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Recruiting the Top-Third
September 20, 2010 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Top-performing nations recruit 100% of their new teachers from the top third. In the US, it's 23% - and 14% of high poverty schools. A new study by McKinsey and Company examines what Finland, Singapore and South Korea do to attract top graduates to teaching, including selective admissions to teacher training, competitive compensation, a more professionalized work environment, cultural respect and greater opportunities for advancement. Doing the same in the US would cost roughly $180 billion a year.

Related:
Previously from McKinsey - How the world's best performing school systems come out on top
Malcolm Gladwell - Predicting success in football and teaching (Previously)
The New Teacher Project - The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness
posted by l33tpolicywonk (84 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Of course, once your better-educated kids enter the workforce, you make that $180 Billion back in a hurry.

Fun comparison: Just being in Afghanistan costs us $72 Billion every year.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:09 AM on September 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


Doing the same in the US would cost roughly $180 billion a year.

Or a few billion per year less than the annual cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as calculated by Joseph Stiglitz.
posted by jedicus at 10:12 AM on September 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm pretty sure we could afford that if we tried.
posted by creasy boy at 10:17 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


A friend who studies education in America said that the system would make a remarkable
change simply by closing down all departments of College Of Education within universities.
Then of course there is the pay issue, which all who read this site know about.
posted by Postroad at 10:19 AM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I always said that among the best ideas this country ever had was that every town would have its own "little red schoolhouse."

And among the worst ideas was that the little red schoolhouse would be run by an underpaid spinster.

We're still nowhere close to fully disavowing the notion that teaching = zero-value "women's work," little better than poor Miss Blankenship from Mad Men.

And teacher's unions aren't helping this, either. Still framing their work as a "calling," rather than a craft for skilled, educated professionals.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:19 AM on September 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


Teaching conditions in South Korean schools seem to be terrible.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:23 AM on September 20, 2010


Yeah, I'm pretty sure we could afford that if we cared.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:26 AM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


And teacher's unions aren't helping this, either. Still framing their work as a "calling," rather than a craft for skilled, educated professionals.

When your work environment is that abusive and brutal and poorly compensated, it becomes a calling, because only the people who feel that pull are willing to put up with it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:26 AM on September 20, 2010 [16 favorites]


I was talking about teaching with Mrs. Robots this weekend, and I said, "I think teaching should be treated as a science." My nine-year-old son piped up, and asked "You mean like discipline+niceness=good teaching?" I said, "Yeah, something like that."
posted by No Robots at 10:26 AM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Tomorrowful: "Of course, once your better-educated kids enter the workforce, you make that $180 Billion back in a hurry."

Also from McKinsey: closing US achievement gap internally increases GDP by up to $640 billion / year; closing achievement gap vis a vis other nations increases GDP by up to $2.3 trillion / year.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:28 AM on September 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


+1 for cultural respect. Better pay obviously comes first, but the fact that in North America they're treated like cheap babysitters or denigrated as failed intellectuals doesn't help matters.
posted by LMGM at 10:33 AM on September 20, 2010 [12 favorites]


My daughter had long thought she would become a math teacher. Last semester at college, she did a round of interning at a local school. That experience turned her completely against teaching. She simply didn't want to put herself through the crap she saw the teachers dealing with daily. Too much politics, too much babysitting, too many asshole parents.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:46 AM on September 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


What do you do if the "top third" don't want to be teachers? At the end of the day, you still have to be a teacher, no matter how much you get paid and how professional the work environment.
posted by smackfu at 10:46 AM on September 20, 2010


Well, this is about recruiting from the top third, not drafting them.
posted by hippybear at 10:49 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tomorrowful: Fun comparison: Just being in Afghanistan costs us $72 Billion every year.

Wait, is my US education failing me or does fun mean something different these days?

Seeing numbers like that make me appreciate my friends who are public school teachers, could certainly be making more money somewhere else for far less work, and would definitely be considered "top third" much more. (And feel slightly bad about myself.)

I really can't see how Americans don't care more about this and do more about it. Sometimes I think it's just because school systems are funded locally (therefore, "other schools aren't our problem"), but that seems too simple.

We can (and have) debated why these problems exist. (As the son of two teachers I will respectively keep my mouth closed on teacher union issues because I'm too close to the issue to not take it personally.) But I'm seriously curious why people around here think it continues to happen? Is it just because everybody can blame it on someone else?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:52 AM on September 20, 2010


After the recent health care reform debacle, can you imagine how "school reform" legislation would turn out?
posted by ennui.bz at 10:53 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


My best friend is Korean, and spent his grade ten year in Korea. In gym class, the gym teacher had them form a circle around one particularly clumsy student. Then the gym teacher beat the student senseless with the rest of the students preventing him from fleeing.

So yeah, maybe not the best model to copy.
posted by fatbird at 10:56 AM on September 20, 2010 [13 favorites]


I've heard so many horror stories about Teach For America, which does recruit solely from the top third.
posted by smackfu at 10:58 AM on September 20, 2010


One of the core problems with the public school system is the reality of middle management and out-of-control costs - you've got public school superintendents making upwards of $250K a year (in the Westchester, New York area), these people retire at 80-100% salary, go across town, and pick up another gig doing the same thing, racking up public money like it's going out of style. I have to assume that this type of game is playing out across the country every day, and it happens at the expense of the actual folks in the trenches - the teachers. Take a knife to the middle and upper management, cut down special education entitlements, and things might move in a more productive direction.
posted by dbiedny at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh, and I did find it interesting that in the full report, they mention that teachers used to be better because the top-third women couldn't get any better job than teaching.
posted by smackfu at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2010 [14 favorites]


But I'm seriously curious why people around here think it continues to happen? Is it just because everybody can blame it on someone else?

Well, I think part of it is a basic distrust of "the intellectual" which started to rise during the 60s as part of a backlash against a lot of university professors' involvement with the counter culture. Their actual involvement was probably overstated (although there have been some very high-profile cases). Over the decades since, we continually have people of learning showing up on the news as being people who are "forcing our kids to learn things we don't want them to", or who are "espousing theories about X, Y, or Z which make us uncomfortable", or whatever else. The response has been to try to discredit not only those who are being featured as "freaky intellectual of the week", but also to try to undermine the general culture's appreciation of learning and teaching.

