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Teachers Aren't Secret Agents

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Teachers Aren't Secret Agents

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: United Teachers Los Angeles and supporters protest state and local budget cuts on January 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. District officials say they are facing a gaping $500 million budget shortfall. The board of education earlier this month authorized nearly 2,300 layoffs, but the superintendent ruled midyear layoffs out. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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One criticism of the LA Times series evaluating individual teachers using a data method known as value added: that it is wrong for the paper, or anyone else, to evaluate public school teachers with their names attached. One prominent education author, Diane Ravitch, foolishly suggested on Twitter this morning that the Times was wrong to publish data on individual teachers because it would be like publishing mortality rates for heart surgeons.

That couldn't be more wrong. First, data for individual doctors might be a useful tool, and considerable amounts of data on individual physicians is available to the public. Second, teachers, unlike most surgeons, are public employees. They are hired by governments. They are paid by taxpayers. And they perform a profoundly public function. They are public figures, who deserve and require public scrutiny. The Times, by making public its data on teachers, is doing a public service.

Some critics of the Times, including the United Teachers Los Angeles, which has launched a foolish boycott of the newspaper, point to laws that protect the privacy of educational records. But those laws are designed to  protect students, who are minors and who are required by law to attend school in this country. To teach is profoundly a public act, and a public trust. Public trusts require verification.

Teachers have tough jobs. They deserve more support. They deserve better funding for their schools, particularly in this state. But they don't deserve protection from public scrutiny. If teachers don't want to be evaluated in public, they should choose other professions.

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