I watched the March 3rd Daily Show this weekend. This interview, and Ravitch's book, is interesting. I haven't actually read the book, but I've flipped through it recently at the bookstore and would like to read it in depth some time.
The Daily Show interview with Diane Ravitch
A couple funny things: first, the discussion on the education system in Finland. Over a year ago, I wrote a paper citing Finland's turn around of failing schools for one of my master's classes. I actually knew what they were talking about! In detail! This rarely happens for me. I don't read primary source articles often enough, which is why my default statement when asked about what I think on current issues is, "I don't know that much about it, I'll need to study up a bit to form an opinion."
Second, I was highly amused by Stewart's comment on how the teachers who leave work at 2:30 to go shopping with their kids are "sh*t teachers." I know this may or may not be - some of my colleagues do leave school right away, to pick up their own kids and to take care of their families (which probably includes shopping at some point in life). But I also know that these same colleagues put their kids to bed and come back to campus to work in the classroom in the evenings (it's one of the reasons why our school gates don't get locked up until 9pm from Mondays through Thursdays). From waitressing to movie theater ushering to teaching to being the CEO of a company - I believe that you really aren't working at your highest potential until there's some blood, sweat, and tears involved.
Thirdly, there ARE bad workers everywhere. This is why I frequent certain shops and gas stations. Safeway is usually better than Food 4 Less. Chevron is usually better than the local QuikMart. Tacos from a taco truck taste better than Taco Bell's. Even for fast food, Panera and the like are a cut above Subway. There are going to be bad teachers. There are going to be bad days for good teachers. There are going to be good days for bad teachers. There are going to be good teachers. Such a wide variety of situations makes a one-size-fits-all-type system rather ridiculous.
Fourth, the problems of our education system is highly interwined with the problems of our cities and towns. Poverty, crime, unemployment, a lack of community, homeless rates, division between the wealthy and the poor, race tensions, cultural and language differences. Public schools is the locus where all these things meet under one roof. And because it happens in the schoolhouse, the schoolhouse is blamed.
Last but not least: teachers are demoralized. We are wiped out. Exhausted. Broken down. We haven't been able to catch a break since NCLB began. I've experienced this too. I've just gotten lucky with my school and the demographics I teach. I can still teach Title 1 students, but in a place where I am supported by the admin, the veteran staff, and the resources of the community. I have variety in the type of students I teach, from high achieving, high SES, to low achieving, low SES, and everything in between. Despite all the frustrations, I'm constantly reminded by how fortunate I am. This really is the best first year teaching that I could have ever asked for.
Not many teachers have that same luck. Many first year teachers are thrown into an urban, segregated school with little more than warped desks and a cracked whiteboard. And they still perform the miracles that they do: the miracle of teaching a 5th grader how to read a kinder level book. The miracle of convincing 9th graders that they can acheive more than the occupations of their migrant worker parents. The miracle of managing to get through 6 hours without students from rival gangs killing each other because they were enclosed in the same room with bars over the windows.
It's no wonder the nation sees the test scores that it does. It's no wonder that 3 out of 5 teacher quit after their first 2 years.
What is a wonder: that those statistics are not any worse. I'm the first to admit that I can improve my pedagogical skills. But really, it could be worse, much, much worse. Especially if certain policy makers truly have their own way.