Critics of schools of education have always regarded them on a par with lathe turning because of their lack of intellectualism. It's only recently, however, that their attacks have made headlines.
The latest comes from the National Council on Teacher Quality ("Teacher Training's Low Grade," The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 18). It looked at 1,200 programs at 608 institutions, concluding that they constituted an "industry of mediocrity." Only four received four stars.
If I had not taught in a public school for 28 years, I most likely would assume that they are nothing but another irrelevant hoop to jump through on the way to a teaching license. But a closer look at the evidence reveals a more nuanced picture.
Let's start with the rankings themselves. The NCTQ study singled out UCLA as hardly worth attending ("New teacher training study decries California universities," Los Angeles Times, Jun. 18). Yet U.S. News & World Report in 2005 ranked UCLA's Graduate School of Education No. 2 in the country. Only Harvard was superior. It's hard to believe that UCLA has fallen so precipitously since then. The only way to draw valid inferences is to compare the data that investigators from both sources considered.
But beyond rankings, there is another factor that is poorly understood. I'm talking about the disconnect between supply and demand. There are some 98,000 public schools in the U.S. that are staffed by about 3.2 million teachers. Every year, schools hire more than 200,000 new teachers for the first day of class in the fall. But by the time summer rolls around at least 20,000 have quit. Those who make it through the first year aren't likely to stay either. About 30 percent flee after 3 years, and 45 percent are gone after five years.
In a perfect world, all teachers would graduate from programs with rigorous standards and be prepared to meet all challenges in the classroom. But in reality, it is impossible to have both quality and quantity. Something has to give. That's why I believe the NCTQ study found so many schools of education wanting. (I'm not referring now to the $7.2 billion annually that the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future estimates the revolving door costs schools.)
I'm not defending education schools. They most certainly need to improve. But under the circumstances, the U.S. is probably getting what it pays for. Reformers point to Finland as a model. However, Finland is a fraction of the size of the U.S. As a result, it can afford to be highly selective in those it admits to its teacher preparation programs. Not surprisingly, schools of education there are as prestigious as schools of law and medicine.