By Richard Vedder
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, new "normal schools" were created --colleges to train teachers. Established universities also added schools or colleges of education. There is mounting evidence that this was a mistake. It is time that public policy turn to doing something about it.
My wonderful CCAP Whiz Kids have written blogs exposing one huge scandal --that grades in virtually all schools of education are uniformly high. The best and brightest are treated the same, roughly, as those of mediocre intellectual or interpersonal qualities. Looking at a sample of literally scores of institutions, the Whiz Kids found that the typical student earned a grade of A or A- in education courses, while the median grade in, say, economics courses was a B-. Yet I would bet $1,000 against $1 that on average the intellectual rigor in the economics classes was far higher than in the education ones. We offer Feel Good instruction emphasizing raising self esteem in education schools, crowding students out of legitimate courses in subject matter.
To be sure, there has been a realization of this problem for decades, and in some cases some things have been done about it. The proportion of college students majoring in education has undergone a deserved decline. But most teachers in K-12 settings today were either majors in education or took lots of education courses. And to what result? The overall student performance levels in the U.S. K-12 schools are embarrassingly low, although that reflects a lot of other factors beside so-so teaching.
Teachers in the Teach for America program do a great job by all accounts, and few of them have had the mindless education courses that most states require. Teachers getting licensed via alternative certification options in states like New Jersey have performed as well or better in the classroom as those with more formal education training. College professors teaching 18 and 19 year old kids are winning teaching awards (I would immodestly include myself) never having a class in how to teach. Yet they are forbidden to teach 17 year old students in high school because they lack these vacuous courses. My own son was a Teacher of the Year nominee in his first year of middle school teaching --before he had taken any education courses. The examples abound.
Mediocre standards --or no standards--in education schools have returned to bite the colleges. We turn out teachers with mediocre basic knowledge skills but firm indoctrination in promoting student self esteem. A decade later, the products of these teachers return to study at the university --and often they are pretty mediocre, since the teachers have not challenged them to learn basic facts and principles on which our world depends.
The solution: after a certain date in the not-to-distant future, remove all federal subsidies for institutions with colleges or schools of education. Remove subsidies to state governments requiring teachers to take more than a small number of education type courses. Ultimately make it a felony for any school superintendent to knowingly hire a graduate of a college of education (allowing a grandfather clause to exempt teachers educated in the past). Put these schools out of business.
That is not to say, however, that teachers should have no training specific to the instructional mission they carry out. I think it is reasonable to require an elementary teacher to take up to five three-credit hour semester hours dealing with pedagogy, and up to one semester of time in student teaching, working with an experienced teacher. But I think it should be required that teachers mostly study in academic areas where they are teaching --French teachers should study French, for example.