Joe Nocera, Teaching With the Enemy makes some excellent points about a much maligned institution.
Great teachers are rare, but one can encounter them anywhere. The rest may just get go through the motions without doing much to inspire their charges, but its often the way they are required to teach that makes them bad teachers. Teachers who are permitted some leeway to be creative in the classroom will invest themselves more in the teaching and do a better job for their students. But no one should be held accountable for some of the incorrigible delinquents they are required to teach. Such pupils need to be separated from the rest of the student body and given military discipline.
The author though is correct when he says you can’t just scale up charter schools. You still need a couple million teachers and not many talented people today are attracted by the salaries we’re willing to pay. Perhaps if we applied free market principles to teacher pay, we would attract the better talent to the profession. But when teachers get no respect and a barely livable wage, we have no right to expect more from them than to show up and muddle through.