Can ed schools emulate biz schools?

Education schools can learn a lesson from business schools, which used to be a haven for mediocre students and improved dramatically, write Robert Maranto, Gary Ritter and Arthur E. Levine in Education Week.

A 1959 Ford Foundation report recommended that business schools reorganize around applied mathematics, economics, and behavioral science. The foundation spent $30 million to encourage reform, investing in “near-great schools anxious to compete with the likes of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Columbia.”

Education schools “were designed, in an era of rapid school expansion, to quickly increase the supply of teachers, no matter their quality,” the authors write.

. . . American schools of education lack sufficient academic rigor and applied acuity. Consequently, those they train—teachers and administrators at traditional public schools—often do not have the knowledge and skill for their very difficult work.

“The ambitious near-great schools, rather than the field’s leaders,” will be willing to change. 

. . . we propose that contemporary schools of education, like the business schools of the 1950s, be reorganized around highly rigorous academic disciplines with well-established academic quality, and which seem likely to offer the skills and content teachers and administrators need. Psychology, biology, statistics, and content knowledge in the disciplines taught in K-12 schooling make the most likely candidates.

Education schools are worth saving, they argue.

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  1. Schools of education are absolutely worth saving. The country seems to agree that businessmen, lawyers, and doctors need their respective schools to be qualified to perform their jobs, is the education of our children that mush less important that we don’t think their should be a school devoted to preparing teachers to work with our children?

    I’ve yet to hear a solid argument for getting rid of schools of education. Anyone have one?

  2. Diana Senechal says:

    Ed schools can emulate good schools–business or otherwise. They should work closely with other departments, recognizing that subject matter must be part of any education program. And they should offer real courses, not mini-courses or crash courses. Those who already have fulfilled the requirements through previous study can take more advanced courses or courses in other fields.

    As for statistics, any graduate of an ed school program should be able to read and explain any research study, technical reports and all.

  3. Nick: I do not think degrees should be granted in education, either undergraduate or graduate. Education should be a department, not a college. As such, it can offer undergraduate and graduate minors to complement majors in the disciplines for middle and high school teachers. For elementary ed students, an interdisciplinary major should be designed to ensure that all students take appropriate courses across the disciplines. There should be a limit on the number of credits in education.

  4. Business schools are generally better than education schools, in the sense that the test scores (and presumably the IQs) of those who get admitted are better for the former, and it usually takes more work & intelligence to stay in & graduate. But as far as the degree to which the education received is actually *useful* to the practicing executive (rather than serving mainly for signaling and connection-making), a lot of people have concerns. Before holding business schools as a paragon, read Managers Not MBAs by Henry Mintzberg of McGill University (excerpts here); also Warren Bennis and James O’Toole.

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    I’ve yet to hear a solid argument for getting rid of schools of education. Anyone have one?

    My argument would be that nobody knows how to create a good teacher. We don’t even know what causes one teacher to be better than another. We have various correlations–e.g., good teachers are fairly bright and know their subject matter–but ed schools can do nothing about those.

    Ed schools take a year of more out of every prospective teacher’s life and require someone to pay out a fair amount of money. Right now the return for that is a credential, not a useful body of knowledge.

    I would not agree that most “businessmen … need their … [business] schools to perform their jobs.” Some people in some situations, yes. Mostly, no. Think of Bill Gates or just about any successful business person over 40 and they probably don’t have an MBA. More recently, people do because it has become a way to winnow down the job applicant pool: “No MBA? Well, not going to schedule her for an interview.”

    Ed Levi, when he was dean of the University of Chicago Law School, said that law school was too long; it should be two years instead of three. Not surprisingly, no group of law professors took him up on his idea.

    There is actually a real question how much of what law students do is actually useful in their lives as lawyers. When I was a law student interviewing at firms and shuttling between people’s offices, I would often see that partners had their law school casebooks displayed somewhere. I often asked how often they used them. I was surprised the first time the lawyer said “never.” But that was the most common answer I got.

  6. I really don’t understand all the fuss about subject knowledge. You have to pass a demanding test to become a high school teacher, and a fairly demanding test to become an elementary teacher. The tests have utterly decimated Cal State teacher admissions, which suggests that the tests are doing their jobs. So why go on about more subject matter instruction? Tests are much more reliable than a college course grade to indicate knowledge.

    As for “saving” ed schools, I don’t much care one way or the other, but the analogy is absurd. No one has to have a biz school credential to practice business, so business schools weren’t gatekeepers. Ed schools are gatekeepers until a credential is no longer required–and politicians are never going to fold on that because they get all their money from unions.

  7. The standards for entrance into law, medical and many business schools are higher than they are for most schools of ed. Most professional schools agressively weed out underqualifed candidates via entrance exams, demanding workloads, qualification exams (the bar), extended training, and internships. Teachers’ education is just so much less demanding.

