The movie WAITING FOR SUPERMAN is a simplistic narrow sighted almost propaganda type of film about the US education system that among other things pooh poohs poverty and the way we fund public schools, ignores race and inequalities resulting from this, and prescribes charter schools as the answer for all that ails the American public school system.
This article I think best expresses the argument against that point of view http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/myth-charter-schools/
I want to focus on two particular parts of the ongoing debate about US education....
1.) THE ONGOING WAR AGAINST TEACHERS – The line these days is that there are a lot of bad teachers in America and that teachers in general don’t work hard enough. This is absolute nonsense! Of course critics are quick to say they don’t want to smear all teachers but the truth is by creating a system where teachers are “rewarded” for class testing scores and other items you are creating a system that may not measure the true value of a teacher. After all, rote memorization is something drill sergeants do (that’s my #2 point I’ll be getting to) .
The end result of this line of thinking is that there will be a shortage of teachers in the future if this attitude becomes implemented as public policy. There are some people who have a calling for teaching why else would you take a job with low salary (at first), long hours, heavy workload, no job security until tenure and lots of politics (teachers politics can be worse than corperate politics)? Making the job even harder with higher pressure will reduce the number of people who take teaching up as a career as there are already the above listed negative attributes of the job.
This coupled with the war against teachers’ unions, often the only thing that makes a teacher’s job liveable ensures an upcoming teacher shortage is inevitable in the current US anti-teacher climate.
I am happy I took teaching up as a career when I left the US but I never taught in the US. I do see that teachers in Malaysia are treated much better in terms of respect, salary, benefits, training etc than their US counterparts.
I’ll leave the final word to Matt Damon who des a great job here I can’t imagine comparing teaching to being a Hollywood actor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFHJkvEwyhk
2.) OVERUSE OF STANDARDIZED TESTING – The over reliance on standardized testing which is the main problem with the British system of education seems to really be a problem now in the US. It isn’t just the rote memorization of facts that create a bunch of robots spitting out dates and names without an understanding of their significance, it’s also types of essay questions that stick to pre-existing formats which actually can be “gamed”.
How do I know this? Because I saw it myself when I was teaching the IGCSE curriculum at an international school. The English essay questions followed several formats and there were any number of websites some free that gave examples on how to write the perfect essay not necessarily in terms of content but in terms of structure that can be replicated without much thought.
Even the textbooks and our lesson plan focused on how to write answers rather than understanding or building English skills (grammar etc.). Popping in the right words into a pre-existing model for a high score rather than crafting something yourself.
When I taught teenagers, I always strived to get them to think for themselves and to understand what they were learning not just memorizing. Skills? Hell yes but with a clear understanding of what they are doing and why.
I hope that universally we ( meaning educators) want to turn out well educated people who reason with logic can ask questions and also answer them.