Until we solve this problem, so aptly represented on the current cultural stage by popular figures such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, and actually reintegrate the idea that learning and a life of the mind are beneficial qualities and not somehow dangerous or creepy or weird, we probably won't place the kind of human or monetary investment into education that we need to truly be a successful country.
posted by hippybear at 11:04 AM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


smackfu: "I've heard so many horror stories about Teach For America, which does recruit solely from the top third."

Plural of anecdote is not data, etc, etc.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:05 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Indonesia there is no teacher certification and any college graduate automatically qualifies to be a teacher. The result: Indonesia is at or near the bottom of the G 20 countries in every aspect of student performance.
posted by Xurando at 11:06 AM on September 20, 2010


I've heard so many horror stories about Teach For America, which does recruit solely from the top third.

I don't know if your horror stories are representative or not, but even if they are, we can't really generalize. First-year teachers everywhere probably suffer because of their lack of experience, and those are people who have chosen teaching as a profession rather than as a short commitment.
posted by callmejay at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2010


Teaching conditions in South Korean schools seem to be terrible.

I have a (American) friend who worked in S. Korea for a year and she can confirm that it was really a pretty awful working environment. (link to her blog posts on the subject)
posted by sonika at 11:09 AM on September 20, 2010


Teachers have weirdly structured power over a kids. First they can make the kids parents mad at them maybe. That's probably the most useful power but it is entirely dependent on a random human being (the parent) exercising it for the teacher in a constructive way. Second they can eventually dramatically impact future wages. Like every year of school you go through your teacher can probably influence your future wages for your whole life by a couple percentage points. That's crazy powerful! But it is a power that mainfests like 10 years away! And it is used on kids that have a hard time going to sleep on christmas eve because they can't wait 8 hours to get presents. Because 8 hours is a long time to them! It is in the parent's interest to totally have you use this power in a way that bennefits their kids no matter what (if they are paying attention). You can also like shame a kid in his peer group maybe depending on what it is and how things work and make the kid bored for a while maybe. Pretty weak stuff.

It's got to be hard to do your job when the game is this rigged against you. Where the only person who actually weilds the sort of immidiate power over a kid that actually influences behavior is logically going to be resentful of the (marginal) life ruining power of judgement that goes along with it. Good luck with that.
posted by I Foody at 11:10 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


smackfu: "I've heard so many horror stories about Teach For America, which does recruit solely from the top third."

Plural of anecdote is not data, etc, etc.


Well-and TFA recruits tourists from the top third -- it's like a fancy post-collegiate fellowship, even if the day-to-day is gritty. TFA teachers generally are not there because they really plan to be career teachers (speaking broadly).

That said, they do good work and I'm glad they exist. Not only do they staff tough schools with talented teachers, but they're making real contributions to the social science of teaching. They track their teachers and follow the paths of their students' achievement. It's important stuff we need to know. Pretty good Atlantic story.
posted by grobstein at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2010


After the recent health care reform debacle, can you imagine how "school reform" legislation would turn out?

Yes, I can.

A set of local school placement exchanges would be set up that provide the "opportunity" to shop for schools if your employer doesn't pay for your kid's education. Oh, and all of these schools? They're all for-profit schools, where the goal is to make money, not to educate your children. And you're required to pay them. Forget about setting up a local co-op with neighbors to form a community school: the laws, regulations and fees associated with creating one make it prohibitive for all but large corporations. But it's ok, because we would get subsidies, I mean vouchers, to help us in our required payments to Edu, Inc.

And the Democrats would eat it up. The perfect is the enemy of the good! Reform is incremental!
posted by formless at 11:15 AM on September 20, 2010 [16 favorites]


But I'm seriously curious why people around here think it continues to happen?

And I seriously assert that the issue is:

1) Cultural framing from the outside (e.g. The "little red schoolhouse" effect).

2) Cultural framing from the inside (e.g. "Our job depends on our heroism, not our technical capabilities and achievements").

Think about this. Every fall Saturday, there are nationally televised college football games. As part of the television contract, each university gets an allotment of television commercial time, which they devote to recruiting prospective students and donors. Here's an example.

So, the game is a giant advertisement itself, we get that.

But what do the schools choose to focus on when they're not focusing on sports pageantry?

They promote how cutting edge they are. They show science labs. Libraries. Earnest young minds in thoughtful discussion with professors about big ideas.

So ...

When was the last time a teacher's union told you about a teacher getting his/her masters ... when it wasn't framed as a gripe? Don't tell me a story about an underpaid hero that stands and delivers to dangerous minds. Don't get me wrong -- they're great people. Salt of the earth. But that's the problem.

Break the mold. Tell me a story that goes, "Hey, you can't do this job because you're just not smart enough."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Teachers have weirdly structured power over a kids. First they can make the kids parents mad at them maybe. That's probably the most useful power but it is entirely dependent on a random human being (the parent) exercising it for the teacher in a constructive way. Second they can eventually dramatically impact future wages. Like every year of school you go through your teacher can probably influence your future wages for your whole life by a couple percentage points. That's crazy powerful!

The problem is that this power that you mention is only potential power. My uncle is a high school math teacher and recently taught an AP Calculus course - he was not allowed to run the course for a second semester because the parents complained to the principal that he was undergrading their kids. So, essentially, he was forced by his administration to give the kids higher grades than they deserved and was further disciplined by not being given the chance to run the class again.

Parents, not teachers, seem to be running the public schools in the US. Teachers go "too far" and the parents step in and complain to the administration. Enough complaints and the teachers end up teaching to the parents' demands. It's a problem. Clearly the parents are worried by the impact that low grades and poor school performance will have on their kids - which is a totally cromulent concern - but the problem is that in a lot of cases, the blame is shifted to the teacher rather than the student needing to take responsibility for better test scores and such.
posted by sonika at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2010


And teacher's unions aren't helping this, either. Still framing their work as a "calling," rather than a craft for skilled, educated professionals.
[citation needed]
posted by delmoi at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2010


A friend who studies education in America said that the system would make a remarkable
change simply by closing down all departments of College Of Education within universities.


