Phi Beta Cons

Sorting Wheat from Chaff in Education Schools

In order to obtain the necessary license to teach in public schools, future teachers must in most cases go through a state approved education school program. Education schools have justifiably taken a lot of criticism over the last few decades, going back to Rita Kramer’s Ed School Follies (1991) and earlier. Are there better, more effective, less costly ways of preparing an individual for the important job of teaching? Without doubt, but due to government interference, we don’t allow marketplace discovery to work here. Therefore, programs that do little to properly train teachers (or even “miseducate” them, as Kramer argued) remain perfectly viable. There is no feedback loop.

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has been trying to improve that situation. It can’t change the fundamental problem of licensing that ensures ed schools a captive market, but it can and has endeavored to rate education schools, with the idea that if those who hire teachers have information that indicates which ed school programs and good and which ones aren’t, that will generate pressure on the poor schools to improve.

In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron examines the new NCTQ report. Few ed school programs get high marks from NCTQ. At a great many, admission standards are very low and the work is easy. Education is a major that appeals to many students simply because it doesn’t demand much effort to get high grades. Worse yet, many ed school programs take an “anything goes” approach to the important subject of reading. At the Pope Center event where NCTQ president Kate Walsh spoke last Friday, she stated that one program told students to come up with their own philosophy on how to teach reading. Instead of relying on knowledge about what works best in teaching reading, ed schools often go with approaches that don’t work, or no approach at all.

Several years ago, an inside critic of ed schools, Professor George Cunningham, observed in this Pope Center paper, that ed schools often are more interested in promoting “progressive” theories about education than in ensuring that their grads know how to instruct students in the knowledge and skills they will need. Little has changed, apparently.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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