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« Doomed? | Main | A Novel Approach »

Abolish The Education Degree

That's been my position for years, and Andrew Ferguson agrees, in this piece on the miserable state of math education in the US:

Mr. Levine's research shows that even the students themselves know how weak their programs are. Sixty-two percent of ed-school alumni say their training didn't prepare them to "cope with the realities of today's classrooms." Surveys show that school principals agree.

What's to be done? A constructive fellow, Mr. Levine spends considerable time showing what works in the nation's exemplary education schools. There are some. The examples are so compelling they just might shame other universities into following their lead, removing a major obstacle to educational improvement in America.

Education schools, for example, shouldn't treat "education" as a major in itself. Good education schools, Mr. Levine finds, require their students to master a given subject English or math the way a normal English or math major would. Beyond this standard four-year course, good schools then add another year of instruction in how to teach the subject.

Yes. It's crazy to give people degrees in "teaching" that provide them with no actual knowledge to impart. I think that the same is true of a "journalism" degree. As I've proposed in the past, a huge federal education reform would be to simply cut off all funding for schools of "education."

Posted by Rand Simberg at December 13, 2006 08:25 AM
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The problem with the modern education system is it is surely becoming a mal-education syste.

I submit bad info is worse than no info. It takes far more effort to unlearn something than to learn it in the first place.

Some (mal)education has negative value and is harmful to society.

Who cares if Johnny can do math as long as he has good self-esteem about himself.

Posted by Mike Puckett at December 13, 2006 11:57 AM

The problem is certainly not new. In the late 1960's the educations powers that be decided that the method of teaching math was all wrong -- so the fostered the "new math" method. The problem was that they did not bother to give the teachers who were trying to actually teach the subject any assistance. I had an opportunity to assist one such teacher (my major was in Math). He had no idea how to proceed. I spent about 10 to 15 hours over a period of two weeks teaching him what he was trying to teach. Prior to my assistance he had been relying on the study guide -- if the students work did not match the guide exactly he would mark them wrong, even though the method and results were correct.

I've often wondered how may students left high school with a total dislike of math because of this.

Posted by Stan O at December 13, 2006 12:27 PM

I saw a study a couple of years ago that showed average SAT, ACT and GRE test scores by major, education was last by a wide margin. Despite arguments to the contrary, those tests have an excellent correlation to IQ and success in higher education.

As and aside physics was first followed closely by chemistry, math and engineering not necessarily in that order.

Posted by brian d at December 13, 2006 01:40 PM

Yes, I was in the generation that got slagged by the "New Math". I hated math all through my early school years, and it was only in college that I finally recovered, and actually learned how mathematics works.

My Dad always called the New Math "Hippie Math", and making allowances for a little hyperbole, he wasn't far wrong.

Posted by tschafer at December 13, 2006 03:14 PM


Education has several distinct issues in this country.

1) The US Primarily funds at the tertiary and graduate level.
If you look at the dollars per student poured in for PhD's
vs Kindergartners it's sad. Graduate education draws
big state support and federal support, while K-6 is mostly
local dollars.

- This creates huge disparites. Rich towns/counties pour in
a lot more then poor counties, putting their kids at a big
disadvantage. Kids from Delta Mississippi, have a real tough
gap to jump, when they go to college.

2) Primary and secondary education class sizes are way too large. For this stuff, anything more then 16-18 kids and
they aren't teaching, they are driving a bus.

3) Most Secondary school teachers aren't subject matter
experts. It's the rare teacher in a high school with a subject
matter degree.

Now for primary school, fine. k-6, it's all pretty simple.
But for 7-12, they need math, geography, history,
language intensity. Far too many gym coaches teach
geometry or bio.

There are other issues, lack of involvement by
parents. It's criminal neglect for parents to think
involvement is showing up for a football game.
Personally each parent ought to care enough to
spend one day a month, just serving as a teachers aide.
It'd give them some sympathy for the teachers and
sure would help provide some touch labor.

Some of the best schools at the primary level don't
spend money, but they have incredible community involvement.
Parents will spend a weekend or two laying roofs, or patching
asphalt, the community will chip in books, magazines,
reading seminar volunteers. Local professionals
will provide enrichment training.

Fundamentally the community tends to abandon the
schools.

Posted by anonymous at December 13, 2006 03:46 PM

Well, you'd think K-6 math would be simple but apparently it's not. Our kid's school just adopted the asinine "Investigations" math curriculum, and now our very bright 3rd grader hardly does math at all. We have to make up for it at home, because what he's getting now is actually simpler than what he got in 2nd grade.

Now for my own story...I was a "victim" of New Math in the early 70's, and can almost pinpoint the time when things really came off the rails for me. I've had a fascination with aeronautics since childhood, but never had the math skills to pursue engineering. So now, I'm back in school studying what I should have learned 20 years ago.

