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Rating Schools of Education

Schools of education have never been accorded respect by the academy or by the public. But their reputation will assuredly take even a greater hit as a result of new criteria to evaluate them ("Seeking Better Teachers, City Rates Colleges That Train Them," The New York Times, Aug. 15). Although the change is slated for schools of education in New York City, there are nationwide implications.

The new system uses six measures, including the number of graduates who are placed in low-performing schools and in high-demand subjects, and their ability to boost student test scores. I'm not an apologist for education schools. But the criteria that New York City sets forth do not pass the fairness test. Schools of education cannot guarantee that their graduates will increase standardized test scores any more than medical schools can guarantee that their graduates will improve patient health. There are factors beyond the control of their respective practitioners.

There will always be teachers who manage to overcome the huge deficits that disadvantaged students bring to class. These teachers deserve high praise for their accomplishments. But exceptions do not disprove a rule. There are 3.2 million teachers in 98,000 public schools that are populated by 48.2 million students. I do not believe that quality and quantity can exist simultaneously. That's why schools of education will never be able to produce enough outstanding teachers on this scale.

What these schools can do, however, is to provide far better clinical experience for prospective teachers. This is a realistic goal. Instead of waiting until teacher candidates complete classes in educational philosophy and psychology before exposing them to the realities of the classroom, schools of education should require a stipulated number of hours of classroom observations. This would help make whatever courses follow far more meaningful, and would help weed out dilettantes.

Judging schools of education on the basis of how many of their graduates wind up teaching in low-performing schools also makes little sense. Medical schools are not evaluated on the basis of how many of their graduates choose to practice in inner cities or remote areas of the country. Similarly, medical schools are not rated on the number of their graduates who choose primary care, where the need is greatest. I see nothing wrong with noting such things, but I do not believe they should constitute the basis for assessing quality.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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