I once had the opportunity and great honor to buy value added pioneer Bill Sanders a glass of his favorite Tennessee whiskey. In exchange, he gave me the “cocktail napkin” version of his life’s work.

The key statistics Dr. Sanders shared with me are these: First, some 65% of student growth can be attributed to the classroom teacher. Second, 3 years of an effective teacher can permanently shift a student’s trajectory for future achievement in a positive direction.

We can get into a methodological argument on value added if you want, but rather than attack the method or attack the statistics, listen to the message:

Teachers matter.

If we are really to have a transformative revolution in public education, the classroom teacher is going to make or break that effort. To be clear, I am not saying that curriculum, scheduling, the economic condition of students, budgets, and the local or state crisis “du jour” do not matter. I am saying that they are distant seconds to the powerful effect a quality teacher can have on student growth.

If we think about the support systems in schools and states that operate around the classroom teacher, there are really a lot of other people involved. At the district you have instructional support staff, transportation, food service, maintenance, custodians, IT technicians, accountants and HR professionals, school principals, district administrators, superintendents, and Board members … then there is are a whole bunch of people who work in inter-district collaboratives and in consulting roles … then a whole bunch more who work in teacher preparation and ongoing professional development roles … and then a whole bunch of other people who work at state departments of education, union roles, and as policy wonks. Tens of thousands I’d venture, if we counted them all – and I’m sure I’m leaving some out.

But think about it. The teachers? The truth is, they could do it without any of us. Those outside the classroom only justify our existence by the degree to which we are of service to the classroom teacher.

So tomorrow, ask yourself: “What am I doing to improve and support classroom teaching?” You could also ask “What am I doing to justify my educational existence.”

The answers are really the same.

Jason Glass
Columbus, OH