One of the first books on education policy that I ever read was Rita Kramer’s Ed School Follies, a book published in 1991. In it, she documented the appalling weakness she found in education schools across the country, especially weak students and a politicized curriculum that filled the heads of the students with “progressive” notions.
In the years since, ed schools have gotten worse. From time to time, education leaders talk about improving them and sometimes take an insignificant step or two.
Now, the University of North Carolina has done that, with a program called “Leading on Literacy.” In this Martin Center article, Terry Stoops, the K–12 expert at the John Locke Foundation, gives it a resounding “meh.”
“Leading on Literacy” represents the latest effort by the UNC System to address the shortcomings of teacher education programs generally and literacy instruction particularly. According to its authors, the purpose of the report is to examine how teacher training programs can address the unsatisfactory performance of North Carolina students on federal National Assessment of Educational Progress tests and persistent achievement gaps between student groups.
The big problem with this “reform” is that it doesn’t do anything to address the weak knowledge many ed-school students have in general. They aren’t very sharp kids for the most part and don’t have to master any real academic discipline. That’s why ed-school grads don’t do as well as Teach for America grads — students who have actually taken a serious major and want to try teaching for a couple of years after graduating.
Furthermore, Stoops points out, most of the public-school teachers hired in North Carolina have gotten their ed-school “training” at institutions that are less competent than those of the UNC system.
“Simply put,” Stoops writes, “the authors did not ‘rock the boat’ by, for example, recommending that the UNC System adopt National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) rigorous standards for educator preparation. It should come as no surprise that NCTQ’s first recommendation is that states ‘should require teacher preparation programs to admit only candidates with strong academic records.’ According to NCTQ’s 2017 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, North Carolina is one of 19 states that ‘partly’ meet this goal. In addition, North Carolina is one of 15 states that do not ensure that elementary teachers trained in North Carolina have ‘sufficient content knowledge of all core academic subjects.’ The content knowledge of middle and high school teachers fares slightly better in the NCTQ evaluation.”
But of course they didn’t rock the boat. Too many comfy jobs depend on keeping the status quo. If lots of North Carolina kids continue to be taught by teachers who are more concerned with “feel good” educational theories than with the mastery of content, that’s just too bad.