So, yes and no. Would it be sensible to encourage more non-education majors to go into teaching? Of course; some of my best teachers started their careers in research or industry, or were concurrently teaching and doing research in their fields. On the other hand, we do need people whose career is the study of pedagogy, otherwise we'll be stuck in just a slightly different rut than we're in now.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:23 AM on September 20, 2010


When I hear folks discuss this problem, including in this thread, it always sounds like there's a shortage of qualified teacher candidates, and that the teacher job market is hungry for new entrants.

Is that true? If a "top third" banker or lawyer or engineer or whatever other private sector professional of the sort Finland would have recruited to begin with wanted to jump ship and become a teacher, could he readily do it (after receiving whatever certification is required)? Or would he spend years in the job hunt and ultimately have to relocate to Indiana?

What are the barriers to entry?

Honest, totally non-rhetorical question.
posted by eugenen at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2010


There seems to be consensus on some of these points. There was a great article in American Educator -- a publication of the American Federation of Teachers, but very focused on good social science -- explaining why Singapore was at the top of mathematics education. I've linked to the article here. Singapore supplies a reasonably good comparison and potential model for the United States since it is culturally diverse and since classes are conducted in English. (Of course, there are many differences between the two nations, but it's a better model than most other top-performing nations).

I haven't reread the article, but as I remember it the whole structure of training, evaluation and compensation in Singapore rewarded excellence, while remaining humane. Successful students are recruited to the teaching profession early, and are given full scholarships to train to be a teacher. They are evaluated early, and encouraged to seek other employment if it turns out that they are not likely to grow to be good teachers. Note that this evaluation starts early, rather than as a make-or-break "tenure" decision after their education is complete and they have been working for several years. Teachers starting salaries in Singapore are comparable to those of engineers.

Massachusetts has a very successful public education system when compared internationally, at least according to some research I've seen. So maybe other states can adopt some of these lessons.
posted by ferdydurke at 11:25 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


When was the last time a teacher's union told you about...
When was the last time a teachers union told you anything? I think I've seen a teachers union rep like once. And all i remember her saying about education was that there wasn't any difference between the firing rates of unionized and non-unionized teachers (since there's all this griping about not being able to fire teachers - but in fact non-unionized teachers are not fired very often either)

Seriously, where is all this coming from? It sounds like you're talking about some right-wing mythology of what a teacher's union might say, rather then what they actually do say.
Break the mold. Tell me a story that goes, "Hey, you can't do this job because you're just not smart enough."
Compare the number of teachers to the number of rocket scientists, or surgeons. Given the number of teachers needed, picking the 'best and brightest' simply isn't an option when you need tens of millions of people.
posted by delmoi at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2010


As a counterpoint to the argument for top 1/3 teachers, I attended a university known for it's education program for a while, and I was actually pleasantly surprised by the advanced level of the teaching curriculum. I was taking number theory and abstract algebra courses and College of Education students were required to take math at that level. Passing an advanced math course is nothing to laugh at, and most of the future teachers were doing great for it not really being their preferred field.

Although research on Teach for America has shown that their impact is equal or greater than normal accredited teachers.
posted by formless at 11:27 AM on September 20, 2010


I haven't reread the article, but as I remember it the whole structure of training, evaluation and compensation in Singapore rewarded excellence, while remaining humane. Successful students are recruited to the teaching profession early, and are given full scholarships to train to be a teacher.
And there's the whole dumping underperforming students out of the system entirely, thus (of course) boosting across the board scores. If you don't test stupid kids, average scores are going to be pretty good!
posted by delmoi at 11:27 AM on September 20, 2010


This probably a good place to point out that Adrian Fenty's recent loss in the election for DC mayor (i.e., in the Democratic primary, the winner of which obviously will win the general), was in large part because of the election turning into a referendum on the school reform that he and Michelle Rhee had been trying to push through. According to Ben Smith at Politico, the national AFT put $1M into the election to knock Fenty off.

One of the cornerstones of the Fenty/Rhee reform project was to try to create a career/performance track for teachers that was more like a typical white-collar professional's: more highly compensated, but with no tenure, and subject to annual performance reviews and the possibility of removal for poor performance through a much simpler process. Needless to say the union fought it tooth and nail.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


And all i remember her saying about education was that there wasn't any difference between the firing rates of unionized and non-unionized teachers (since there's all this griping about not being able to fire teachers - but in fact non-unionized teachers are not fired very often either)

That, by itself, is meaningless. It could well be that all the unionized teachers are terrible but aren't fired often because of union protections, while all the non-unionized teachers are amazing and aren't fired often because they're amazing.
posted by jedicus at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2010


When was the last time a teacher's union told you about a teacher getting his/her masters ... when it wasn't framed as a gripe?

Disclosure: I'm a member of a local belonging to the American Federation of Teachers, though I teach at a University, not in primary education.

As I said above, Massachusetts has a public education system that - at least in mathematics education - ranks near the top when compared both nationally and internationally. It also has a strong teachers union. By contrast, the southeastern United States has weak or non-existent teachers unions and states in that area tend to rank low.

Now, I'm NOT saying that teacher's unions improve primary education. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. And certainly other variables account for the difference between the success of various states. But that's the point. If you want to improve the education system, union presence is not a major variable. Even assuming that teachers unions hurt children's education (and I suspect the opposite), other factors are more important, and it's those other factors that we should address first, if we really care to improve the system.

I also have many "stand and deliver" stories about the public grade school teachers who are educating my children. If you won't accept those anecdotes, I'm not sure that I should accept your anecdotes about teachers griping about getting a master's degree.
posted by ferdydurke at 11:39 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


What do you do if the "top third" don't want to be teachers?

If you paid teachers enough, you'd get plenty of great people competing for teaching positions, and respect for the position would go way up as better people chose to teach rather than to stand on the sidelines and complain about teachers from their comfortable places as software engineers and the like.
posted by pracowity at 11:40 AM on September 20, 2010


I think it's hilarious that people who believe themselves liberal have been duped into anti-union whining by the right, using a mix of Don't You Love Your Kids and Look What The Foreigners Are Doing.

Did I say hilarious? I meant something less kind.
posted by mobunited at 11:40 AM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]



When was the last time a teacher's union told you about a teacher getting his/her masters ... when it wasn't framed as a gripe? Don't tell me a story about an underpaid hero that stands and delivers to dangerous minds. Don't get me wrong -- they're great people. Salt of the earth. But that's the problem.