    Roger said, “My argument would be that nobody knows how to create a good teacher. We don’t even know what causes one teacher to be better than another…”

    That’s bubkis or magical thinking. As a non-teacher I can tell you these qualities make a good teacher:

    A mastery of the subject material they teach
    The ability to communicate incrementally and clearly
    The ability to command the respect of their pupils and maintain authority
    Organizational skills
    The ability to assess and respond to their audience (pupils) in a dynamic situation

    Do we know what makes a good lawyer, business person or doctor? Perhaps the best judges of what makes a good teacher are master teachers themselves.

    When are teachers going to take responsibility for the professional standards of their own profession? Physician heal thy self.

  8. Perhaps the analogy to business school is misplaced, but the argument that schools of ed should be more like med schools certainly has merit. My friends who are in law school or out of law school say similar things to my colleagues in the classroom: what we learned was great and fine, but we learned more outside of the classroom actually practicing our profession.

    Doctors, on the other hand, don’t seem to do that. While I’m sure they learn a great deal in their first few years out of residency, by the time they get there it’s assumed they are well-equipped to complete their jobs. Who would want to go to a doctor that wasn’t? If businessmen and lawyers are poorly equipped it’s generally not a matter of life or death.

    As for teachers, the fact that so many are ill-equipped to actually do their jobs out of school is disconcerting to most (and I think all of the people that read this blog). While the argument to place education-minors in the other professional schools is interesting, it would still lack the one thing that can help new teachers do their jobs effectively: experience with students. No matter what a school of education, law school or business school do, real experience in the field is what teaches students how to do a job. With doctors we wouldn’t dream of letting them practice without actually knowing what they are doing, which means their schooling is much longer and they are not put fully in charge of patients until they have worked with them extensively over the course of hundreds and hundreds of hours. Why shouldn’t it be the same for teachers? If we get rid of schools of ed and if we do not reform them, the only thing that will continue to happen is we’ll send unprepared teachers into the classroom and for the first couple years that they figure things out their students will be left at a severe disadvantage.

  9. Whether ed schools can learn a lesson from business schools is immaterial. The graduates of business schools are expected to bring some skills of value to the enterprise and the graduates of the schools command starting salaries in line with the reputation of the school, i.e. the more likely you are to possess valuable skills the more you, and the school that graduated you, is worth.

    The reason it’s immaterial if ed schools can learn from business schools is because teaching skill is not valued within the profession. Not only is no differentiation made on the basis of teaching skill but even the idea of differentiating on the basis of teaching skill is strongly resisted.

    If teaching skill isn’t measured it can’t be rewarded so what would be the motivation of an ed school to produce the best teachers in the country? What would be the motivation of students to try to gain admission to that ed school?

    Maybe when Ritter, Maranto and Levine can figure out how to alter the public education system so that teaching skill has a value other then personal satisfaction the ed schools will improve. Until then I don’t see why they would.

  10. Alf Tupper says:

    As someone mentioned earlier, education should be just a department, not a school in its own right. What no one seems to have mentioned is that education as a discipline lacks any fundamental scientific theory at its foundations. Since the 1960’s “education theory” has been overwhelmed by politically-motivated, post-modernist psycho-babble. Read Heather MacDonald or E.D. Hirsch if yiou don’t believe me.

    I have found that my child’s teachers are, for the most part, remarkably poorly read, even in their own subjects. The “textbooks” are devoid of content, focusing mainly on “skills.” Memorization of important facts is considered old school (pun intended). I had the good fortune to attend some excellent schools (in the UK) which demanded that we master the subject matter. Ny teachers paid little attention to my feelings or self-esteem. They knew that self-esteem derives from a sense of accomplishment, not being coddled.

  11. Nick,

    Youre right about the medical school analogy. It could also help us transition from the inherently destructive data-DRIVEN accountability of recent years to the data-informed, evidenced-based decision-making that shows promise in medicine. The difference is that practitioners must show the self-respect of defending their professional autonomy, and respecting peer review.

    I also enjoyed your blog (I’m curious about how you’d respond on my last comment on charters) I’ve had the privilege of getting two days back from break. During the first couple, before being closed for a cold spell that wouldn’t have bothered you guys in Kansas, I had a dozen great conversations with returning kids. I had plenty of those conversations at the beginning of the year, but then I was just meeting 120 of my 140 students. Now, I just meeting about 30 of my current 137. I could kick myself for not catching those dozen before they slipped away, but I stopped doing that years ago.

