Is It Really The Teachers?

October 14, 2010 by Geoff Nixon

Waiting For Superman is a must-see film for anyone interested in the state of US Education.  It is also fair in presenting the challenges of the US system versus the many countries that have long surpassed the US in reading, science and math, although it over-sells the charter school proposition.

It is fashionable these days to blame the teachers in America and the unions and this film has plenty of fuel to make that case.  But there are a number of other major more cultural obstacles to educational success:

  • The splintering of school districts that not only leads to incredible inefficiency as administrative systems are replicated in neighborhoods all over America, but also severely limits  the flexibility to experiment and adopt best practices.    Are we as parents ready to combine with neighboring districts to promote efficiency?
  • Individual schools really are little corporations largely dependent on the calibre of the CEO, the Principal.  Very American, potentially powerful … except that the CEO has tenure.  Are local volunteer Boards of Ed really qualified to make that call?  If they are, what motivation/accountability is there to rock the boat with tough decisions such as this?
  • American schools have become uniquely democratic with teachers pushed and pulled by all kinds of parent input, better described as interference –my son needs to learn a language,  we should have a class party for Arbor Day, can we start the day with yoga?  And then of course there is the PR effort/diversion of Open Houses, required parent access to teachers over every little thing.  Are we as parents ready to let this go?
  • American kids mostly go to school happy with their circumstances.  They are not hungry to improve their station in life and so are not as motivated to learn.  While this does not explain why Canada, Finland, Australia et al have soared past America in achievement, it does explain the relative gains in South Korea, India, even Portugal.  How can we as parents motivate our children to succeed?

Learning skills can be developed using learning software or with intense instruction, but there must also be underlying desire.  The test culture is also impacting a love of learning, and lifelong learning. Food for thought.