Yeah, I used to agree with this, until I learned that in Germany kids only go to school for half a day. The structure of institutions often matters far more than the quality or lack thereof of the members of that institution.

Note also that in Germany, there is not endless opportunity for rationalization of poor performance. In Germany, they don't just divide kids into different classes based on their performance, they divide them into different schools where they teach different things. In the fifth grade. And the critical factor is performance. How well did the student do on exams, etc., not how smart are they based on IQ or some other bullshit.

(See also, France.)

Those places have had those institutions in place for decades, at least most of the 20th century. Look at the intellectual output of Germany and France in the 20th century. The system is designed to specialize.

In the US, the system serves one purpose: to mass product the middle class. When education in the US fails, it fails because the pupil didn't become a worker or a consumer. It is not said to fail because most of the pupils have confused propaganda or ideology with knowledge. It is not said to fail when "good students" graduate with no idea of what they want to do or why they worked so hard. It is not said to fail when students and teachers alike believe the role of education is to prepare them for a job.

US education fails because it has produces American society the way it is right now. It has produced a nation where people get their news from Fox News on one hand or Comedy Central on the other. It has produced a nation of consumers whose minds are riddled with cognitive dissonace like cracks on shattered glass. It is not the fault of people in the system. It's the fault of the structure of the system itself.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:40 AM on September 20, 2010 [36 favorites]


Good line from that Atlantic article:

The great teacher serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.
posted by memebake at 11:41 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


What do you do if the "top third" don't want to be teachers?

Most human beings respond well to incentives.

you've got public school superintendents making upwards of $250K a year (in the Westchester, New York area), these people retire at 80-100% salary, go across town, and pick up another gig doing the same thing, racking up public money like it's going out of style. I have to assume that this type of game is playing out across the country every day

Not really. The thing that makes that strategy really work is having lots and lots and LOTS of very small school districts, each of which is at least notionally fully independent. In lots of the US, schools are run at the county level.

Westchester County, pop. 950000, has *googles* 47 school districts. Miami/Dade County, FL, pop 2.5M, has one. That degree of unification is uncommon, but then so is the degree of fragmentation of NY school districts.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2010


. There was a great article in American Educator -- a publication of the American Federation of Teachers, but very focused on good social science -- explaining why Singapore was at the top of mathematics education.

The stuff you cited about how potential teachers are identified and supported early makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, a few months ago I read a book that looked into the reasons for declining birth rates in various places, and one place the book looked at was Singapore. (It might have been The Coming Population Crash.) One reason given by adult women for not having children was that their own childhoods were so miserable they couldn't bring themselves to put a child through it. They were specifically talking about the extremely rigorous, rigid education, with hours of tutoring on top of six long days each week in school that they had endured. They did not feel that they could have children and choose not to subject them to that level of educational activity, because it is both expected, and required for success. So they chose not to have children.

I'm not defending the American educational system, God knows. But I think we should be careful about the models we look to for ideas about how to improve it, and careful about making comparisons cross-culturally as well.
posted by not that girl at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


the general culture's appreciation of learning and teaching

As displayed in the popular proverb, "Them that can do, them that can't teach." Contempt for education and educators goes way back in the American psyche.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:47 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait a sec. McKinsey Global Institute? As in the McKinsey and Co, the right wing business think take that advised the insurance industry to defraud clients hit by Katrina? That produces studies like this to justify attacks on current teacher salaries and benefits?

Yeah, fuck that.

Hey Metafilter, can we start putting attributions and context for future think tank vomit, plzkthx?
posted by mobunited at 11:48 AM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


So according to this there were just under 150 million workers in America in 2008. Working off that number it would cost us about $1.50 more per person.

Where do I sign up? Heck, I'm feeling generous I'll pay $5.
posted by oddman at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2010


It does say McKinsey right in the post.
posted by smackfu at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2010


Given the number of teachers needed, picking the 'best and brightest' simply isn't an option when you need tens of millions of people.

Tens of millions? "Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and secondary school teachers, held about 3.5 million jobs in 2008." (Bureau of Labor Statistics). About 1.7 million people graduate with a bachelor's degree each year and 650,000 with a master's (Department of Education and again). Taking the top third gives 783,000 people. Assuming we could coax a quarter of those into going into education, that's almost 200,000 people per year. We could completely replace the current teacher cohort in under 20 years.

That's unrealistically fast, of course, given retirement rates, but if we were serious about it we would buy out underperforming and uncommitted teachers (How do you know they're uncommitted? Because they take the buyout).
posted by jedicus at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2010


It does say McKinsey right in the post.

I mean context that includes the fact that said think tank is an arm of a management consulting firm focused on stripping teachers of benefits for raw economic advantage. You could also note that they told AT&T cell phones would never catch on in the 80s too, but that wouldn't be topical except where it notes that this firm routinely has no idea what the fuck it is talking about.
posted by mobunited at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


Note also that in Germany, there is not endless opportunity for rationalization of poor performance. In Germany, they don't just divide kids into different classes based on their performance, they divide them into different schools where they teach different things. In the fifth grade. And the critical factor is performance.

There are serious, serious flaws to the German education system. Notably, that if you don't do well on your exams at age ten, you don't even have a chance at going to University.

There are a lot of things that the German schools do right - but I've experienced them both first and second hand (in addition to my family members in the US who are teachers, I have family in Germany who are also teachers) and there are some really pretty large downsides to the way the system is structured. I spent several months in a German Gymnasium after high school and it's a brutal, brutal system. Not really in terms of the amount of work done, which was comparable to my private US high school, but in terms of the amount of pressure.

(Also, "half day" is a bit of a misnomer as I seem to recall that although formal classes ended at noon, there were a lot of activities and such in the afternoons. Most kids went to school in the morning and then came back for more studying. And there was school on Saturdays.)

I think it's a positive, not a negative, aspect of the US education system that you have the chance to go to college simply by finishing high school. In Germany, not only do you have to get into the right middle school at age 10, but even if you finish Gymnasium, if you don't pass the Abitur (which you have exactly one shot at), you're fucked. I know people who were in this situation - prepared for 19 years (mind you, they have 13 grades, not 12) and couldn't go to college because they got two points off of their Abitur. Brutal, brutal system.

