Not to revive an expired thread, but I was recently pointed towards a site about poverty reduction research, which contained this study summary:
The study is interesting for the parallels to some of the issues addressed (or not addressed) in the discussion over U.S. education: teacher qualifications/conditions of service, class size, test scores and basic academic preparation. It also suggests that even in a very poor context, there are incentives and tools available to improve education in a cost-effective setting.
Unsurprisingly, the bottom line seems to be:
<em>To get the most out of these teachers, implementation details matter. The biggest gains come when local school committees are empowered to effectively monitor these teachers and when extra classes are structured so as to target instruction to students’ initial achievement level.</em>
I may be cynical, but it strikes me that those are some basic principles which are often overlooked in the argument over education here.
Thanks for the long and thoughtful answer. Your comments about demographics and about your kids' ability to achieve struck a chord. The role of culture and values is a rightly sensitive one in American society, but it strikes me that there's a lot going on behind the scenes and at home that makes a difference in kids' outcomes -- maybe the decisive difference.
I still think you're letting the educational profession and bureaucracy off too lightly for their own contribution to the mess in many school systems, since educators and educational administrators are as ferociously narrow-minded an interest group -- at least in some places -- as any old-school industrial union. But I agree after reading your response to my post that there are also larger social issues that are being glossed over in the discussion about "fixing" the schools -- and holding teachers accountable for not magically fixing larger social issues is something I'd agree is unfair to teachers. Unfortunately, the standardized testing fetish is about as far as we can get until there's a more nuanced discussion of what's going on, or not going on, in our schools.
Good luck, and thanks for a thought-provoking post!