Back to the present...my math professor also taught a course called "math for elementary school teachers". It convinced him that a great deal of elementary teachers target those grades *because* they don't like math and want to avoid it. He said it was dismaying to see them even having trouble teaching grade school-level stuff.

Our 3rd grader wants to be an engineer. Looks like we've got our work cut out for us...

Posted by Pat C at December 13, 2006 05:58 PM

Anonymous moron votes for "more money". Big surprise there. I went to a private school where the teachers made less than their public compadres and the rooms were old and decrepit. We had to spend almost 2 hours on the bus each day. When I once again came back into the government school system I found I was way ahead of the rest of the students my age and could basically cruise. And this was in a suburban middle class school that was considered "elite".

Then again, maybe he has a point. Those $200,000 a year educrats at the top of the school food chain do take their bite, don't they?

Posted by K at December 13, 2006 06:41 PM

Agreed! The education degrees of my highschool teachers had absolutely no bearing on how fit they were to teach math. I've had one or two terrible math teachers, ones that didn't have a clue what they were teaching no less!

And that was in basic geometry. My geometry teacher punished us for working ahead (no joke), because she didn't understand past the lesson she was teaching!

Fortunately I also had two very good math teachers in my later courses who actually seemed to understand the subject matter, and one very good physics teacher.

Posted by Aaron at December 13, 2006 07:26 PM

I went to a "National Exemplary" public High School. Indeed, I noted that most of my teachers actually had degrees, several advanced, in their subjects. For instance, my chemistry teacher actually worked several years for Dupont. My biology teacher at least had a degree in zoology. My government teacher was a Democrat activitist (no kidding).

Yet I'll never forget my 7th grade math teacher who once told the class, "I choose to teach math because it was my worst subject when I was in school, and I thought my experience in overcoming math would be beneficial". That was the year Texas mandated standardized testing of teachers, and of course, she was afraid she would flunk the test. Yes, her college degree was in education.

On another note, my last roommate in college got his Masters in Education. He didn't go to work for the public school system, but rather for what was then Anderson Consulting. He worked on large projects to develop training manuals and users guides for products. The last time I talked to him, he was producing operator manuals for Catapiller. Considering how many times I've seen software developers and hardware engineers unable or unwilling to write simple procedures, I think there is a little room for education degrees. Then again, the last paragraph of the piece Rand quoted essentially suggests the same of advanced education degrees.

Posted by Leland at December 14, 2006 05:41 AM

Anon says: 1) The US Primarily funds at the tertiary and graduate level.
If you look at the dollars per student poured in for PhD's
vs Kindergartners it's sad. Graduate education draws
big state support and federal support, while K-6 is mostly
local dollars.

- This creates huge disparites. Rich towns/counties pour in
a lot more then poor counties, putting their kids at a big
disadvantage. Kids from Delta Mississippi, have a real tough
gap to jump, when they go to college.

You're almost there, except the money poured in from government and public is earmarked for administration first, by mandate of the Education Union. Throwing money at the system doesn't work, that's a fact proven by experience. Throw money at the teachers and get them the education THEY need to teach and cut the administration to what's necessary to function.

One thing that the conservatives got in here (Texas) is the mandatory testing. This is of course, followed by teachers teaching the test so they and the schools look good. This causes the students to suffer, at least initially. Once the system figures out how to balance things, it gets better for the students, but then they change the testing requirements again. All around, its a bad idea. See, I even disagree with conservatives too!

Posted by Mac at December 14, 2006 07:29 AM

I grew up in Smalltown, Mississippi and was also a victim of the "New Math". The teachers didn't have the content down and working ahead was not allowed. I could struggle through but the formulas were abstract and seemed unrelated to anything in the real world. For over three decades I was convinced I just didn't have "a math mind." Then my job threw numbers at me and I found out how to use them, returned to school for an A.S. and enjoyed the hell out of the math as straightforwardly taught progression. What I'd expected to be the hardest subject was three semesters of classes I looked forward to.
It seems like the "New Math" cheated a generation of math instruction.

Posted by Stewart at December 14, 2006 08:20 AM

The situation is just as bad, if not worse, in the UK.

Reasons?

1. You can't fire a useless teacher; the union won't let you.

2. High school is a zoo. It's a bit difficult to teach when the pupils are running riot; the reason for this problem is a mixture of prohibition of effective discipline and the fact that the pupils have never been taught how to bahave in a civilised manner.

3. It's actually in the interest of the ruling classes to keep most of the population from being educated; that way they can be fed a line of BS, they'll believe it, and the pigs can keep their noses in the trough.

4. The pervading philosophy of "professional" educators is to strive for equality of outcome. It's far easier to get that by cutting off the high flyers at the knees than by working really hard on those who are a little slower.

Posted by Fletcher Christian at December 16, 2006 05:51 AM


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