I was listening to President Obama talk about his education plans on CNN today. I was distressed because, as high as my hopes were for him, he seems to regurgitate the bullet points I heard from the previous administration. He bemoaned our scores in the international standings. Then he pronounced how we are going to turn this around - get quality teachers in the classrooms.
President Obama seems to believe that we can raise scores by attacking our perceived problems at the teacher level. This will fail, because our scores are NOT being driven by teachers.
I have been teaching for 18 years. Here is the truth as I see it: You can put a motivated student in with mediocre teachers for years and at the other end, the student will have made good gains. Conversely, you can put an unmotivated student in with the most talented of teachers and a few years later the student will have made minimal gains. If we put (to use No Child Left Behind logic) above average teachers in every classroom in America, I believe we would see negligible change.
I am a perfect example. Up until my tenth grade year, I was a poor student. I never made a grade above C. I just didn't feel like doing the work. When I turned it around and committed to work, I became a solid A/B student. My scores did not improve because a teacher taught harder, or better, or longer. My scores changed when I decided they would.
I really wish that my students' outcomes were solely dependent on me, but they are not. If we, as a nation, desire different results then we will need to address the situation a little more honestly. Attacking the problem at the teacher level will yield no real difference, and will give us a very frustrated teaching workforce.