Monday, December 22, 2014

Report: Teacher Training is Ridiculously Easy

By Professor Doom

     Anyone in higher education can tell you there’s something very fishy about the Education departments on campus. Courses with parties instead of final exams, assignments that are laughably easy, and Education majors that act shocked when they take other courses and find out that the material listed on the syllabus is actually covered in the course are dead giveaways.

     Education departments have responded to such observations by cloistering their students, offering “Math for Education Majors”, “Music for Education Majors”, and well, “Whatever for Education Majors” courses for their students, insulating them from the reality of higher education. Such insulation does them no favors, since year after year, Education majors score low on the GRE (Graduate Record Exams)…this latter statistic is probably inflated (!), since many Education graduate programs also insulate their students by not requiring them to take the GRE. The worst Education students know not to take such a test.

    “If the Education department can have a 95% retention rate, we see no reason the mathematics department cannot do the same!”

--one of many chastisements from Admin. Administration only cares about retention, after all, whether students are learning anything or gaining any skills at all is immaterial.

     But why should the gentle reader rely on my direct observations or the GRE scores? Yet another report sums up what everyone in higher education knows (via Huffington Post):

      While hardly the first report to say what everyone knows, I feel the need to comment on what’s become of higher education, implicit in the report:

“…At 58 percent of 509 schools, "teacher preparation programs are much more likely to confer high grades than are other majors on the same campus," the report says. While an average of 30 percent of all students graduated "cum laude," 44 percent of teacher preparation students received the honor. The report calls the results "a wake-up call for higher education."

     Years ago, graduating Cum Laude was a big deal, it means you were a top student, the best of the best, and required a GPA of around 3.65. Since the average grade on campus today hovers around A- (i.e., around 3.67), Cum Laude has translated into “an average graduate,” as the below average students probably don’t graduate. At least, that’s what it means to people inside of higher education.  

     When it comes to Education majors, we’re closing in on half of the students there are Cum Laude, a major increase of the already ridiculously high 30% of graduates in other departments who are “best of the best students.” Don’t get me wrong, I like students to succeed, but when half the class is “the best of the best”, I can’t help but think something’s wrong here.

     In this case, I know what’s wrong. Educationists defined “good teaching” as “pass lots of students” and “great teaching” as “lots of students get A’s”. With this the definition of good teaching, and Educationists naturally highly motivated to make themselves look good, it’s only natural that it would be pretty easy to get an A in this class.

     “If a 12 foot ladder is divided into 3 equal parts, how long is each part?”
--final exam question from a Math for Education Majors class, college level. I proctored the test, and saw this, and other very comparable questions, with my own eyes. Good thing that now there’s a study, so you don’t have to just trust me on this.

     The ridiculously easy Education coursework continues on into graduate school. I took the liberty of buying a graduate level Education course to verify, although today’s study doesn’t look at grad school. That course, by the way, qualifies as teacher continuing education.

     The report also found that assignments in teacher preparation classes that were the basis of 71 percent of course grades were "criterion-deficient," asking for opinions or viewpoints rather than facts.

     Much like I’d seen with my own eyes, the report agrees that what’s going on in Education courses is, well, nothing. You don’t take tests, write papers, calculate, or anything like that (and, gee, didn’t UNC get in trouble for doing this? There’s a reason why I keep saying UNC is not alone…), based on what I’ve seen. Much as the report says, at most there are some assignments where you write about your feelings and opinions and such. It’s hard to fail such assignments, you see, and “not failing students” is a definition of “good teaching”, so giving such assignments qualifies as quality work, in an Educationist’s eyes.

    The fact that any yahoo can write about his feelings, there nothing to teach there, and thus it’s wrong to charge people $5,000 or more a semester to do it, simply doesn’t occur to an educationist. Accreditation and administration, of course, don’t care.

     Of course, there’s little actual education going on in these courses, which is why the GRE scores are so low—the GRE is an objective measure, outside, for now, the hands of Educationists. The lack of education is also why (among other reasons, I admit) many teachers don’t last but a few years in the “profession.” They learn pretty quickly they have nothing to offer students, so go somewhere else to figure out how to pay off the loans they incurred in all those easy Education courses.

