FN 1: My mother, who taught in our local school, got me and my sister into Mrs. Roxlau's 3rd grade class. Mrs. Roxlau was nuts (example: if you were talking in the back row she would throw a piece of chalk at you with deadly aim and speed often just missing an eye; she had an after school coin club and she would buy coins from kids - some pennies she would pay you a nickel for (hhmmm?). My mother said I would never forget Mrs. Roxlau and she was 100% correct. Best teacher I ever had in my entire academic (Monchatet Pre-School, K-12, college and law school) career.Starting in kindergarten I noticed something about my teachers. Most of them seemed bored. In small towns it's a bit of local chatter to know before hand which teachers are good in whatever grade your kid is about to enter. I suspect some parents are even good at getting their kids enrolled in the good teachers' classes (this is sometimes called "advocating"). **Foot Note N 1.
FN 2: In service training for teachers is not unlike the requirement for lawyers that they take 20 hours of classes every two years (4 of which have to be in legal ethics) to keep up with developments in the law - this accomplishes nothing except a boondoggle for bogus organizations that offer the courses.There is very little systematic incentive to get better at what you do as a teacher and hardly any support for teachers who try (trying is sometimes discouraged by the union "police"). Teachers are encouraged to take in-service classes or earn more college credits in order to move up the pay scale. The theory is that these in service and college credit classes provide training and new ideas. I suspect that for the most part these are light weight make work classes that teachers simply go through in order to get a raise. ** FN 2.
FN 3: I have actually attended a lot of strategy sessions and meetings over the years. The only strategy that ever came out of any of them that made any sense to me was to stop having strategy sessions.It's bad enough at "good" schools in middle class suburbia. In urban schools it's a nightmare. I put a lot of blame on the system but a lot lies at the feet of the teachers themselves too. The result is a vast amount of time in which unengaged students drift while their unengaged teachers feel hassled and semi-comatose. Here's my strategic plan - teach - period, with some guts in as nutty a way as you want and kids will be inspired (maybe by the subject, maybe by the teacher - it doesn't matter). Teach to some asinine plan or goal and it's all over before it starts. Hire teachers who get that, fire those who don't. **FN 3.
It's easy to be an outside critic and often not of much use but I think something else is going on now that may have an impact on the system - state finances and the economy. Schools are funded by local property taxes and subsidized by state governments. Property tax revenue is, on a net basis, going down along with property values as have state revenues due to the economy (e.g. California). This will likely result in higher property taxes for those who do not move, sell or lose their house. Schools are going to get squeezed as a result (that started this year but is going to accelerate as school budgets are met with resistance from voters). Over the last ten years school budget increases rose significantly in excess of inflation, two reasons: increasing staff and a strong economy that enabled parents to indulge their materialistic impulse to "buy" the best they could (smaller class size, expanded after school stuff, more subjects. A generation of parents who grew up with a sense of entitlement want nothing but the best for their above average children and they were willing to pay for it and bask in the status of their blue ribbon school accomplishments - this works as long as there is money to support it but I am not sure there is anymore. ** FN 4.
FN 4: I have no idea if the goods bought over the last decade of school budget increases has actually improved the quality of education. I think a reasonable argument could be made that a bad teacher of a class of 25 will not be a good teacher of a class of 15, a good teacher can teach to any size class, extra school stuff is more often playing to the college check list game than substance, as for more subjects - its become cliche - we need better, not more).
I do not think it would be unreasonable to look at this landscape and conclude that school budgets are out of control, the art of good teaching is too rare and the system has very few rational built in checks and balances to encourage any self correction. There are lots of good ideas out there about how to reorganize schools to encourage better teaching but change is rarely approved by the entrenched (unless changing economic reality forces the issue). But I have been singing this same tune since the 3rd grade. ** FN 5.FN 5: Actually even before the third grade I had a funny feeling about school. I remember vividly my first day of pre school - after screaming that I did not want to go and holding onto the door for dear life (while my Mother tried to push me into the van) the van driver told me that if I did not get in he would slam the door on my fingers - I believed him. Once in and on our way to the next victim, he showed me he could drive the van with no hands and that completely mesmerized me with fear that we would crash and distracted all the other kids who were kind of freaked out by the scene I had just made getting into the bus. I think I knew from that moment that school was going to be an iffy proposition.