Beware the ed school mafia
When I was in grad school at Stanford, there was an largely unspoken consensus that the education school was the weakest of the grad school programs in the university. They had the flimsiest pedagogy and the most “flexible” curriculum (in that pretty much any course on campus could somehow apply towards their degree). The fact ...
When I was in grad school at Stanford, there was an largely unspoken consensus that the education school was the weakest of the grad school programs in the university. They had the flimsiest pedagogy and the most "flexible" curriculum (in that pretty much any course on campus could somehow apply towards their degree). The fact that this program was training America's next generation of teachers troubled me a little back then, but now I share Alan Greenspan's fervor in boosting education in the United States. Which is why it's so disappointing to hear that any scholar who questions the rigor of education school curricula in this country runs into difficulties. Eduwonk posts the following tale:
When I was in grad school at Stanford, there was an largely unspoken consensus that the education school was the weakest of the grad school programs in the university. They had the flimsiest pedagogy and the most “flexible” curriculum (in that pretty much any course on campus could somehow apply towards their degree). The fact that this program was training America’s next generation of teachers troubled me a little back then, but now I share Alan Greenspan’s fervor in boosting education in the United States. Which is why it’s so disappointing to hear that any scholar who questions the rigor of education school curricula in this country runs into difficulties. Eduwonk posts the following tale:
[David] Steiner, a Boston University education professor, is the author of a controversial chapter in the new book, “A Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom: Appraising Old Answers and New Ideas” published by Harvard Education Press…. Steiner’s chapter looks at the course of study in elite education programs in the United States. Specifically he and a colleague analyze syllabi from 16 teacher preparation programs (14 top tier and two comparison schools) as measured against a framework of what they consider to be a rigorous and high quality program. The results are not encouraging. They found a pervasive ideological slant and a lack of rigor. They’re certainly not the first to raise these issues but they are among the first to try to systematically analyze them because of the difficulty of compiling data on a varied set of courses and program requirements. Steiner’s data is less complete than he’d like. Steiner acknowledges the shortcomings and invites others to review the data (for reasons of confidentiality he cannot publicly disclose the specific courses he analyzed) and replicate and expand his work. Steiner first presented his work at a 2003 conference in Washington then subsequently revised it based on feedback at the conference for publication. Yet before the book even hit the shelves he found himself at the receiving end of a nasty whispering campaign. Rather than falsify his findings, or even better just put syllabi on the web to facilitate easier analysis by others, Steiner has been derided, often in personal terms, and almost never in print with a name attached to it. But mention his work at a conference and you’ll get an earful, not about the ins and outs of the work but instead just claims about what garbage it is and what a hack Steiner allegedly is.
Education Week has further details (registration required):
In examining the outlines for 45 “education foundations” courses in 18 programs, the researchers found that no course offered an introduction to the four central areas that they say ideally would make up the course: the philosophy, history, and psychology of education, along with public-policy debates in the field. In general, philosophy, history, and policy got short shrift in teacher-preparation courses, the paper said. In seven schools, students were required to study only psychology and multiculturalism. Psychology showed up in all but three programs, and cultural diversity as a course was required in all but three education schools…. Courses in methods for teaching mathematics, the researchers wrote, showed the strong influence of standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: All but five of the 42 outlines studied made explicit reference to them. The investigators also found evidence that three-quarters of the schools were taking state math standards into account to various degrees. They applauded both those directions. On the other hand, just one course outline referred to the research stemming from the Third International Math and Science Study, which has found that in comparison with math teachers in other countries, American math teachers cover material that is less demanding, with less attention to fundamental concepts…. Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University who has led the charge for tighter regulation and higher standards for teaching, blasted the paper as showing “very poor scholarship.” Course outlines are inadequate to assess what is actually taught, she said, calling the standards Mr. Steiner used to evaluate each of the four types of courses either personal or politically motivated. “We need systematic studies,” she complained, “rather than diatribes that come at the problems ideologically.” David F. Labaree, an education professor at Stanford and author of the forthcoming book The Trouble With Ed Schools, agreed that course outlines are not a good guide to what is actually taught. They are “more an ideological portrait of a course than actual substance,” he said. Mr. Steiner was right in portraying many education schools as having “a strong ideological consensus around progressive, constructivist approaches to education,” Mr. Labaree said. (emphases added).
Maybe they do things differently in ed schools, but for my classes, course syllabi are a pretty decent indicator for course content. It’s hard to ascertain the extent of any negative feedback Steiner is experiencing beyond Eduwonk’s post. That said, if Steiner is really the subject of a whispering campaign, but if he is, it’s emblematic of the difficulties the U.S. will face in education reform. [C’mon, this contretemps just a stalking horse for standard left-right debates about education, right?–ed. Steiner’s chapter is part of a book co-edited by scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and the Progressive Policy Institute. I’d call that pretty bipartisan. Plus, as Eduwonk observes, “Steiner’s not a Lynne Cheney type or an ideologue, he’s a lefty!’]
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Twitter: @dandrezner
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