Over the past two decades, it's become popular among, well, almost everybody to blame public schools and public school teachers for a host of problems, and then to suggest that solutions (like privatization or nationwide standardized testing) to fix those problems.
What's crazy about these solutions is that none of them come from public school teachers. This is comparable to trying to fix the healthcare system without input from physicians or trying to improve policing without asking the police force what might work better.
Not to put too fine a point on it, public school teachers are the most likely to know what each child needs and what children in general need. Here's why we should listen carefully to what public school teachers say about education:
1. Public school teachers are highly educated.
Unlike most private schools and charter schools (which have laxer hiring standards), public schools almost exclusively hire teachers who have a degree in education. In some districts, most of the teachers have a master's degree in their field.
Teaching degrees are not easy degrees to earn. They require mastery of skills ranging from planning to psychology to learning styles to classroom management and more. They also include an apprenticeship called "student teaching" in live classroom experience.
2. Public school teachers are tested and accredited.
Unlike teachers in private schools and charter schools (who, again, have laxer hiring standards), public school teachers must be accredited in the state where they're teaching. In New Hampshire, for example, teachers must pass the "Praxis," which is like the SATs on steroids.
Furthermore, public school teachers are required to take additional courses (often at their own expense and frequently during their own free time) to hone their current skills and learn new ones. Their commitment to continuing education far outstrips anything I've seen in the business world.
3. Public school teachers embrace the wisdom of crowds.
There are 3.2 million public school teachers in the United States, representing billions of hours of actual experience teaching kids. For decades, public school teachers have shared their collective knowledge through professional organization and, more recently, social media.
By contrast, the people who often set public education policy (especially at the national and state level) are politicians whose total experience with the public schools has been as a consumer. It's like having the patients run the hospital.
4. Public school teachers are extraordinarily committed.
Public school teachers must deal with 1) ignorant parents, 2) entitled parents, 3) violent parents, 4) disruptive children, 5) mentally handicapped children, 6) violent children, 7) school boards, 8) politicians, and 9) ludicrous measurement schemes (like mandated testing.)
Furthermore, most public school teachers must work many hours of unpaid overtime and spend their own money for supplies that kids need to learn. All this for a yearly salary that, even with benefits, is a fraction of what they could earn elsewhere.
5. Public school teachers are technologically savvy.
Whenever public schools come up, stupid remarks surface like "[we need] schedules, curriculums and technologies in order to replace the country's century-old high school education model." This from Steve Jobs's widow, who's never taught kids.
In fact, public schools have evolved like crazy every year and, when properly funded, incorporate technology and new ideas much faster than businesses. (I know this because I've seen both environment up close and personal).
6. Public school teachers keep your children safer.
According to the American Association of University Women, a child in the U.S. has only a 2% chance of being abused by an educator in high school. (Note: this study is widely misquoted as a "9.6% chance," a figure includes student-on-student abuse--79% of such events.)
Even that 2% figure is probably too high. In the UK,
"an incident study of 20,000 child protective referrals to social services or the police, found that less than 1 percent took place in institutional settings. Of those, 31 percent were reports of cases in some type of institutional school setting."
That's a .3 % incident rate. Even if you think the 2% figure is credible, it compares favorably with the 8.4% chance a that child will be sexually abused by family members, not to mention the 17.2% chance a child be physically abused in the home.
7. Many critics of public schools are financially motivated.
Critics of public school teachers are often wealthy folk who stand to profit if the tax dollars spent on schools are directed towards corporate profits. While there's nothing wrong with profit, taking money from children's education to pay investors is, well, kinda disgusting.
The track record of for-profit schooling is appalling. For-profit colleges, for example, have benefited investors and exploded student debt, while providing mostly useless degrees. Replicating the expensive failure of such colleges at the K-12 level is, frankly, idiotic.
What I find most frustrating about this privatization nonsense is that the success of the United States--including our primacy in high tech--is largely the result of a public school system that's successfully educated generations of entrepreneurs.