I think the biggest problem is that you’ve got people treating education like a corporation…but then not having any idea how to run said corporation. At least, this is the impression I get from the majority of my friends in education (high school, if that makes a difference).
I don’t necessarily believe education should be treated like a business; philosophically, that sort of bothers me. At the same time, I understand the need for a business aspect, so I’ll just leave this bit alone.
But even if we do treat education like a business, the business is so bass ackwards that it’s bound to fail. I look at 10 friends who are teachers and of them, only one wants to be a teacher. That sounds silly, but only one actually wants to spend her life teaching high school English, as that’s what she’s always wanted to do, she’s happy with her 50-something-a-year salary, benefits, etc. Every single other one of those friends wants to move into administration. They treat teaching as a stepping stone to some 100k$ a year job, not as a means to educate kids. Most of these folks are good enough teachers, I suppose, but their focus is entirely on moving up the ladder. In fact, one was having me help her study for some interview that was part of her Master’s in Academic Admin. Not one single question had anything to do with the value of education or how to educate to the maximum potential-- it was all the politics of promotion and how to work the system. Seriously. I was horrified.
Back to the business idea: in a good corporation, there is always a place for upward movement- but the fact is, that only one person can be the CEO of McDonalds. But for the company to succeed, they need thousands of low level fry cooks and janitors and landscapers. Not everybody is going to be an executive and not everybody should be an executive. But looking at my friends, only one of them wants to do that “lower” job (and I should say, I don’t think there’s anything lowly at all about teaching- it’s incredibly honorable, one of the hardest jobs in the world, and I have nothing but admiration for the folks I know who do teach)-- everybody else is clawing their way to the top of the heap, with virtually no regard for the value of education and what it means for the kids.
Is the political aspect avoidable? Of course not. I’m not so naive as to suggest that, but my point is just that it’s a little bit horrible to think that education has become a big huge political mess, with many of those involved only interested in making money.
Also, there definitely is a problem with things like No Child Left Behind, teaching to the test, lack of money, etc. But I think fixing those things is just treating the symptom, not the disease. And the disease is this whole on going devaluing of actual education.