Thursday, September 23, 2010

Should We Abolish Colleges of Education?

I believe the following stylized facts are roughly correct.

1. American K-12 students perform in a mediocre fashion on international standardized tests, and other data likewise suggest that the academic performance of American students is disappointingly modest.

2. Following from the first point, poor K-12 academic preparation is a significant reason why colleges need remedial education programs, and why they have high drop-out rates.

3. Great teaching leads to better results than mediocre teaching.

4. Most K-12 teachers have studied extensively in colleges of education.

5. Teachers who do not come from a college of education background do as least as well, and often better, than those with certification gained by taking education college courses. Programs relying on non-education-college-trained personnel like Teach for America are highly successful.

6. Standards in American colleges of education are appallingly low, and a sort of anti-knowledge, anti-intellectualism is often apparent. Typically, education students have below-average indicators of college performance (e.g., relatively low high school grades and test scores), yet tend to receive extremely high grades in their education courses. averaging A- or even higher. Research done at the center I direct (the Center for College Affordability & Productivity), took a sample of 174 public institutions with education schools and obtained grade data from Looking at over 1.3 million grades, we found that the average GPA in education classes was 3.65, and 76 percent of students received an A- or better. Contrast that to university-wide GPAs that averaged 2.99, with 41 percent receiving A grades. (I have talked about the wider problem of university-wide grade inflation here and here).

7. The colleges of education have often fought genuine education reform that rewards teachers on the basis of student learning. They have fought to keep certification rules requiring students to take many education courses. Too often, they seem to believe that the maximization of student self-esteem is more important than the acquisition of knowledge.

To be sure, not all colleges of education fit this model, and there are some effective education professors teaching at some schools. By and large, however, colleges of education are considered vast wastelands of mediocrity at most comprehensive universities. And it certainly seems that most of the good research on learning, educational costs, etc., is being done outside education schools by psychologists, political scientists and economists.

Thus it seems to me it is a dubious proposition that undergraduate colleges of education make any sense at all. I am not, of course, suggesting that it is not worthwhile studying the process of learning, and trying to improve it. To the contrary, we do too little, not too much, research into what works in terms of improving student educational outcomes. But future teachers are better served by getting good grounding in academic subject matter, augmented by some practice in teaching under the guidance of an experienced mentor. Courses in the history of education, for example, are less useful to the future math teacher at the intermediate or secondary level than a course in advanced calculus.

State governments should consider defunding students in colleges of education, requiring future teachers to major in an academic subject, etc. There should be upper limits on the amount of work in pedagogy allowed in a bachelor's program, and requiring teachers to get a master's degree in education (a way educrats might use to preserve the education schools) likely should also be prohibited. Most top-flight schools already do not have undergraduate education schools, but this blight on true "higher education" should be discouraged at all institutions depending on taxpayer funds.


Rebecca said...

Interesting - so you're going to war against the supply side of the equation?

We get lousy teacher candidates because we pay teachers crap, look over their shoulders constantly and expect them to fix, in a few hours per day, all the problems of poverty and lack of discipline that they arrive with. The people we WANT to teach won't do it under those conditions. Someone with a Bachelors in math or science can make more for less stress elsewhere and generally will choose to do so.

Maybe we need to stop treating teaching like a religious calling and pay fairly for the skills and qualifications that we want.

Glen S. McGhee said...

Vedder said that "poor K-12 academic preparation is a significant reason why colleges need remedial education programs, and why they have high drop-out rates."

I beg to differ! Unlike other countries, we are now insisting that everyone go to college. This blind insistence is dumb and wasteful, as student loan defaults and drop-out rates attest, and is based on what Ralph Turner called our "contest mobility" in contrast with European "sponsored mobility" in education (ASR 1960).

Part of it goes back to that time-honored American tradition, passing the buck. The difficult problem posed for social systems by the necessity to inflict defeat and failure on some persons and not on others is now increasingly being handled by our education system under the guise of a neutral, but equally faceless and bureaucratic, meritocracy. That this is now happening at the college level, instead in high school, attests to the accelerating level of credential inflation in this country. It just gets delayed until the student has graduated to another level.

This also explains the expansion of credential markets, which has occurred quite apart from any increased need, which for the convenience of HR departments and companies, they can defer to the degree-bearing status of the job candidate rather then (as in times past, when there was the apprenticeship system) take direct responsibility for hiring.

The remediation bubble that is now clogging the education pipeline is more due to the fact that we stupidly insist on pushing everyone on to college, and have no viable options for those not now willing to waste their good years enduring its endless torments. No wonder Ivar Berg called college an "aging vat."

RWW said...

The national median income for teachers is $44K to 45K for 9 months of teaching. So I don't but into "...we pay teachers crap..."

1 in 7 Americans live in poverty so that's about 4 to 5 impoverished students in a class of 30 students. The problem is the schools that are in impoverished areas that teachers who say their cause is noble, won't teach in those areas.

But I do not believe the mission of teaching students is to teach them how get out of poverty. I believe a good education is an ingredient to lift students out of poverty. If one wants to help students from impoverished areas, volunteer to help them. Contribute to a directed and reputible charity.

If there is a disciple problem - Why not expel chronic offenders? Colleges don't put up with that crap. And if a student is disruptive, undisciplined or just plane dumb, give the little bast_rds and "F" if schools still use a grading system.

The fact is that teachers want to teach liberal studies, diversity, Heather has two mommies, Danny has two daddies, and more crapola that special interest groups want taught that the student can learn outside the classroom.

I have put two kids through school and I have seen good teachers, mediocre teachers, and teachers that aren't qualified to use crayons and a coloring book.

Education needs to get back to the fundamentals and add financial classes.

I think teachers are afraid of parents, but not their unions to get temporarily beneficial bailouts for teachers.

Finally, I think the E.D. (Department of Education) should be abolished - completely.

southofthefork said...

Thank you for posting a logical and clear argument against publicly funded education. I personally take it one step further and have argued ostensibly against publicly funded education of any kind including K-12.

Thank you for your work!

O-mama said...

Yet another reason why I homeschool; and why my children will be paying their own way through college if they so choose to attend.

I agree with the comment of credentialling inflation. I am credentialed in my profession, but I know uncredentialed folks that are far more skilled. The education I received to acquire those credentials was basic crap, and I still flounder trying to find avenues to help fill in the missing blanks.