Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Three Cheers for Duncan

By Richard Vedder

It is no secret that I am not wild about the Obama Administration, and that skepticism extends to higher education policy. For example, I think the proposed changes in student lending are more bad than good, that it is wrong to force borrowers into the direct lending program, and that the notion that virtually every student should have a postsecondary education is questionable.

However, I want to applaud Secretary of Education Duncan for his recent remarks on colleges of education. On the typical campus, the education school has the reputation for being the least respectable unit academically, with mediocre students studying mush from so-so faculty, but nonetheless receiving high grades (because of the prevailing college of education teaching philosophy, namely that we should not lower student self-esteem). Education schools have promoted anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge fashions. They think rote memorization is bad but "critical thinking" is good, but fail to realize critical thinking occurs only when people know what to think about.

Only one of every five students who enters an American high school gets a four year college degree within a decade --a big obstacle to the Obama dream of increasing college attainment. Higher education spokespersons rightly note that much of the attrition occurs at the K-12 levels, with students either not graduating from high school, or performing so poorly that college does not appear to be a viable option. As the K-12 people note, however, the teachers of the high school students who fail to perform were educated at America's college and universities --typically in a college of education.

Do we need colleges of education? I think not. I think teachers of young or special needs students may need several courses offering insight into disseminating knowledge to their students; high school teachers may need a couple of courses at most. All teachers could benefit from practice teaching that is monitored by experienced, successful teachers. But most teachers above all need good grounding in the subjects they are teaching. Thus future teachers should major in an academic discipline and take up to a year or so of work that might be considered courses in "education."

Admittedly, I am biased. I am in a university where elementary education majors earned above a 3.9 average in their education courses last year, I am told. I myself never took an education course yet have won numerous awards for good teaching. My wife was an English major who became a superb high school teacher and guidance counselor. Neither of my children, both teachers, had a single education course when they started teaching high school -- yet one was nominated for Teacher of the Year in his first year. I think mandatory study of dozens of semester hours of education college mush or worse is a bad idea. I think states should not subsidize attendance in education schools. Once I even suggested to legislators that they should make it a felony for a school principal or superintendent to knowingly hire a graduate of a college of education. I didn't really mean that, but I do think we need to stop using public funding to support mediocre educational outcomes.

1 comment:

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