Maybe it "works," but it's not perfect and I don't see the US emulating it as any kind of vast "improvement."
posted by sonika at 11:58 AM on September 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think one of the real problems is, unfortunately, the people. We, the people (the parents, the students, and the teachers, too, to an extent). We are lazy, unintelligent, selfish, greedy, and simply not equipped as a people to construct a successful society. This is the same reason our political system is ineffective and pathetic.

Why this is, I don't know, but I'm beginning to despair. I know this is awful misanthropy, but honestly, I think I may be right -- there's no way better teachers are going to solve the problem when the whole culture is infected with these fundamental character flaws.
posted by diocletian at 12:03 PM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I used to agree with this, until I learned that in Germany kids only go to school for half a day. The structure of institutions often matters far more than the quality or lack thereof of the members of that institution.

That may not last long. Ganztagsschule is being experimented with. There are about 6400 all day schools in Germany, which amounts to about 15% of students. The move was prompted in part by the fact that Germany was scoring pretty badly in the PISA testing of students in OECD countries.

Note also that in Germany, there is not endless opportunity for rationalization of poor performance. In Germany, they don't just divide kids into different classes based on their performance, they divide them into different schools where they teach different things. In the fifth grade.

This, too, is a target of reform.
posted by jedicus at 12:04 PM on September 20, 2010


Yeah, I used to agree with this, until I learned that in Germany kids only go to school for half a day. The structure of institutions often matters far more than the quality or lack thereof of the members of that institution.

Yeah, but they go for 220 days a year, compared to 180 in the US. German mothers are also expected to be at home for their children:

NEUÖTTING, Germany — Manuela Maier was branded a bad mother. A Rabenmutter, or raven mother, after the black bird that pushes chicks out of the nest. She was ostracized by other mothers, berated by neighbors and family, and screamed at in a local store.

JUDGED AND BERATED Manuela Maier in front of a painting of her Bavarian town. She felt ostracized after signing up her 9-year-old for lunch and afternoon classess — and then returning to work. “I was told: ‘Why do you have children if you can’t take care of them?’” she said.
Her crime? Signing up her 9-year-old son when the local primary school first offered lunch and afternoon classes last autumn — and returning to work.


So there's a lot more going on here than can be neatly summed up in a comparison of German models vs. the US. I don't think the example of German kids going to school only half a day somehow means that their quality of education is therefore better, it does demonstrate that the culture is structured in a way that allows for this, and that's it.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:07 PM on September 20, 2010


Yes, I can.

A set of local school placement exchanges would be set up that provide the "opportunity" to shop for schools if your employer doesn't pay for your kid's education. Oh, and all of these schools? They're all for-profit schools, where the goal is to make money, not to educate your children. And you're required to pay them. Forget about setting up a local co-op with neighbors to form a community school: the laws, regulations and fees associated with creating one make it prohibitive for all but large corporations. But it's ok, because we would get subsidies, I mean vouchers, to help us in our required payments to Edu, Inc.

And the Democrats would eat it up. The perfect is the enemy of the good! Reform is incremental!


and then in order to get 60 senators to vote for the subsidies, Congress would strong-arm the college board into creating an "AP Creation Science" sequence.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2010


mobunited: "I mean context that includes the fact that said think tank is an arm of a management consulting firm focused on stripping teachers of benefits for raw economic advantage."

Difficult to see how a study which explicitly claims that better working conditions and salaries up to $150,000 / year for teachers are the best ways to fix education is interested in doing that.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:17 PM on September 20, 2010


The top third of 'high school students headed to college' - which means, in the US, the top 1/18th of students period. The group they talk about is still in the top third of everyone (that 14-22% range), because in the US, only 1 in 6 people attend university still. (statistic from Dr. Dwight Allen).

The report, what I read of it, was a poorly written, poorly formatted bit of hype and a good deal of nonsense, using numbers out of context to make a point that everyone already understands is good but is something we are already doing.

Someone wrote:

One of the core problems with the public school system is the reality of middle management and out-of-control costs - you've got public school superintendents making upwards of $250K a year (in the Westchester, New York area), these people retire at 80-100% salary, go across town, and pick up another gig doing the same thing, racking up public money like it's going out of style. I have to assume that this type of game is playing out across the country every day, and it happens at the expense of the actual folks in the trenches - the teachers. Take a knife to the middle and upper management, cut down special education entitlements, and things might move in a more productive direction.

How is this even relevant? Seriously - 250k a year is a 'core problem'? Give me a break. My city's school system has a budget of 685 million dollars a year (Virginia Beach, VA). I bet Westchester County's budget is bigger. Even then - that's less than a tenth of a percent. 0.1% is a 'Core Problem'?

Here's some core problems: combative parents being enabled by political nonsense. Curricula being designed by persons without working knowledge of the classroom environment. Curricula having 'pacing guides' which fail to take into account the simple fact that not everyone learns everything at the same rate. 10% of the annual instructional time being used for statewide assessments due to a ridiculous push by persons motivated by political nonsense to 'hold teachers accountable.' (Like they weren't before). Parents and students not being sold on the importance of education because they're taught now from an early age to idolize statistical outliers and the idle wealthy. Myths trumpeting the non-essential nature of education (grandpa joe bob did just fine back in his day without a highschool diploma, working down at the fac'try). Subcultural groups actively interfering in the quality of education due to dogmatic concerns. Important success criteria being ignored (such as morale, general facility, classroom management, and curriculum implementation). A lack of broad spectrum support for education (something the cold war and space race gave us).

Core concerns, there's a brick of them. I teach 7th grade science and have for 8 years now. I worked as a tax collector and in publishing before this.

You want to fix something? Fix those things and don't worry about some jerkwad middle manager gaming the system. He'll be dead soon and it won't be a problem.
posted by Fuka at 12:18 PM on September 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


That, by itself, is meaningless. It could well be that all the unionized teachers are terrible but aren't fired often because of union protections, while all the non-unionized teachers are amazing and aren't fired often because they're amazing.
That seems really unlikely. And anyway the stats were comparing two entire states, one where teachers were unionized, and another where they were not. Now it maybe that if you look at all the states, unionized teachers do get fired less often then non-unionized.