    I was a career-changer who didn’t attend ed school, but I find it noteworthy that nobody here has adopted the Whitney Tilson position on them of:

    “It would be hard for even the most rational person’s mind not to be poisoned by prolonged exposure to the politically correct, Alice-in-Wonderland, bizzaro world of big city educational systems and ed schools (aka, The Blob). … In marked contrast, the new guard are on average 30 years younger, are much more centrist ideologically, and have much less exposure to the Blob – enough, in general, to recognize the insanity, but not so much to actually be brainwashed by the nonsense. … The new guard recognizes that the problem IS the system and that reforming it requires more of a top-down approach, similar to turning around ANY big, broken, bureaucratic system, whether for-profit or nonprofit/governmental.”

    Yeah we have a “bizzaro” world, but I think we need to welcome any newcomers to education, but mostly we need more team players. And apparently, that the operative force in the medical reforms of today, peer review.

    Its been fun blogging like crazy, but starting Monday I’ll mostly be saving my out-of-school energy from

  12. I often asked how often they used them [casebooks]. I was surprised the first time the lawyer said “never.” But that was the most common answer I got.

    If you’d asked them how often they used Lexis-Nexis to look up precedents in those casebooks, their answer would have been quite different.

  13. (Nick): “”… is the education of our children that much less important that we don’t think their should be a school devoted to preparing teachers to work with our children?”

    Let’s see: X is important, therefore taxpayers should subsidize post-secondary schools which prepare people to teach X. Hmmm…
    Oxygen is important. Do we have schools which teach people how to breathe?

    Years ago, the Holmes Group recommended abolishing the undergraduate degree in Education. Advanced degrees in Education also add nothing to teacher competence. Colleges of Education are subsidized playpens for otherwise unemployable Marxist twits.

    Schools in the tax-subsidized, State-monopoly pre-college US education industry have little incentive to identify reliable predictors of teacher effectiveness. Unionized College faculty restrict supply of K-t2 teachers to keep teacher pay artificially high. Insiders have a stronger incentive to twist accountability mechanisms than outsiders, generally, have in keeping accountability mechanisms straight. Internal accountability mechanisms fail systematically. Economists call this “regulatory capture”.

    People resolve more disputes through neglect than through confrontation. If you get a badly prepared meal or poor service in a restaurant, you don’t scream at the chef or complain to management, or buy shares and influence restaurant operations “democratically”, you eat somewhere else next time out. The most effective accountability mechanism humans have yet devised is a policy which gives unhappy customers the power to take their business elsewhere.

    “What works?” is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes (e.g., small school districts, independent charter schools) or a competitive market in instructional services will generate more information than will a State-monopoly school system. A State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls; a retarded experimental design.

    My preference? The least change in the current industrial structure, OJT for teachers: legislate that schools may hire people with degrees in relevant subjects (e.g., for Math, any degree which requires Multi-variate analysis) for a paid two-year probationary term as teachers’ aides, in-house substitutes, and Department gofers.

    I remember reading somewhere that students with a undergraduate business degree were better off joining the workforce than continuing on to an MBA, over the long run.

  14. Comparing ed schools to B schools, law schools or med schools is ridiculous, since those are exclusively graduate schools.

    A much more valid comparison is to compare them to undergrad nursing majors, which have a prescribed curriculum in the sciences, psych etc. in addition to clinical classes with a practice component. They graduate nurses who are able to pass a licensure exam which tests knowledge across nursing fields and who are ready to begin professional practice with a brief orientation period. If nursing schools (and other health care programs) can do this, both at the Associate Degree level in two years and at the Bachelor’s Degree level in four years, why can’t ed schools do it in four years? Why are there so many people with not only undergrad ed degrees but masters’ as well who are unable to teach k-5 kids to master reading, math etc?

  15. Please read…
    Robert Holland
    How to Build a Better Teacher
    Policy Review

  16. This discussion is really quite moot, as any stringent restrictions to improve the quality of teachers will drastically cut the supply of teachers into the system. The system requires a large number of teachers to work, which unfortunately means that quality must be compromised. If we had a system where we could get by with 1/4 of the current number of teachers, then we could possibly think about raising expectations for ed schools, demanding quality applicants, and paying them accordingly.

  17. momof4:
    I agree completely. I think that schools of education should be moved to the post-undergraduate level, right alongside pharmacy schools and medical schools. Doing so might be ONE thing that could draw more qualified candidates from other professions. It would also ensure that teacher candidates are older and might thereby have more general experience.

    I also agree that it’s unfortunate that so many teachers come out unprepared after an undergraduate AND graduate degree. I personally had nearly finished both before hitting the classroom and was very unprepared for what I got once there.

    Your final comment on that charter post had a lot of points to speak to. Of course the way new teachers are ground up is the one with which I’m most familiar. Regardless of where you pull new teachers from- the workforce or schools of education- people don’t expect what they get when they enter the classroom.

    Your comments on team players and peer review are well-taken. It is true, as you said in that previous comment, that teachers shut their door to drown out the insanity. New teachers, who are making up an increasingly large portion of the work force, have difficulty controlling their own classroom, let alone being able to influence what’s going on elsewhere. The physical and proverbial shutting of doors allows even more teachers to avoid scrutiny of their peers.

