracious sector that absorbs limited education dollars but evades accountability or transparency.


Evaluation by test scores has been debunked time and again, yet it continues because the state laws are still on the books. And many states continue to pursue ways of limiting teacher pay, increasing class size, or otherwise manipulating the conditions of teaching without improving them.


What does it mean to appreciate teachers? It means respecting their professionalism. It means turning to teachers as experts on their work, not to people who study teaching or think about teaching.


John Ewing, who heads Math for America, makes this point in this good article. He writes about the many times he participates in conferences about how to improve teaching, but no teachers are I cited to participate. He counts the number of times major journalists write articles about teaching and schools but never interview a teacher. How many teachers were included on the panel that wrote the Common Core? The typical news story about education includes quotes from the same think tank experts, even though few have ever taught.


Ewing writes:


“When it comes to talking or writing about education, we do not view teachers as experts. We do not trust them as professionals. Can you imagine an engineering conference without engineers as speakers? Can you imagine a science article with no input from scientists? Or a report on some breakthrough in medicine without a quote from a doctor? We treat the profession of teaching differently from all others.


“The teaching profession needs two things in order to thrive—respect and trust. The two go together. You can say nice words and be grateful to teachers, but if you do not trust them as professionals, you are not showing them respect. Trust means giving teachers (appropriate) autonomy in their classrooms, but it also means giving them influence over policy—real influence, not a few token teachers on some committee—and it means giving them control over their own professional growth. We need to stop fixing teachers and create environments in which teachers themselves fix their own profession. We need to trust them to do so.”