By Nancy Gibbs
October 23, 2014

Mrs. Flanagan. Miss Raymond. Mr. Schwartz. Those are mine, but if you’re lucky you have them too, the teachers who seeded our imaginations and shaped our characters. Years later, nothing makes me more grateful as a parent than my daughters’ encounters with classroom wizards.

Teachers matter: one Texas study found that cutting class size by 10 students was not as beneficial as even modest improvement in the teacher. A McKinsey survey of the world’s best schools–in Finland, South Korea, Singapore–found that they consistently draw 100% of their teachers from the top third of graduates; in the U.S., almost half come from the bottom third. That may explain why our kids’ performance falls below that of students in Estonia and why one-third of those who make it to college in the U.S. need remedial education.

In her cover story, Haley Sweetland Edwards tracks a crusade led by some deep-pocketed education reformers. Rather than working incrementally through traditional channels, they have gone to court: Is a bad teacher a violation of a student’s civil rights? And if so, are tenure rules that keep bad teachers in classrooms unconstitutional?

Edwards was struck in her reporting by the messiness of education politics. “In most cases, if you know that someone is a Democrat or a Republican, you pretty much know how they stand on a given policy question,” she observes. “In education, all bets are off. That’s compounded by the strange politics of Silicon Valley, where liberal libertarianism is in the drinking water.” Edwards joined TIME last spring in our Washington bureau, and this is her first cover story. As the daughter of a former California public-school teacher and the wife of a Washington, D.C., charter-school teacher, she has now ensured that Thanksgiving dinner will be especially lively this year.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR

TIME VIDEO

As TIME’s White House photographer for 20 years, Diana Walker covered Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. But the range of formal and behind-the-scenes images of Hillary Clinton (shown here before a 2008 Late Show appearance) that fill her new 212-page book, Hillary, have won her some of the widest acclaim. In a new TIME video, Walker talks about a few of her favorite images, including one of a beaming First Lady, with her husband at a Philadelphia event, wearing a baseball cap. “The baseball cap is usually saved for the President,” she says. Watch the video at time.com/walker.

NOW ON TIME.COM

Searching for the bottom line on dubious foods can drive you bananas. In “Should I Eat This?”–a new feature that polls five experts on a different food each week–TIME synthesizes the best available information to answer your gnawing questions. Here, a preview of the full series, available at time.com/eat

EGGS

The great breakfast conundrum was a hit with 4 out of 5 experts, who love eggs for their vitamins, luscious neon yolks and even their healthy effect on cholesterol.

CHEESE

Experts go weak in the knees for cheese. All waxed on about the taste–“Pleasure is good for health,” said one–but cheese has real perks too, like calcium and beneficial bacteria.

SHRIMP

America’s most popular seafood is served with a big side of ecological baggage, but do health benefits outweigh risks? Stay tuned to find out whether or not shrimp is on the hook.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the November 03, 2014 issue of TIME.

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