A couple of weeks ago, Bill Keller wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times in which he asserted that colleges of education were largely responsible for our national education woes. Leave aside the fact that he knows nothing about the national education issues, but focus instead on his claim that whatever is wrong must be the fault of the ed schools.
Bruce Baker was outraged, as was I.
I have never been a champion of ed schools, but like Baker, I recoiled at Keller’s simplistic thinking. Plenty of smart teachers went to ed schools; are there some bad courses there? Sure. Are there some bad courses in liberal arts colleges? Yes. My own view is that teachers should be solidly grounded in whatever they expect to teach, but they should also learn about how to teach, about child psychology, about how children learn, and about the politics, history, and economics of education. The combination is powerful. But that doesn’t mean that everyone with that combination will be a great teacher.
But there’s actually a simpler logical fallacy at play here which lies at the root of many reformy arguments regarding causes and consequences – failure to acknowledge that the U.S. has a wide range of elementary and secondary of schools that are both high performing and low performing and that the defining features differentiating higher and lower performing schools are not found primarily in their teachers or the preparation programs they attended – or whether they attended any at all – but rather in the communities they serve, the resources available to them and the backgrounds, health and economic well-being of the children and families they serve.
This is not about the poverty as excuse argument. This is about the simple point that our highest performing public schools also employ teachers from traditional public college and university preparation programs and in many cases, teachers from the same – or substantively overlapping – college and university preparation programs as teachers in our lowest performing schools in the same region.
If that’s the case, then how is it possible that teacher preparation programs are the problem?
It would be wonderful if the New York Times elevated someone to the op-ed page as a columnist who actually knew something about education, like Michael Winerip. Winerip used to have a great weekly column, but was then mysteriously assigned to cover baby-boomers. At present, every columnist on the New York Times opinion pages takes his turn saying absurd things about American education, either because they think they have found a miracle school (which isn’t) or because they have found the ultimate scapegoat (which they haven’t).
Maybe they could hire Bruce Baker and really enlighten the world.