American public-school children are getting what by the standards of the rest of the industrialized world would be called an inferior education, especially in the fields of math and science. Especially hard-hit by this inferior public education are students in the inner cities; while those in the much-richer suburbs have the money to attract better teachers, hire tutors, and purchase expensive media libraries for their children, those in the usually-poor inner cities, as well as in poverty-stricken rural areas, have none of this.
The main problem, though, is that there simply aren't enough good teachers, especially in poorer areas. The "best and brightest," who 40 years ago may have been attracted to public-school teaching by a competitive salary and good work benefits, are now going into other, more lucrative, fields, as the value of intellectual (as opposed to physical) capital continues to rise. Thus American schools have experienced a "talent vacuum" - the best just don't teach anymore. And if they do, it's usually in the upper-crust suburbs, who can afford to pay them at least something resembling what they would make outside teaching.
On the surface, the solution to this problem would seem simple: Raise the salaries for teachers, and more people will come. Unfortunately, that isn't quite possible, at least not without substantial raises in taxes (tantamount to political suicide) or reordering of budgets (a gargantuan task, considering the nature of bureaucracy.) Poor school districts simply don't have the cash to pay teachers competitively.
But what if we could offer people something - perhaps, a free college education - in return for teaching? What if we were to establish a teacher's GI Bill? (For those who aren't from the USA or who are and just don't understand, the GI Bill was instituted during the WWII era. Under this bill, those who served terms as soldiers were entitled to substantial scholarships for college, in return for their service to the country. This contributed greatly to the college booms of the 40's and 50's.)
This bill would be ratified state-by-state - since education is (presumably) still within states' jurisdiction - and would provide a completely free college education at a state university to any person, provided that he or she sign a contract pledging to pass all their classes, to pursue a field of study applicable to K-12 education, to take a certain amount of extra coursework in education, and, after graduating, to teach in a public school of the state's choice for four years, at the standard rate of pay, after which his or her obligation to the state would have been fulfilled and he or she would be free to pursue anything.
This plan has many advantages, and creates a situation in which everyone wins - the government, the teachers, and the people.
States would, under this plan, be able to funnel badly-needed teachers to the districts which need them most, instead of watching helplessly as the rich school districts siphon all the talent from the pool, leaving the poor with only the truly dedicated and the second-hand. In coming out in support of this bill, a politician could say that he or she is actually doing something for inner-city schools rather than just paying lip-service, and win votes.
The teachers would win - especially those who came from lower-class backgrounds and who could not otherwise afford a college education. They gain four years' education and guaranteed placement in a job right out of college, which in today's job market is a valuable thing. After four years of teaching, they would be free to pursue other interests, and you can be darn sure that four years' teaching experience is going to look good on a resume. The influx of teachers into underserved communities would also make all the teachers' loads a little lighter, leaving them free to concentrate on troubled students and give all students a better education, and lessen the tendency towards burnout that is so common to teachers in underserved schools.
Most importantly, the people would win - especially those in underserved areas of the country. Access to teachers who have a college education in the field they are teaching, who know how to teach, and who have smaller classes, can only be beneficial to students. Also, GI-Bill teachers, because many would come from lower-class backgrounds, would serve as role models - success stories - for children in underserved communities, showing them that they can make it and that they don't have to have bags of money to go to college.
There are a few potential pitfalls to this plan, and this certainly is no panacea for all of America's public school problems, but above all a Teachers' GI Bill would be a good thing for all involved. It would give politicians a chance to do some actual good, students a way to go to college for free and get some valuable work experience, and people in underserved communities a chance at a better education and a better future.