One Factor Behind America’s Poor K-12 Education System

During my high school years, I had the acquaintance of a fellow student – a person who still holds a strong presence in my memory. This person was one of the most ambitious, most determined individuals in the school; today she goes to one of America’s top universities. She may very well be the next president of the United States – and this is a serious statement.

One day this student asked me an interesting question: “What do you see me doing when I’m fifty years old?”

I teased, “I see you as a high school English teacher.”

She laughed, “I would kill myself if that happened.”

This simple sequence provides a powerful illustration on why America’s K-12 education system is so bad. The best and the brightest view teaching K-12 as a demeaning profession. Go to a class in Harvard, for instance, and ask what the students there want to do after they graduate. There will be lots of future investment bankers, lawyers, and politicians. There will probably very few K-12 teachers, if any at all.

In the countries with the world’s best education systems, places like Finland and Singapore, the conversation above makes no sense. Ambitious, talented people – like the classmate mentioned above – actually want to be teachers in Finland and Singapore. In America this isn’t the case.

This is a big reason why America’s public education system is so weak. A strong education system has good teachers. Logically, a country in which talented people want to be teachers will have good teachers. A country in which talented people belittle the K-12 teaching profession – say, a country like the United States – will probably not have good teachers.

The college system provides another example of this. In America being a professor is quite a desireable job; a lot of very intelligent people dream of teaching college students. Not coincidentially, America’s university system is the best in the world.

The great conundrum, then, is making the K-12 teaching profession desireable to people like the classmate mentioned above. In other words, one needs to change the culture. That is a very hard thing to do. Short of boosting teacher salaries to lawyer-like levels – something which will cost at least several hundred billion dollars, and which nobody is thinking about even in their wildest dreams – there is no easy solution in sight.

There is, of course, more to the problem of American public education than this. Education involves not just teachers, but students as well (indeed, students are actually more important than teachers). Even the best teachers cannot make gold out of students who just do not care for school. And, if one is honest, there probably is also something to the claim that American students are generally less motivated than students in, say, South Korea.




Tags: America, Education, students, teachers (all tags)



Mixed bag

K-12 education is important.

Infant care is important.

Plumbing is important


Nearly every mother in the country is qualified to deliver the infant care.

Plumbers are the single most important health care workers in the country.  Without plumbing disease would be rampant.  Yet we don't pretend that only plumbers understand plumbing or that plumbing is better than being a doctor.  Yet plumbers prevent as many deaths as doctors, they just do it so effectively that you never notice.



If we fall into the trap of treating K-12 teachers like they are rocket scientists or worse yet that we should have fewer rocket scientists so that we can have better K-12 teachers we are missing the point.  Important things like plumbing don't always need gifted individuals.  K-12 teachers can be effective even if they are not going to get accepted into an ivy league school.


Gifted individuals should be busy making the teaching aids, video games, documentaries etc that help normal teachers give a quality education to under achieving children.

by donkeykong 2011-01-23 06:19PM | 0 recs
You state

"K-12 teachers can be effective even if they are not going to get accepted into an ivy league school."


I think one of the best ways to improve American education is make K-12 teaching something more than a joke for those Ivy League students.

by Inoljt 2011-01-23 07:23PM | 0 recs


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