Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why the Weak Students End Up as Teachers: Education Programs Lack Intellect

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why the Weak Students End Up as Teachers: Education Programs Lack Intellect

Article excerpt

Education courses don't challenge students' intellects as much as others do, research shows in the new book "Academically Adrift." That's a problem not just for these students, but the students they will teach. It's time to reclaim education as serious intellectual endeavor.

A few days ago, I ran into a student whom I hadn't seen since the first day of class. With a slightly embarrassed smile, he told me that he had dropped my course.

"Too much work," he grinned. "I thought education classes were supposed to be guts."

Alas, he's right. A "gut" is an easy course, and ed school courses are guts, for the most part. That's also the part we omit from our debate on teacher preparation, which focuses largely on the "skills" that future instructors need - and pays little attention to their intellectual development.

Are you smarter than a 12th-grader? A reading comprehension quiz.

Consider the recent dust-up over U.S. News and World Report's plan to assign A through F grades to all 1,400 teaching colleges in America. Partnering with the National Council on Teacher Quality, the magazine announced that it would evaluate ed schools on 17 different standards - including student teaching, instruction about reading methods, and preparation for working with second-language English learners.

The impending evaluation sparked outrage in education schools, where over 35 deans, presidents, and directors signed a letter of protest to the magazine. The methodology of the U.S. News study was flawed, the ed school leaders said, because it lacked clear criteria for its standards as well as reliable ways to judge whether ed schools have met them. Worst of all, critics said, the evaluation didn't assess how well people taught after completing their degrees.

A few days later, U.S. News and World Report shot back with a memo that detailed its grading criteria. It also pledged to build in so-called "value-added" approaches, which use student test scores to evaluate teachers' effectiveness.

The elephant in the room

But nobody in this debate made any mention of the great elephant in the room: Ed school courses are too easy. No matter what we call these classes - or what teaching skills they transmit - they don't challenge students' intellects as much as other courses do.

And now we have the data to prove it. According to "Academically Adrift," a new book by my New York University colleague Richard Arum and the University of Virginia's Josipa Roksa, just 45 percent of students in education and social work reported taking a course in the previous semester requiring more than 20 pages of writing, while 61 percent took a class with more than 40 pages of reading per week. By comparison, 68 percent of social science and humanities students took a class with 20 pages of writing, and 88 percent had a class with 40 pages of weekly reading. …

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