Education Schools—

When Will We Fix This Travesty?

Paul Richardson January 2012

The above chart is from Cory Koedel, University of Missouri, Grading Standards in Education Departments of Universities (June 2011) They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this one is worth that and more. It presents in one quick look the true nature of our nation’s education schools. It verifies the charges often leveled that education departments of universities with very few exceptions are only diploma mills extracting huge sums of money from our economy while providing graduates who become certified because they “have a degree.” These graduates are not educated in that they don’t study anything with a rigor sufficient to justify the granting of a university degree. This is especially true when compared to all of the other majors represented by the cluster of curves centered on the 3.0 grade point average part of the chart. Koedel studied three large universities in his study, the Missouri graph is indicative

of what Koedel found. Over 100,000 student-by-classroom observations underlie the classroom-level grade reports. Koedel also comments Understanding of the policy consequences of the favorable grades awarded by education departments is also important. Because the vast majority of education majors go on to work as classroom teachers, a first-order issue is to determine if and how the low grading standards in education departments affect teacher quality in K-12 schools. Based on the larger research literature I suggest some of the most likely possibilities. These include that the low grading standards (1) reduce human-capital accumulation during college for prospective teachers, (2) result in inaccurate performance signals being sent to students in education classes, and (3) affect evaluation standards for teachers in the workforce. There is a considerable research basis for making the connections in (1) and (2), although again, there is no direct evidence. Linking the low grading standards in education departments to the low evaluation standards for teachers in the workforce is more speculative, although there is some support in the literature for this possibility as well. Koedel also points out that inflated grades act as a factor that reduces effort by the students. This forms a habit of being able to “coast through” education degree programs which I believe carries over to their work habits later especially in the cognitive areas. Also, he expresses concern that since there is so little difference in grades among education students they get no feedback on their relative strengths and weaknesses compared to their peers which is needed if you are to improve your performance. To conclude the Koedel report reinforces an article by Gary Lyons in Texas Monthly “Why Teachers Can’t Teach” (Sept.1979). Rita Kramer’s comments and quotes in her Ed School Follies concerning the Lyons’ article. A cause célèbre in its time, it called teacher education in Texas—and everywhere else in the country—“a shame, a mammoth and very

expensive swindle of the public interest, a hoax, and an intellectual disgrace.” Lyons reported that half of the teacher applicants to the Houston Independent School District scored lower in math and a third of them lower in English than the average high school junior and he blamed the state’s sixty-three accredited teacher-training institutions for turning out “teachers who cannot read as well as the average sixteenyear old, write notes free of barbarisms to parents, or handle arithmetic well enough to keep track of the field-trip money.” He accused the teacher colleges of coddling ignorance and, “backed by hometown legislators,” of turning out “hordes of certified ignoramuses whose incompetence in turn becomes evidence that the teacher colleges and the educators need yet more money and more power.” He attacked the system that made graduation from an accredited teacher-training program tantamount to certification and heaped scorn on the education bureaucracy, backed by the National Education Association, to whom “to insist upon literacy is considered coercive and potentially harmful” and a proof of “cultural bias.” Real knowledge and skills, he maintained, had been replaced by “matters such as sex education, driver training, drug counseling, and the proper attitude toward siblings” by “educationists”…afflicted with a cultural relativism so profound it has become an intellectual disease. “Basic traditional academic disciplines, in which fundamental intellectual skills are supposed to be taught” had, he found, been replaced in teacher education by “a promiscuous choice of courses” that he called the intellectual equivalent of puffed wheat: one kernel of knowledge inflated by means of hot air, divided into pieces and puffed again.” The graduates of the schools of education, “where everyone is transformed into an A student,” he charged, “are defrauded into believing they have an education,” and he identified the cause of grade inflation and trivial courses (in which “fools dissect, categorize and elaborate upon the perfectly obvious” and in

which it is “virtually impossible to fail”) as the system that made the operating budgets of all state colleges dependent on the number of students enrolled. In programs “where there is no subject matter, only method,” Lyon saw enormous amounts of money, energy, and time wasted, and suggested that future teachers could get more useful experience in less time if they were “apprenticed after securing honest college degrees to proven and experienced master teachers in actual classrooms with real kids.” When he made the suggestion to a professor of education, the response was, “You’re talking about my job.” It was a scathing indictment, and it included the prophecy that fully literate teachers would continue to be the exception and the incompetent the rule as the field moved “toward more specialization and more education courses … for an expanded faculty to teach … in such growth areas as special education, learning disabilities” and bilingual education, “the going things these days.” Lyons hoped his article would blow the whistle on the existing system and that “the attack on the Educationists’ monopoly over the public schools may have already begun.” And indeed, a series of education battles fought in the Texas legislature in the ensuing years had resulted by 1987 in passage of a bill limiting the number of methods courses for future teachers to eighteen hours, about half the previous requirement, beginning in 1991. Senate Bill 994 also abolished the undergraduate education major. The intention was to have more time for future teachers to acquire a general education in subjects and skills, to become literate and numerate. The response of the ed school establishment was predictable. The Journal of Teacher Education, in its issue of November-December 1988, reported on the new law in an article titled “Assault on Teacher Education in Texas.” In addition, the head of the American

Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, in an editorial entitled “Outrage in Texas,” appearing in the organization’s publication ACCTE Briefs, reported “hostility,” “dismay,” and a “numbing effect” among ed school faculty and went on to speak of “a Kafka-like nightmare” in which “shock, anger, and disbelief” were joined by a “feeling of betrayal.” To him, any reduction in the time future teachers spend studying pedagogy means that they “will be less prepared to teach,” an understandable reaction from those with a vested interest in the teaching of pedagogy. Thus, the current problems reported by Koedel, Levine and others all reinforce that this education school sham has been in effect for decades and without public outcry will be in place for decades more as it continues to harm teachers and kids who need and expect a better education than they are receiving. Lastly, I would say to any legislators, who believe this problem must be addressed, don’t do it like the Texas legislators did. Concentrating on required results is far better than trying to rework the process of the education schools. If the results requirement is increased they will improve the process or become irrelevant. It would be far more effective and take much less time if the passed legislation decoupled education school degrees from certification requiring rigorous testing of subject knowledge to gain and periodically to maintain certification. The education schools would be forced to change or become irrelevant as people gravitated to getting “honest degrees” as Lyons put it in real subject areas. He was right that the current pedagogy (flawed pedagogy, at that, and inconsistent with that practiced by all of the nations whose kids score better than ours) is a waste of time. The pedagogy taught “like a catechism” as Hirsch says is based on beliefs which as Hirsch also says are “technically incorrect.” Thus, the education schools would and should be forced to embrace what works for the kids not what feathers their nests as happens now at the expense of education performance.

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