Monday, August 09, 2010

Why Does American Public Education Suck?
One Reason: Teacher Education Sucks

Some of the most important people in my life were primary- and secondary-school teachers. Thank God for the good ones. They do a job I could never do. And what I am about to say isn't aimed at them--that is, at the minority of good ones.

But (thinking back to the previous post): why does American public education suck? One big reason: because many, many teachers (a) are not smart and (b) are badly educated. At my (pretty good, though not great) university, 70% of education majors receive 'A's or 'A-'s in their upper-division classes (and 20% get some kind of 'B'). Education majors here, as everywhere else, are also among the weakest students, getting, for example, some of the lowest average scores on the LSAT and the GRE. On the rare occasion when people in the Ed school here are confronted with the grade stats, they claim that they are to be explained by the fact that their major attracts the brightest students--a demonstrable falsehood that no one outside the Ed school believes for a second. Basically everyone who knows what's what in academia knows that the education major is a joke.

In fact, when I was an undergrad (at a really crappy school), basically all the non-idiotic students knew that Ed classes were a joke, and the conventional wisdom was that, if you had two brain cells to rub together, you probably couldn't stand to finish an Ed degree. Although some smart people make it through Ed degrees, (i) the major generally discourages smart people from doing so, and (ii) it does not do what it's supposed to do, i.e. make those who study it smarter.

How much of the suckage of American education does this explain? I don't know...but a LOT.


Blogger Tracie said...

Having gone through the education program at said school, as a disclaimer, I can only speak in terms of secondary education. You are right and wrong about a few things. For secondary ed, you have to have a "real" major in what you are planning on teaching (Biology, in my case), and then minor in secondary ed. The minor gives you some small practicum experience, though having gone through student teaching, practicum was NOT indicative of what a teacher experiences every day in the classroom. During the Master's program, you learn most about the nuts and bolts of teaching and spend more time in the classroom. The final semester culminates in student teaching and the Teacher Work Sample, which is basically a documentation that your students learned what you wanted them to learn during a 5-lesson unit. The TWS serves as the substitute for our thesis.

You are correct that these classes are easy, especially compared to the other classes I took for my Biology and Psychology degrees. The Master's program is not difficult, but is mainly geared to give future teachers the tools to be successful in the classroom. Could I have taught without those classes? Yes. Would I have been as effective without them? Probably not. As a student teacher (and in the first couple of years), it helps to have some background in effective assessment, curriculum design, differentiation (since most schools encourage inclusive classes), and content-area strategies (teaching life science is very different from teaching government, for example). Students in education classes get A's in because we are making lesson plans and differentiating instruction- this is not rocket science. However, these classes do give future teachers tools to be successful.

I also know that some of my fellow science ed. students had some difficulty passing the Praxis II exam, which was ridiculously easy for me. They complained about the requirement to pass a subject-area exam to gain entrance to the master's program, but if you can't pass a basic exam demonstrating proficiency in the subject you want to teach, then you shouldn't be allowed to teach it. But that should reflect on the major program, and not the education program, right?

I got to know some of these kids pretty well during the several years I went through the program, and most were not only knowledgeable about their content area but also passionate about sharing that knowledge with their students. I have no idea which of them will turn out to be awesome or horrible teachers, but I do know that just about everyone who graduated from the education program with their master's (which you pretty much need to obtain a license) was eager to get back in the classroom and show their students how awesome their subject is and why. In my experience, there have been far more "good eggs" than bad ones.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


First of all, let me say that I really do admire what you're doing. It's a tough and important job.

Your views about the Ed program are obviously more well-founded, hence more important than mine, and I'll definitely think hard about them. But let me focus on the grades issue.

You agree that the classes are easy, and note that they largely involve making lesson plans. But, as you know, you don't get credit--and you don't get 'A's--for doing that kind of thing in other majors. And that's the problem--the Ed major does not challenge students. The more challenging a major, the more it expands your mind and abilities--and the greater the difference between in-coming students and out-going ones. The first problem is that the work is generally too easy; but add to that the absurdly slack grading standards, and you eliminate one major incentive for excelling at the already-too-easy work.

I think teaching is hard and good teachers are rare, and so I'm appalled at a system with an incentive structure that discourages excellence. If an area is so easy that everyone can get an 'A' or a 'B', then it probably oughtn't to be a college major.

My view is: if you want to be a history teacher, get a history major. The most important thing about teaching is knowledge of the subject area. Everything else that can be taught about teaching can probably be taught in a class or two. (Note that, when one gets a Ph.D., one gets no instruction in teaching whatsoever.)

(And, as for developing "lesson plans"--college profs write their lectures over the summer or when they're not teaching. I do realize that primary and secondary teachers have to be in the classroom LOTS more, but it just seems weird to me to take up instructional time and get credit for writing the equivalent of lectures...)

Although I admire teachers, I think the Education degree is a scam that is dragging down American public education--and dragging down teachers as well.

9:23 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home