But the point I was making was that I don't "hear" from teachers unions very often at all. So if someone says "when was the last time you heard a teachers union say X" you have to ask the follow-up "When was the last time you heard a teachers union say anything at all?"
It has produced a nation of consumers whose minds are riddled with cognitive dissonace like cracks on shattered glass.
You don't actually know what cognitive dissonance is, do you? (Hint: it's not holding conflicting ideas)
posted by delmoi at 12:29 PM on September 20, 2010


There are a lot of different reasons why things don't work, but generally speaking there are only a few reasons behind the success of a certain model. Rather than focusing on all the negative, why not instead simply examine what works, and why?

Why do Finland's schools get the best results?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:30 PM on September 20, 2010


So according to this there were just under 150 million workers in America in 2008. Working off that number it would cost us about $1.50 more per person.

Erm. 180 billion/150 million = $1200 per person.
posted by desjardins at 12:46 PM on September 20, 2010


That seems really unlikely. And anyway the stats were comparing two entire states, one where teachers were unionized, and another where they were not. Now it maybe that if you look at all the states, unionized teachers do get fired less often then non-unionized.

It may feel really unlikely, but it's still meaningless. Adding that it was comparing two different states doesn't bolster the argument much. There would need to be controls for confounders like experience, education level, pay, working conditions, etc. Maybe the study was methodologically sound. I don't know.

I'm not saying the conclusion you drew was necessarily wrong, just that the evidence offered was extremely weak and came from an admittedly biased source.
posted by jedicus at 12:59 PM on September 20, 2010


desjardins, that's just a decimal error. pshah.

More seriously, really would be willing to pay my fair share of that.
posted by oddman at 1:04 PM on September 20, 2010


Difficult to see how a study which explicitly claims that better working conditions and salaries up to $150,000 / year for teachers are the best ways to fix education is interested in doing that.

Your policy wonking, it is not as l33t as you think it is. See, if you ransack the public system with the argument that current teachers are wasting what should pay an elite you make the public system unsustainable and drive an initiative for charter schools and school vouchers, under the open assumption that only privatized systems can afford these teachers, and the unspoken assumption that anybody who can't afford placement even with a voucher has children who can go fuck themselves.
posted by mobunited at 1:05 PM on September 20, 2010


But the point I was making was that I don't "hear" from teachers unions very often at all. So if someone says "when was the last time you heard a teachers union say X" you have to ask the follow-up "When was the last time you heard a teachers union say anything at all?"

I don't know about where you are, but in my area, every time the local paper does an article on "Our Failing Schools" which is fairly often because in a nation of crap education systems, the ones are around here are pretty crap, they almost always have quotes from the union rep or president.
posted by madajb at 1:10 PM on September 20, 2010


Do you have local school budget votes? That's when we hear from the unions.
posted by smackfu at 1:14 PM on September 20, 2010


This probably a good place to point out that Adrian Fenty's recent loss in the election for DC mayor was in large part because of the election turning into a referendum on the school reform that he and Michelle Rhee had been trying to push through.

Eh, I dunno, I think that's overselling the education angle in Fenty's loss. Fenty is generally seen as out of touch, aloof and abrasive, and he expected his "good works" to carry him to victory. Once he realized that he was going to get trounced because a lot of people disliked him personally, there was a flurry of glad handing and promises to do better, but the fact is that he just didn't go after the job like he wanted it.
posted by electroboy at 1:17 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


mobunited: " See, if you ransack the public system with the argument that current teachers are wasting what should pay an elite you make the public system unsustainable and drive an initiative for charter schools and school vouchers, under the open assumption that only privatized systems can afford these teachers, and the unspoken assumption that anybody who can't afford placement even with a voucher has children who can go fuck themselves."

If you read upthread and RTFA, you'll note both that the systems the US is being compared to have neither of those things and that the kind of system we're talking about is incredibly affordable. The problem with unspoken assumptions is that they're utterly difficult to verify unless you operate under the assumption that everyone who disagrees with you about something does so out of malice or hatred.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:40 PM on September 20, 2010


Yeah, obviously an election doesn't hinge on one single issue, and Fenty had his shortcomings when it came to retail politics - but I definitely think that of all of the policy issues that influenced the election, school reform was far and away the biggest. For that matter, a huge part of the reason that Fenty was seen as "out of touch, aloof and abrasive" was fallout from the way that he and Rhee went about implementing school reform.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:51 PM on September 20, 2010


If you read upthread and RTFA, you'll note both that the systems the US is being compared to have neither of those things and that the kind of system we're talking about is incredibly affordable.

McKinsey analysts know that the chances of the school funding structure being fundamentally changes to accomodate this sort of thing within a socialized framework is zero, so there's no risk of diluting that plank.

The problem with unspoken assumptions is that they're utterly difficult to verify unless you operate under the assumption that everyone who disagrees with you about something does so out of malice or hatred.

McKinsey and Co. and malicious fuckers. This is a matter of public record. They are specifically malicious fuckers to teachers, so this is also no invention. Beyond that, I live in Ontario. I saw this playbook in the 90s, but in our case, the minister serving private interests was caught on camera saying he was going to "Create a useful crisis." The inclined me to believe that what is "unspoken" is actually being spoken somewhere else, and leads me to be pretty sure what it is, coupled as it is with the same crying about teacher quality and implications that unions are to blame.

When fuckers who fuck with teachers make the same arguments used to previously fuck with teachers, it is not a wild flight of fancy to assume that some fucking is afoot.
posted by mobunited at 1:54 PM on September 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


You don't actually know what cognitive dissonance is, do you? (Hint: it's not holding conflicting ideas)
posted by delmoi at 3:29 PM on September 20


Hint: yes I do. It's the uncomfortable feeling or tension associated with holding or confronting two conflicting ideas at the same time, which needs to get resolved. It is the basis of anxiety. The primary dissonances in that are deliberately unresolved in US education are (a) the conflict of science with religious belief, and (b) the conflict of newly acquired social or historical facts with ideology or political biases.

The dominant mode of resolution of cognitive dissonance in the US is distraction--namely through escapism (television, pop culture) and shopping (collectively, consumption). The fact that the US depends on consumption is why there is absolutely zero institutional emphasis on resolving these inevitable anxieties through further investigation or analysis. We "teach the controversy", not the "truth". We rely on mainstream views of history, and designate others as alternative.

