My wife recently sent me a very interesting debate posted in the New York Times about what can be done to elevate the status of public school teachers. You can read the debate here. If you can't read every author's contribution, try to at least read Patrick Welsh's piece entitled "Consider Cultural Differences."
Overall, I think very few understand how intricate and complex the education system is. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop those in power from attempting to fix the problem. There is no "quick fix" and the problem is often misdiagnosed by those in power (politicians, school systems, unions, other bureaucracies, etc).
Ultimately, I think it's up to the society in which the teacher operates that determines his or her worth.