Public education is under fire as wasteful and ineffective...and a lot of support is available for those kinds of arguments.
Evaluating teachers and testing students and holding administrators accountable are all on the table. To which we should add: Adjust our expectations of schools. Of administrators. Of teachers. Of students.
No great teacher compensates for instability at home. Ideally he/she supplements, not initiates, a child's development. But ours is not an ideal world, despite our collective propensity to dwell on the fantasies.
A teacher basically deals with these agendas:
1. The ADMINISTRATORS want all paper work on time and no problems from parents
2. The PARENTS want A) constant confirmation that they are raising superior children or B) the least amount of interaction with the school as is possible
3. The STUDENTS want to pass through the day with their respective dignities intact.
Those of us who got into education to "TEACH" had to learn some other stuff to get by.
That said, there are others beside the Mayans who are bleak about Twenty-Twelve. A lot of people sense a societal fuse burning. It's time for people of conviction to step forward, ladies and gentlemen. That's you and me.
This is about more than an embarrassing fart in the limousine. We can no longer politely ignore the fact that schools NEED to CHANGE.
"Achievement compacts" tailored to individual school districts spins nicely in the media, but...really?
As we watch Jeremy Lin learn to how ball with 'Melo and Amare, the rest of us can learn something about cultures and expectations. Much of life is about opportunity....and how we prepare when it arrives. Number 17 got way better 'cause he believed he was able to get better, and when his time came, he was ready.
(They say Harvard can do that for you.)
Public schools get Asian kids ready to do well on the SAT because the individuals in the systems expect those kids to do high-level math.
Some pretty wonderful human beings with whom I worked as teachers had very limited expectations of children but didn't recognize that fact; they were simultaneously having HIGH expectations for these children in their "EXPECTED" stereotyped domains. That's what happens: The bigotry of low expectations lies at the opposite end of the continuum.
We as teachers are fallible human beings who are too often empowered to label, categorize and rank the talents and abilities of our community's youth. Much of our work is skillfully guided by influential parents who know how to access the system.
(A vast bureaucracy has sprung up to serve kids who are "special." God save us from Special Ed.)
The truth is, we need to expect that our schools--that is: the teachers, principals, coaches and secretaries--are trained to recognize the unknowable potential in ALL kids.
(...And are allowed to teach that way, Beaverton School District.)
In too many public middle and high schools, the kids who can pay for elite team memberships dominate our soccer and tennis programs. That's about coaches' egos and selling Nike gear--let Phil pay for it if it's making him rich.
Our schools can be about seeing how many community members we can get to play in weekend tournaments in the parks and schools. There are places for the elite, but they need to be removed from public schools.
And on the other side of the coin: When we expect the poor kids merely to "study hard," we will get one result--the one we have been getting. But when we expect the poor kids to become leaders, to become wealthy and successful, we will get a different, more desirable result.
Especially when they believe us.
Let's not continue the farce of forcing children to come to school to watch curiously-qualified adults assign superior status to other children. That's counter-productive to the mission of public education.
And we are a democratic society reliant on public education.
The public education reform we truly seek: A cultural shift away from schools as branding institutions for privileged kids and as factories for public school millionaires, many of whom are intentionally remote from what actually happens in a classroom.
Teachers (and the systems that ostensibly support their work) need to practice their craft with the belief that "little Jeremy" and "little LeBron" have the same inherent potential to excel in Keynesian theory and Tomahawk dunkin'.
I don't think it works that way now in enough places. It often takes the unexpected to make us self-aware about what we expect.