Also, I'm not suggesting that Germany's model is the ne plus ultra of childhood education. I am suggesting that there may be some merit to society in segregating kids by performance and teaching them different things, understanding that this may reduce future choices for individuals. However, the current US system lets anyone go to university provided they are willing to spend the money, the result of which is that there are hundreds of universities whose primary focus is collecting money.

Neither is perfect, but I'm inclined to believe that Germany is probably closer to the ideal than the average US public school system.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:23 PM on September 20, 2010


I am suggesting that there may be some merit to society in segregating kids by performance and teaching them different things, understanding that this may reduce future choices for individuals.

The problem with this is that sorting nine year olds by "performance" is almost completely equivalent to just sorting them by their parents' socioeconomic status directly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:35 PM on September 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


And then there's always homeschooling, or better yet unschooling. This from a part time public school teacher and mother of four. Three home/unschooled (one did graduate from college back east two years ago) and the fourth a committed schoolgoer all the way from K to 6 (now).

The debate rages on and the issues remain the same.

If you really want to know what's going on minute by minute you have to be there.

If you entrust your children to others for the most part of their waking day you either have confidence or a superior capacity to suspend your disbelief. Either way, you don't know what's really going on. Admit it and pick up the pieces, will you?
posted by emhutchinson at 2:58 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you really want to know what's going on minute by minute you have to be there.

If you entrust your children to others for the most part of their waking day you either have confidence or a superior capacity to suspend your disbelief. Either way, you don't know what's really going on. Admit it and pick up the pieces, will you?


I guess I don't understand this mindset. What are the imagined horrors which face children while they're out of sight of their parents? I worked in an elementary school for 5 years, and never once had any inkling of anything untoward going on. Do you suspect physical or emotional abuse? Untoward topics being discussed? Exposure to questionable ideas?
posted by hippybear at 4:43 PM on September 20, 2010


Exposure to questionable ideas?

That's what the home schoolers I know are worried about...or rather, they're worried about exposure to questioning ideas.

Most of what I got from public school was simply socialization. I met kids who were different from me and learned to engage with them. Learning to deal with adults in the form of the teachers and staff of the school was equally important. I sincerely doubt that home schooled kids get that, no matter how well their parents teach them the three Rs.

So far as I can see, the only way to fix the school system is going to be getting more teachers in the classrooms. The one thing that is universally successful in improving educational outcomes is reducing class size.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:15 PM on September 20, 2010


How did this become a debate about unions? The anti-union vs. anti-anti-union argument is really wasting a lot of energy in my opinion.

The suggestion that educationally successful people make better teachers than people who had only mediocre success in school makes sense to me. Teaching is very intellectually demanding work, doing it well requires serious deep thought and the ability to learn quickly from experience, to generalize from observations, to adapt, to take in and process and act on a lot of information, to make many decisions, to notice a lot. I'm not saying only people who did well in school have these qualities but a lot of the people we are recruiting to be teachers now definitely lack them.

Teaching well also requires a commitment to excellence, and recruiting top graduates is one way of ensuring you have people who are committed to excellence.

My principal recruits only people who kicked butt in college. She also looks for people who are naturally a bit competitive or perfectionistic because she knows that people like that will have the drive to get it right. And it works.
posted by mai at 5:36 PM on September 20, 2010


Why would recruiting the top 1/3 of college graduates improve K-12 education? How are the top 1/3 determined, and how did they get there? Sure it was due to hard work, but it's also due to family income and other educational opportunities outside of the public classroom. There's a reason my students in the college classes I teach are 95% white, while the high school classes I work with in the same city are only 40% white.

Those "top" graduates most likely were very good students under the current system and teaching styles, and I wonder if they are all able to think outside of their own learning style when teaching to a class of diverse abilities, cultures and learning styles. If we want to improve the education of all students, maybe recruiting the top 1/3 isn't the only answer.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 6:59 PM on September 20, 2010


Teach For America Chews Up, Spits Out Another Ethnic Studies Major
posted by ilana at 7:43 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Parents, not teachers, seem to be running the public schools in the US. Teachers go "too far" and the parents step in and complain to the administration. Enough complaints and the teachers end up teaching to the parents' demands. It's a problem. Clearly the parents are worried by the impact that low grades and poor school performance will have on their kids - which is a totally cromulent concern - but the problem is that in a lot of cases, the blame is shifted to the teacher rather than the student needing to take responsibility for better test scores and such.

It really depends upon the district. I can't speak for other districts, but where I teach, fear runs the district. Fear of an angry parent who is going to demand something ridiculous for their child ("Little Johnny has a D, but I'd really like for you to give him an A."), fear that you're going to lose your job, fear that the school isn't going to make AYP... and so on. It's not the same type of fear that I was accustomed to working in the corporate world. There, you have a certain set of demands placed upon you by your position, your department, and your boss. Those sets of demands are clearly defined. Yet in secondary education (in my experience, of course), those demands are ill-defined and shift daily. And it often seems that the hoops that we have to jump through have little or nothing to do with the ultimate goal of high school -- getting these students into post-secondary education or a meaningful vocation.

The school administrators (and the board) do everything that it takes to abide by poorly-implemented guidelines and recommendations from above and ensure that our school adheres to those policies. They're afraid for their jobs, and looking to cover their asses in as many ways as possible. Many of these mandated policies are great ideas. For example, collaborative lesson planning can allow teachers to refine strategies so we're transferring information to students in multiple ways. How is this idea implemented at my school? We have no common planning time to collaborate, and the administration subtly suggests that this collaboration should be done on your own personal time, at home.

Smaller "learning communities" to break up the student body into more manageable and cohesive groups? Ours are in name only. I think we're going to put out a newsletter for the parents. But there are no unifying activities which are meant to get students to believe that they belong in the community. Again, implemented out of fear, the fear that someone from the board will come do a walkthrough visit and see that we don't have our small learning communities properly set in place. So we put on a dog and pony show. The only thing that happens is that we waste time half-implementing excellent ideas.