     The report suggests a change of metrics for Education, putting in some real standards in, but such efforts will be pointless. Much as Educationists can only understand teaching to be “give out lots of A’s”, any imposed standards will be likewise corrupted. Even graduation rates are meaningless, after all…with sufficient manipulation, it can be shown that athletes have a higher graduation rate than the general student population, though UNC has taught us how little it would mean if it were true.

     I’ll skip the usual dig about how if accreditation were legitimate, all the bogus Education courses would be flushed away. Oh, wait, I just precisely didn’t skip it. Oh well.

     Usually I find the posts in the Comments section fairly agreeable, but the comments this time around basically view the report as an attack on teachers. I think it’s more fair to view the report as an attack on Education departments on campus but a few comments are worth commenting on:

Just another strategy in the privatizers handbook for bashing teachers. With the oppressive environment ramped up to the point that the profession's ridiculous demands from anti-teacher editorials written to appease billionaire advertisers, to education policy overseen by a Secretary of Education whose sole skills are that he let the President play in his semi-pro level pickup basketball games, to the arbitrary test, test, test environment that leaves no time for teaching,

     I totally agree what’s going on in the government schools is ridiculous, as the government tries and fails repeatedly to impose a one-size-fits-all standard for everyone. It’s long past the time to get government out of school, but discussion of the extensive “public” school scam is for another post, or another blog.

Yes, I worked hard for my degree as well. I guess it never occurred to them that maybe good students who love their majors, studying, and school would choose to study

     This is a good theory, and it does seem like good students would become good teachers. But if this were true, then GRE scores would be higher, and Educationists wouldn’t have a (very earned) vile reputation on campuses across the nation (and in other countries). Personally, I’ve met one bright Educationist…and dozens of, well, “not bright” ones that nevertheless have Ph.D.s.

     Yeah, let's make it even more difficult to become a teacher…

     This is another good point—I just don’t see the need for four year theoretical degrees to become a teacher. A century ago (97 years, to be exact), my grandmother, an 8th grade graduate, passed the test to become a teacher, and I bet she’d have been just as good as anyone with a high falutin’ degree. 

     Education departments have failed on every level, every time…let’s just go back to basic skills test, and realize, when it comes to teaching 10 year olds, that years of theoretical training really isn’t all that important compared to just being an adult, and that when students get past around that age, what you need is to know the material (which you don’t learn in Educationist programs anyway).

     Back to the point, the “outside world” is finally starting to notice that what’s going on in Education departments is risible…and no, I’ve nothing against teachers at all, even if the commenters view revealing what’s going on as an attack. Oh well, at least one blogger agrees with me.



  1. I've known my share of education students since I was an undergrad and I was often puzzled about what they actually learned. At least in something such as engineering or physics, people have to study subjects which are concrete, such as differential equations or heat transfer. Those are based on sound fundamental concepts and often start from first principles. Often, those concepts and principles can be readily tested, observed, and measured.

    I roomed with an education student during my freshman year and some of the courses he took sounded wishy-washy, full of air pudding and marshmallow words. How that could qualify as proper education was beyond me. It came as no surprise to me that he eventually became a high school counsellor and recently retired from that position.

    Even later, I knew a number of schoolteachers and, frankly, most of them weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. Back when newspapers were a primary source of information, none of them read one on a regular basis--and were proud of it. I, on the other hand, read 3 or 4 almost daily plus I listened to the news on the radio.

    I wasn't able to tell whether that mentality was a result of their own natural inclinations or if it was due to what they learned in university. It scares me to think that they were an example of what the public education system depends upon.

  2. What you're saying is correct but it's nothing new. See Baran and Sweezy's "Monopoly Capital," published fifty years ago for a list of hilarious doctoral dissertations awarded by departments of education; e.g., "The Crash Impact Levels of 13 Football Helmets."

    Departments of education have long been the intellectual ghettos of their universities and ed majors typically come from the bottom quartile of the university population (maybe even bottom decile).

    1. I totally concede that much of what I have to say isn't particularly new. I'm simply trying to say these things loud enough that more people can know what's going on.