March 19, 2006

Misconstruing schools of education

Peter Wood, the provost at King's College, has abolished the college's school of education, something that Joanne Jacobs and Margaret Soltan have noted.

Wood had some criticisms of the (non)intellectual curriculum in schools of education, which Jacobs quoted:
Schools of education mis-prepare would-be teachers in many ways. They deprive those would-be teachers of the opportunity to learn more important, substantive things during their undergraduate years; they require students to take hugely time-consuming courses of dubious intellectual value; and they inculcate would-be teachers in the educrats' pernicious ideology....
But Jacobs missed the earlier explanation of Woods for that curriculum:
These [state] regulations mandated that we offer dozens of intellectually vapid courses far below the College’s standards for the rest of the curriculum....
And then, after Woods decided to close down the school:
Then New York State officials got involved. At first, they couldn’t believe that we would just walk away from their precious undergraduate education major — a major they had perfected through long years of careful cogitation.... I still sense incredulity on the part of a lot [of] the New York educrats, who can’t imagine anyone having a principled objection to preparing would-be teachers according to their recipe.
There are a number of ironies here, primarily the fact that this is the same department that is in charge of the state's high-stakes testing program (albeit one that botched the testing by bowdlerizing reading passages some years ago). Maybe the department has multiple personalities. But more fundamentally, it points to the bind that many institutions find themselves in if they wish to offer certification programs.

Those binds don't completely explain the problems of teacher-ed curricula. I see some of those problems (or their symptoms) every semester. I'm a little chagrined that many students think our undergraduate social-foundations course has too much work—not that I don't want them to work but that they think it's a lot of work in comparison to other classes. They read the equivalent of three books in a semester (two books and eleven shorter pieces), when they really should be reading six to have a truly critical mass to absorb and think about.

Schools of ed are criticized when they focus too much on techniques (not intellectually rigorous!) and also when they don't teach enough techniques (our kids can't read, and it's your fault!). Fundamentally, a teacher-ed curriculum is a compromise, trying to provide a professional and intellectual education in four years—or two years in our case, when many students transfer to USF from Florida's community-college system.

(What Woods does not explain is the fate of the faculty in the school and whether the faculty of the college as a whole concurred with his decision. It's legitimate for an institution to close down a program, but ideally that should be a decision of the faculty as a whole.)

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Posted in Random comments on March 19, 2006 8:35 AM |