THE FUTURE OF ANY STATE IS THE EDUCATION OF IT'S YOUTH
Education, by which most people mean public education, is a perennial political topic in this country which paradoxically manages to have ( sometimes literally) the world's premier universities alongside some of the worst public schools in the industrial world. Those are the extremes from which too often public debate tends to generalize and extrapolate; most four year institutions are not Harvard and most public schools systems do not resemble the schools in Washington, DC. but these parameters often shape our visions of American education. Having worked in the field for years I'm a major supporter of public education while recognizing the following caveats:
There is an aggregate need for substantial improvement in curriculum and teacher training even in good public school systems.
We do not, in aggregate ( I am not talking individual schools or teachers), intellectually engage and challenge two groups of students - ethnic minorities ( excepting Asian-Americans) and the gifted.
Hostility often evidenced by intellectuals, academics and union officials toward charter schools, private education and homeschooling is a colossal mistake
School discipline - usually lack thereof - is a major factor in determining whether or not students are able to learn in a given classroom, school or school system; secondly, public relations and economics are the true determinant of a school administration's position on disciplinary issues. Not educational philosophy or ethics or even simple consistency.
Teacher training has fortunately been addressed to some extent by the " No Child Left Behind "
act which is phasing in what would seem to be the fundamental requirement that at least secondary teachers be educated in the field in which they purport to teach. If your child has ever taken a history course from an instructor who is best known to the community as " Coach"
you have some insight into why hiring unqualified people to teach major subjects is a bad idea. One of the hidden problems with American education is that the States have set up a system in which people who have college degrees in education instead of a particular discipline like science or literature form the bulk of the teaching workforce. Education degrees are useful if you want to become an administrator or a specialist who intends to work with students with learning disabilities or emotional disturbances or other problems but on a Bachelors level, making education a college major or state certification requirement deprives prospective teachers of the upper-level coursework in an actual discipline. Lacking a large enough cognitive base ( i.e. content knowledge) of their own the new teacher tends to stick to the comfort zone of the textbook and sometimes fails to recognize when the publisher has made glaring mistakes or left out critical information.
On the issue of choice and other educational alternatives to the public schools like homeschooling: In a nation of almost 300 million people public education will continue to educate the vast majority of young people for the forseeable future simply because most people are satisfied with the performance of their local school even if they are worried about education or its costs in the abstract. Instead of reacting with hostility to the outgrowth of education alternatives they should be viewed as a wake-up call that a growing segment of the public is alarmed at the state of public education and are " voting with their feet" and secondly that these initiatives are often excellent pilot programs for techniques and methods that can or should be incorporated into public school classrooms. Educational alternative programs act as a useful " safety-valve" for students who might not otherwise reach their potential or drop out. Some students for reasons of maturity or temperment are simply not cut out for a traditional public school and react better to different settings be it single-sex education, Montessori, religious, thematic academies or other educational niches. The students admitted to the Illinois Math and Science Academy
( a selective public school) for example, are simply too bright to be well served in a mainstream school, even a " good " one.
For those interested in educational reform and curriculum ideas I'm offering a set of links you might find useful or stimulating. In some cases, as with the Curriculum Project or Project Excite, I've had the pleasure of interacting with one of the primary innovators behind the program.
The Curriculum Project
Dr. Roger Taylor
Paideia and Mortimer J. Adler
National Association for Gifted Children
National Center for Education Statistics