  18. Math Teacher says:

    Nick wrote: “the way new teachers are ground up is the one with which I’m most familiar. Regardless of where you pull new teachers from- the workforce or schools of education- people don’t expect what they get when they enter the classroom.”

    Such a good point… thank you Nick (love your blog BTW).
    Only those who have worked in classrooms truly understand the Sisyphean nature of public school teaching. I don’t care how smart you are, how elite your university is, or how impressive your test scores are. If you wind up in a public classroom, you are in for the challenge of your life. Unfortunately, the working conditions are such that those with the greatest career choices will likely forgo this type of challenge, and God bless those who try it and stay with it.

    I would agree that schools of ed do not adequately prepare candidates for the realities of K-12 classroom teaching. Far too many bellowing elephants are ignored within these programs.

  19. It does strike me that there are some specific teaching skills that won’t be taught in a university course on the subject:
    – How to write good test questions (my Mum the ex-teacher refers to that one a bit)
    – How to identify physical problems such as short-sightedness, poor hearing, etc. These can manifest as behavioural problems.
    – How to identify gaps in students’ past learning.
    – How to work backwards from objectives for the year to individual classroom lessons.
    – How to maintain classroom discipline (a friend of mine went through teachers’ college in NZ which included practice in having eyes in the back of your head, eg exercises in which each trainee teacher stands in the middle of a circle of others, one person is the leader who makes silly faces, the others copy the leader, the middle person’s job is to identify the leader)

    And for primary school specifically:
    – How to teach reading
    – How to teach the basics of mathematics
    – How to teach handwriting to lefthanders (although my friends who did teachers’ college in NZ say it isn’t taught)

  20. Roger Sweeny says:


    I was interviewing in law firms before the days of Lexis-Nexis. At that time, you had to look up cases in the printed “Reports.”

  21. Tracy,

    I find your points to be untrue. Or, at least they are all untrue in my circumstances. I went to Philadelphia Biblical University, and graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor’s in Education.

    All of the following were required course for the el. ed. degree, but not so for the specific subject degrees:

    1.) Education Assessments — a class on writing good assessments
    2.) Exceptionalities I and II — 2 classes on identifying, assessing, and helping students with various special needs/disabilities
    3.) Developemental and Diagnostic Reading — a class on identifying past learning gaps, and reading standardized assessment scores
    4.)6 course in educational pedagogy — how to write a lesson plan, from overall unit down to the detailed lessons. This was embedded in each of those 6 classes, not their sole purpose.
    5.) Discipline Seminar — a course on running a classroom, where we were required to come up with a management plan, and a discipline plan. However, this class is only helpful as far as thinking ahead of problems and running smooth classroom transitions. It is not as useful as time spent in a classroom.
    6.) Emergent Literacy, Children’s Literature, Developmental and Diagnostic Reading in Middle School, plus one Lit. class of your choice. — all classes on teaching young children how to read, and at my college, we looked at many various trends — whole language, phonics, Montessouri, etc.
    7.) Early Childhood Math, Math in the Middle School, plus 2 math classes of your choice — again, how to teach math to young children, in a variety of ways, using a variety of tools
    8.) During Emergent Literacy, we were given handwriting tests — as college students! And we learned various techniques for teaching handwriting to all of our students. (of course, I’m left handed, so teaching lefties came more naturally to me.)

    So, as far as I can tell, I was taught all of the things that you claim are not taught. I realize this is one school out of many, and I know from friends of mine at other colleges that their course work was not nearly as extensive as mine. Where I had seperate classes for Teaching Science and Teaching Social Studies, they had a combined class, and things like that.

    I can say these classes helped prepare me in my content knowledge and pedagogy practices — but nothing can really help someone become a good teacher except for being a teacher. And nothing can help a teacher become better except for constructive, honest feedback, and supportive administration. I don’t mean administration that turns a blind eye — I mean administration that knows when to push you harder and expand your practices, as well as when to ease up b/c you’re totally overwhelmed and need help. I had awesome administrators these last 4.5 years and they have helped me greatly.

  22. So Julia, were you sought after by leading school districts?

    Wooed to come to work at their schools and teach their kids?

    Were you dazzled with the prospect of earning a starting salary substantially above the average nationwide?

    Regaled with tales of the bracing and exciting atmosphere of inquiry, competition, cooperation, excellence?

  23. allen, after i graduated i was hired to teach math in an urban district. i didn’t get a call from any of the suburbs i applied, to, though. my salary ranks 6th out of 13 surrounding disctricts. not the best, not the worst. as i’m sure you know — taking undergrad classes do nothing for starting salary of teachers, as that is set by each district’s contract, however my post grad work has added a whole $800 dollars a year to my pay. woot woot.