My brain is fully occupied with two things right now: (1) figuring out what to put on our school choice form, and (2) my team's current status on our integration project plan. Since topic #2 is both dull (for anyone who is not on my team, and probably for some of the people on my team, too) and off limits due to confidentiality agreements and my own decision not to blog details about work... let's talk some more about education!
And specifically, let's not freak out about it.
First up, The Grumpies had a great post defending enrichment activities for kids- you know, the things that make lots of well-meaning people roll their eyes and expound about how overscheduled kids are these days. Now that I take a step back and think about it, it is pretty funny that we, as a culture, can simultaneously worry about whether our kids are getting enough challenges/enriching experiences and whether our kids are getting enough unstructured play time. And yet, we do.
Next, an article from the Nicolas Kristof in the NYTimes about the importance of teachers. I certainly agree that teachers make a big difference in kids' lives, and I don't actually disagree with the conclusion he reaches at the end of his article- that we should spend more time this election year discusing how to encourage good teaching- but I found some of his argument a little overstated. He states: "A great teacher (defined as one better than 84 percent of peers) for a
single year between fourth and eighth grades resulted in students
earning almost 1 percent more at age 28" and also quotes some figures about the impact of a bad teacher. But he glosses over a lot, no doubt partially due to the constraints of space in a NYT column. First of all, a 1% increase in income isn't really that much, particularly given what most people make at age 28. I was just one year out from grad school. If you'd judged my salary potential based on that year, you wouldn't have been impressed.
Also, kids are in school for lots of years. I actually think that most kids have a pretty good chance of coming across one or two (or more!) great teachers in that time. I had several really great teachers during my time in my average public schools. I had some mediocre teachers, too, but I can't think of one that I would consider truly "bad". And I doubt that one year with a not so great teacher spells doom, as long as the parents recognize the issue and make sure that it doesn't translate into hating school or something like that.
I'm sure most of us can look back and think of great teachers we had and a few not so great ones, too. And for the most part, we all got through our primary and secondary education, went on to college, and did fine. I'm not saying that there aren't cases where this isn't true- I'm sure there are. I'm saying that I think that for most kids, we're probably worrying more than we need to.
Which isn't to say that I think everything is hunky-dory in education land these days. I think there are serious funding problems right now, and lots of things that could be improved... but I also don't think that most public schools are anywhere near as bad as the conventional wisdom considers them to be. Take a look at GoingPublic.org for a different view on the state of public education in this country. They are very much an advocacy group, so I don't take everything they write at face value, either. (For instance, I'm not sure I see a conspiracy of moneyed interests behind the rise in charter schools.) But I think it is worth looking at their site and thinking about what they say.
I'd very much like a thorough, unbiased evaluation of the state of public education in our country. Anyone know of one?
None of this, of course, will stop me from thinking hard about our kindergarten choices. But I hope I can keep from freaking out about the situation, whether we get our first choice school or not.