The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

George Will on Ed Schools

George's column is quite good and although it sounds over the top at times:

Many education schools discourage, even disqualify, prospective teachers who lack the correct "disposition," meaning those who do not embrace today's "progressive" political catechism. Karen Siegfried had a 3.75 grade-point average at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but after voicing conservative views, she was told by her education professors that she lacked the "professional disposition" teachers need. She is now studying to be an aviation technician.

It does square with my brother's experiences:

In a past life I wanted to be a teacher. I majored in education for my first three years of college. I refused to join the student chapter of the Wisconsin education Association as a matter of principle since it supposedly wasn't required for students to join. I was denied admission to UW-Eau Claire's school of education. This was less than a year before I was accepted at 3 (out of 4 that I applied for) top-tier law schools. Being rejected by the school of education was really the best thing that ever happened to me. However, I still hold a great deal of animosity towards the ridiculous state of the educational system here and in the country. It seems clear to me that the powers that be care less about the kids than they do about politics.


  • If this is true it's extremely troubling, but is there any evidence other than George Will's anecdote and Danny's?

    Personally, I've never understood why anyone majors in education. Here's another anecdote: My wife and I both became teachers right after we finished undergrad, and neither of us was an education major. Meanwhile, friends of ours who had master's degrees in education were telling us how hard it is to find a teaching job. I think the problem is a lot of people who want to become teachers only want to do it at the dream schools where all the administrators are supportive, all the parents are helpful, and all the children are above average. But the schools that really need teachers are the ones like those where my wife and I taught in Compton, California, which don't have all those advantages. The obvious solution is that the teachers at the worst schools should get the most money, but it doesn't work that way.

    By Blogger MDS, at 11:24 AM  

  • Even though I buy into the idea that the education system in the US is messed up, I feel like I got a good education and that most of my teachers were pretty good and spent more of their time teaching as opposed to preaching about racism, sexism, and homophobia. Either public education has really gone downhill since 1995, my school district was an anomaly, or this problem is being blown out a proportion (at least with respect to middle/upper-middle class suburban schools).

    By Blogger dhodge, at 11:35 AM  

  • I really hope that these are not the norm, but when I read it, it was immediately familiar to me.

    And I would definitely be in favor of paying teachers at Compton way more than teachers at nice, friendly schools.

    As to why anyone majors in education, I do know that in many states you almost have to have an education degree to teach at a public school. There are always a few other ways to get licensed, but I think at least in Wisconsin the education degree route is the easiest.

    I wonder if your friends' Masters Degrees had anything to do with their job troubles. If I'm not mistaken teacher pay scales in Public schools are often rigidly tied to their level of education, and I've heard of instances where teachers cannot find jobs because they will cost too much.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:38 AM  

  • My brother is out of the country right now, or I'm sure he would be chiming in. I'm a a rather poor substitute.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:44 AM  

  • i taught high school for 3 years right out of college sans an education degree. but paul is correct. i was only given a "temporary license" since my undergrad degree is in mathematics, not education. i would've had to get a master's in education to become fully certified in florida. even though i got a master's in math while i was teaching, i couldn't have continued teaching after 2-4 years.

    i think this is one absolutely ridiculous facet of public education - they mandating of "education" degrees. i started to get a master's in education, but switched when i realized it in no way helped you be a better teacher. we need more teachers who graduate with degrees in the subject matter the will teach (at least in high school), and less with general education degrees (of course those are fine for elementary). this is often why private schools get better (qualified) teachers - they don't have to follow state certification rules and can opt for the candidate with the best knowledge in his/her arena.

    mds - could you have continued teaching in cali without getting an ed degree in x years?

    By Blogger ethan, at 12:29 PM  

  • No, I couldn't have. I only taught a year, but my wife taught four years and so she ended up getting a master's in education, which she said was a complete joke, but at least nearly every class was an easy A and the master's degree with 4.0 looked good on her law school applications.

    Paul, excellent point about the master's actually hurting job prospects. It's a really interesting issue -- there's a lot of research that shows that a teacher with 10 years' experience and a master's degree is a 20% better teacher than one with one year's experience and a bachelor's degree. But that more experienced teacher costs a school 40% more in salary, so a school would actually rather have the worse teacher because all that extra money could be spent elsewhere. (My 20% and 40% figures are made up, but the basic idea is supported by research.)

    dhodge and I went to the same school for seven years and were in the same district for 12, and I guess I'd say I'm not quite as enthusiastic about our teachers as he is. (Although I always liked Ms. Carroll a lot more than he did.) Certainly, our teachers didn't clutter our minds with PC BS, but I think that's the least of the problems in public schools these days. What I didn't like was the way questioning authority was so frowned upon. I'm not talking about questioning authority by defacing school property or anything, but I do think that a person like myself who had different views and liked to express them should have been tolerated a little more.

    By Blogger MDS, at 1:33 PM  

  • I've also heard that a lot of the teaching education program is really easy and obvious, but I don't know if that means it doesn't teach anything useful. The purpose of teaching education is to train someone in a skill or vocation, not to get them to solve problems on the frontier of science, law, economic, or politics. My shop classes and oral presentation class in high school were especially easy and pretty obvious, but I did learn more about the topics and acquire the skills. I guess I'd have to hear from someone who actually got an education degree about about it how useful it was in teaching.
    Also, we should not forget that much of the struggle in lower education is not just mastering the material, but rather getting the message across to a wide variety of students (this should not be taken as me disagreeing that more expertise in what one teaches is not important). Certainly, for some people getting the message across comes more naturally than it does for others.

    As for what MDS says, ironically it has been suggested that the flexibility is greater in US education than other countries and is the main strength of our system.
    "Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority."

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 2:27 PM  

  • not only are those programs easy, but they are of no help to new teachers. here are the 3 classes i took before i switched majors in my master's program (all 3 were "core" classes):

    -educational research (including the beginning of what would be your thesis)
    -educational statistics (to potentially be used for your thesis)
    -theories and trends in education (a history of the development of learning theories i.e. pavlov, etc)

    even if you found that stuff interesting, none of those things could possibly help you with (a) classroom management (the single most important thing to being an effective teacher when you're a newbie), and (b) teaching methods that would ever be used in non-honors classes.

    By Blogger ethan, at 11:45 AM  

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