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David Labaree – Targeting Teachers

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David Labaree is a historian and retired Professor of Education at the
Stanford Graduate School of Education. This essay is taken from his
website ( He introduces the essay

In this piece, I explore a major problem I have with recent
educational policy discourse — the way we have turned teachers from the
heroes of the public school story to its villains. If students are
failing, we now hear, it is the fault of teachers. This targeting of
teachers employs a new form of educational firepower, value-added
measures. I show how this measure misses the mark by profoundly
misunderstanding the nature of teaching as a professional practice,
which has the following core characteristics:

  • Teaching is hard
    • Teachers depend on their students for the professional success
    • Students are conscripts in the classroom
    • Teachers need to develop a complex teacher persona in order to manage their relationship with students
    • Teachers need to carry out their practice  under conditions of high uncertainty
  • Teaching looks easy
    • It looks like an extension of child raising
    • It is widely familiar to anyone who has been a student
    • The knowledge and skills that teachers teach are ones that most competent adults have
    • Unlike any other professionals, teachers give away their
      expertise instead of renting it to the client, so success means your
      students no longer need you
  • Teachers are an easy target
    • Teachers are too visible to be inscrutable and too numerous to be elite
    • They don’t have the distance, obscurity, and selectivity of
      the high professions — so no one is willing to bow to their authority or
      yield to their expertise

Here’s the link to the essay on his website:

Here’s the link to the original publication in Dissent, 2011:

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