There are other interesting board policies. For example, we aren't allowed to fail more than 20% of our students during any single quarter. This policy is problematic since the new students we see every year may not (in many cases, do not) have the requisite background knowledge to perform well in the course. I'm dealing with classes with students who can't add and subtract numbers. They're in high school. What happens at the end of the year is these children are passed on -- barely -- because the teacher needs to ensure that they keep their job for the next year if they're untenured, or avoid a trip down to Labor Relations for some nebulous punishment if they are tenured. There's no support from the administration; they need to keep their graduation metrics high, and expect the teachers to do so. Ultimately, you can't force failing students to do the work, even when you try to bring the parents into the process, because there's the inherent expectation that the child won't fail. Teachers are afraid to give students what they deserve, and instead we give them things that they do not deserve -- a passing grade. It's not worth the time, paperwork, effort, and stress on top of everything else.

If the child is going to fail? They transfer schools, or they go to the principal and demand to know why the child is failing. Is the teacher just a bad teacher? Or has that teacher simply tried to raise the bar so high in order to motivate students to succeed? That last bit is a rough, basic form of the TFA and TNTP philosophies. Is it any wonder why teachers recruited from non-traditional or "elite" groups fail? Speaking as one of them, we're so wrapped up in trying to make things perfect, to make the institution work, that the stress and red tape from the bureaucracy ultimately forces many of these highly effective teachers out.

In the end, the pressure is mainly on the teacher to ensure student performance, and not anyone else. If end of course test scores are low, it's obvious that the teacher just wasn't teaching well enough. We say nothing about what the socioeconomic background of the student and family are. We say nothing about how the parent failed to let their child -- or motivate their child -- to come to after-school tutoring. The teachers can't raise the bar high by themselves. They can't pursue academic rigor unless the entire community (parents, teachers, administration, and most of all students) expect enhanced rigor to be the norm. Yet those expectations can't be upholded very well when children can just transfer to a school where procedures are more lax.

One way to increase student performance is to finagle your way into smaller class sizes, which is what honors teachers can do. Too many children? Children with discipline problems? They're in an honors Algebra II section, but refuse to answer questions that involve fractions or word problems? The obvious solution is to give them such poor grades on a progress report that the students and parents try to push them into a non-honors section of the course. Maybe they won't be the 20% that's allowed to fail in the regular version of the course. Or maybe some of these students will be in that lowest 20%

There's also the fear that useful employees (note my word choice here) may be let go due to poorly performing students. We track teacher performance in Tennessee using TVAAS (Tennessee Value Added Assessment System), which links teacher performance to predicted and actual student performance on certain gateway and end of course examinations. What happens if an employee has played the political game rather well, but has a bunch of poorly performing students at the end of the year? Well, the bad students are switched out to other teachers, and good ones given to the guy with good connections. This is extremely important when you want to protect a good football coach (for example) from the yearly evaluation process.

My final point to this long, hasty, rambling response is that I think educational research takes up much time trying to find an elusive magic bullet that will solve a problem whose source isn't always centered in the school itself, but in the community around it. When parents and students see the secondary education system as the place with the monolithic problems, and not the behaviors at home which detrimentally affect the school, the families should really look to themselves to bring their best efforts to the education process.

I know that they're not. Why? The other day, a student asked if my mom did nails and made egg foo yung for lunch, simply because of the color of my skin. Those sorts of comments are what drive the "top" graduates away from teaching as a vocation; those "top" performers could easily make more money in a less stressful, less insulting environment.
posted by peeet at 9:20 PM on September 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


McKinsey and Co. and malicious fuckers. This is a matter of public record.

Yes. I remember this. The case was tried in the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor was Jam Master Jay.
posted by grobstein at 10:01 PM on September 20, 2010


There are serious, serious flaws to the German education system. Notably, that if you don't do well on your exams at age ten, you don't even have a chance at going to University.
I wish I could make this comment appear in bold or something. I don't understand why people think that this is a good thing at all. It is terrible. Imagine that having a bad day when you're 10 can have such an impact on you're future. Also, especially when you're nine or ten, there are often children who are good at some things, and not so good at others. What do you do with a child who is a genius at math, but has some trouble with spelling, or isn't that interested in geology? If you segregate children by "performance" it's all or nothing. An A+ at math and lower grade at other subjects means the child will end up at a lower end school, with no real chance of going to university, simply because it still has some trouble with a few subjects that are absolutely of no importance whatsoever for brilliant mathematicians.

(I think parents of really smart kids will do something about this. They will convince the kid that even though geology may be boring, she should learn it anyway. They will pay for tutoring for spelling lessons (because "not being good at spelling" is sometimes fixed by simply using another spelling curriculum), etc. But the main problem is not those kids, but the smart kids of less privileged parents)

From what I read, and from my conversations with American parents, I think there are a lot of terrible things about the American public school system and I'd much rather have my children at a Dutch school than at an average American public school. But still, the fact that you have one school, for all children, always seemed to be one of the good things about the American system.
posted by davar at 12:54 AM on September 21, 2010


Sorry, instead of parents of really smart kids I meant some parents of really smart kids.
posted by davar at 1:04 AM on September 21, 2010


As someone who went to public schools in the 50's and 60's, and sent a daughter to school in the 90's and 00's, I have to say that they are doing it much better now. The education is more exciting, more research-based, and more careful to adjust education to individual students.

I'm not sure why no one has noticed this.

I am a teacher, the increased blame leveled at my profession has resulted in increased pressure on administrators to come up with better "numbers," thus increased paperwork (well, computer work) on my end, as well as several new acronyms a year. Fifteen years ago I could teach and raise a toddler; these days I no longer have all that parenting to do, which is good, because I grade papers almost every night.

Teacher-bashing is not a good strategy for improving education. Unfortunately, it's a knee-jerk reaction. Look at Bill Maher's "gutsy" teacher-union bashing. Hey, brave of you, you smug bastard. Obama and his Ed Sec applauding firing teachers on the basis of their students' test scores is also pure idiocy.

My doctor friends would not like to be evaluated on how diligent their patients are about taking their medication. My public defender friends would not like to be evaluated on their win/loss ratio. When you serve the public, the "public" has to become a part of the equation. Unfortunately, there is no fair way to grade the public, just as there is no fair way to grade teachers.
posted by kozad at 8:18 PM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


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