Wishing for better schools of education

I wish the education reform movement would put more focus on the broken schools of education that fail to attract highly qualified students or to train them to perform well in the nation’s classrooms.

REDEFINED_WISHLIST_FINALSix years have passed since The Education Schools Project, headed by Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, issued a comprehensive and scathing indictment of the nation’s schools of education. The report found an overwhelming lack of academic standards and understanding of how teachers should be prepared. It determined that “most education schools are engaged in a ‘pursuit of irrelevance,’ with curriculums in disarray and faculty disconnected from classrooms and colleagues.” Moreover, schools of education have become “cash cows” for universities. The admissions standards are low. The research expectations and standards are far below those expected in other disciplines. And there is no pressure to raise student academic outcomes because, at least in part, school districts often only care about a “credential” and not the learning it represents.

Have things improved since Levine’s report? Speaking at a panel during the recent Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform, Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, previewed the results of a comprehensive study to be published in U.S. News & World Report in April 2013. It affirms little has changed. For example, only about 20 percent of schools of education have admission standards that even require applicants to be in the top 50 percent of their high school graduating class. Only 25 percent of schools of education require their students to be placed with an “effective” teacher when student teaching.

Panelist John Chubb, CEO of Education Sector, added that of the top 20 American universities, only Vanderbilt even offers a bachelors degree in education. That’s primarily because candidates who apply to schools of education cannot qualify for admission to the top 20 universities. Chubb warned that though the Common Core standards seek to prepare students to achieve 1200 on the SAT, the average score for America’s teachers has been about 1000. This is a contradiction, he cautioned, that is bound to lead to failed expectations unless we take dramatic action to change the teaching profession now.

Schools of education are yet another casualty of a system of misplaced incentives. When students look at careers and see no possibility of being rewarded for outstanding performance, most of the best pass on teaching. When employers care more about a “credential” than quality in filling openings, schools of education do not invest in quality curriculum or demand the level of research expected elsewhere in the university. Education is, unfortunately, tracked entirely toward mediocrity, which is why we are so impressed when we find the occasional example of excellence.

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