The NY Times has a great piece on one element of the education equation. Are our country's falling education achievements principally due to "teachers"?
Diane Ratvich's opening piece coincides with one my concerns (I have many, but this is one) with GWB's "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) The program involves punitive measures in greater measure than reward. If your student performance is not acceptable (both at the teacher and school level), your job is in peril, without regard to any analysis of the causative factors. The teacher/school is the de facto guilty party, not the population undergoing the schooling, the state imposed curriculum, or other factors. The a priori assumption in NCLB is that every child is capable of a defined level of achievement, and it's the teacher/school's responsibility to raise that child to that level. Yet this yardstick of universal aptitude is applied to virtually no other performance based endeavor in our society.
As I have posted before, not every child is willing and/or able to meet the standards of a reasonable high school level of achievement. We all know how "Zero Defects" mentalities create sub-par results. Call me an elitist, but I firmly hold that there is a significant segment of our population, for many reasons beyond their immediate control, that is just not equipped to meet reasonable high school graduation standards, and until we face up to that, and address the reasons why, we are simply going to bounce from one jingoistic fad to the next.
For one, there are socio-economic factors that can limit a child's ability. And, as more and more of our population struggles for basic existence, more and more of their offspring are going to be behind the power curve. "Poverty" is more of a threat to an educated society than teacher tenure or pension plans. 30 years ago or so, a Berkley prof offered a wildly unpopular thought about the pervasiveness of the culture of poverty. If there is a genetic component to intelligence, what if cultural masking (or repression) of native (genetic) intelligence could "breed down" the gene pool in poor populations? If intelligent people do tend to seek people of similar displayed intelligence, would the cultural masking or repression of displayed intelligence reduce the odds of genetically bright people find each other as mates? Now, he wasn't opining that certain groups were genetically inferior. All he was trying to do was point out another possible social horror of blindly accepting a permanent "underclass". Even the "Free Speech" culture of Berkley shouted the man down as a racist.
Today, as the Times piece addresses, the movement on policy circles is to scapegoat teachers as both an educational ill as well as a budgetary one. I would be willing to bet that the concurrent moves to reduce aid to the poor will have more negative impact on overall aggregate academic performance that all the incompetent teachers in the the US combined. We have got to accept that some students will never make the grade. How many is hard to say, but experience has demonstrated that 100% graduation becomes the goal, it's the standards and measuring tools that tend to change more than the ability of the student population.
As governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton hit it head on. His state's problem wasn't the graduation rate. It was that a very high percentage of the graduates were functionally illiterate and couldn't handle simple math. His goal was that not only should a better job be done educating the students, but that a HS diploma must regain its stature as evidence of proven ability. And, he said that the standards for graduation had to be enforced before any other issues could be addressed. He admitted that not everyone was willing and/or able to meet that standard. His choice was to keep the standard and make the people do their best to meet it. The standard would guide the people, not the people guide the standard. Radical concept.
Sadly, America is an adversarial culture. For me to win, someone else has to lose or at least not win. We are not really concerned with the long term common or collective good, except in way in which it serves individual gain. As long as "Winning is the only thing", we will continue to search for scapegoats rather than solutions. Ron Paul captured it when he said recently, "No one has a right to an education or health care. That is something that must be earned." Were I a teacher in a school where a child of his family was a student, how tempted I would be to ignore that kid until he or she got a job and paid their own school taxes, rather than freeloading on daddy's tax payments. No child can "earn" his or her education. Paul is visiting the sins or virtues of the fathers onto the children, and his rabid minions are too stupid to see it.