There is a very fine post raised by Ken over at Common Sense regarding the status of public education. As usual, I had to reply and the comment makes a fine post on its own. I am pasting it here, but you may want to visit Ken's location to read his tretise laden with some very fine questions about public education:
My two cents - for what its worth:
Fine post and many challenges, Ken. The nub of it is that the trouble with public education involves the whole of society.
Where steroid laden ball players are paid exhorbinent salarys to swing a bat or toss a ball, teachers can't afford to live in the cities within which they serve. On the other hand, paying teachers more is not often on the docket for politicians, local, sate or federal because that usually involves an increase in taxation. It is mystifying why people are willing to pay more to keep prisoners and build new state of the art prisons, but can't seem to muster a few bucks per student to improve the schools. It costs more than 30K a year to house and feed and keep a prisoner. Students, on the other hand are substantially cheeper - less than 10K. Schools, good ones, keep people out of prison. go figure.
On another front, when Sun Micro Systems put up their new, brand spanking campus up in East Palo Alto, the local middle school was litterally falling down around the kids, teachers, administrators and parents. We have to ask ourselves, why is it that corporate folks wouldn't think of going into a building that they couldn't see out of the windows (as they were designed), but are willing to have the local kids founder in the dimly lit, moldy rooms that are a sad exuse for shools. What we need is capitalism with a conscience. If it is good enough for Sun, then it is good enough for the school five blocks away from the palacial spread of a campus that capitalism built.
When I was teaching Mathematics in a high school in Connecticut, and I dared to fail some students, the parents would go over my head and see if they could fudge the numbers up so little jonny or sally could at least pass out of learning fractions. I had parents outright lie for their kids and I had kids who did so many drugs over the weekend that they fell asleep in my classroom. Who's fault is that?
As you hit the nail on the head, the solution lies in the whole of the society. We need a bigger hammer, and we need everybody swinging. Unfortunately, the federal government is so distracted by politicing that we end up with poorly funded new programs (no child left behind) and underfunded programs that actually work (head start). That, my friend, is twisted. In the end, the kids suffer, and our society needs to figure out what to do with unproductive, poorly educated work force.
As you can tell, the argument is cyclical. Like the chicken and the egg questions, you have to start with one or the other, but it is best if we work on all the fronts by talking about educational reform not from the stance as a school problem, but one that is a burden on the whole of society.
Our schools are only as good as the communities within which they are embedded. If the community doesn't care, change won't happen. And, indeed it does need fixing.