Education profs don’t teach tradecraft

Education professors see themselves as “philosophers and agents of social change, not as master craftsmen sharing tradecraft,” concludes a Fordham study, Cracks in the Ivory Tower,  released today.

More than eighty percent of the nation’s education professors think it’s “absolutely essential” that teachers be lifelong learners, but far fewer believe it’s as necessary for teachers to understand how to work with state standards, tests, and accountability systems (24 percent), maintain discipline and order in the classroom (37 percent), or work in high?need schools (39 percent).

“Too many education professors still cling to outmoded, romantic views of what education is about and what teachers need,” said Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Education professors, for example, are far likelier to believe that the proper role of a teacher is to be a “facilitator of learning” (84 percent) not a “conveyor of knowledge” (11 percent). When asked to choose between two competing philosophies of teacher education, 68 percent believe they should be preparing tomorrow’s class instructors to be “change agents” versus 26 percent who believe they should prepare teachers to “work effectively within the realities of today’s public schools.” And while 83 percent of professors believe it’s “absolutely essential” to teach 21st Century skills, just 36 percent say that about teaching math facts and 44 percent about teaching phonics in the younger grades.

However, compared to the 1997 survey, professors are less likely to say struggling with questions is more important than finding the right answer. “Only 37 percent of today’s professors believe that early use of calculators will improve children’s problem?solving skills, a 20 percent drop from 1997.”

While most education professors support pay increases for teachers who work in challenging schools, they strongly reject linking teacher pay to student test scores. Professors split on measuring teacher effectiveness by analyzing students’ academic gains.

Twelve percent of professors surveyed are reformers who oppose the current teacher education system, while 13 percent are defenders of the system, the study concluded.

Teach for America and similar programs are a good idea, according to 63 percent of education professors.

Seventy?eight percent support a core curriculum with knowledge
and skill standards specified at each grade level, but only 49 percent believe state governments should adopt the “same set of standards and give the same tests in math, science, and reading nationwide.”

About Joanne


  1. You’re right, Joan, education professors do “strongly reject linking teacher pay to student test scores” because, as I hope you know, there are no systems in place that do such a thing reliably. Any post here by Bruce Baker ( on the topic of value-added teacher evaluation will enlighten you and your readers on the issue.

    Here at Iowa State we strive to not “cling to outmoded, romantic views of what education is about and what teachers (and leaders) need.” Certainly within our center, CASTLE (, we believe that educators are best served with the kinds of tradecraft that support 21st century learners.

    A last bit of context might be useful for your readership – Chester Finn is among the ten most wanted list of enemies of public education leadership as noted in a recent article by Fenwick English. I’ll leave it to you and your readers as to whether that’s a fair characterization, but it is an interesting read:

  2. Wow!! Thanks for the article…look forward to reading it…while i strongly disagree with the use of calculators in K-8, heck even high school math, I do believe teachers need to understand standardized tests, using data, how to manage their classroom (first and foremost), how to reach the individual students in their classroom in a group setting, etc…goes without saying all teachers should have an academic major in the grades in which they teach…yes even kindergarten as the teachers can rotate among the rooms if people are opposed to the kids moving…

  3. A last bit of context might be useful for your readership – Chester Finn is among the ten most wanted list of enemies of public education leadership as noted in a recent article by Fenwick English. I’ll leave it to you and your readers as to whether that’s a fair characterization, but it is an interesting read:

    It was indeed an interesting read. This is what they have to say about “Ed. Hirash”: “A linguist whose efforts to capture the ‘core curriculum’ are futile efforts to preserve white privilege in a burgeoning multi-racial and multi-cultural society. Hirsch’s ‘core curriculum’ is a prime example of Bourdieu and Passeron’s (2000) ‘cultural arbitrary’ being imposed by political power on the rest of a specific society. The school serves as the legitimizing agent of this form of ‘symbolic violence.'”

    Eric Donald (E.D.) Hirsch believes that it is important that kids learn things like who George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln were. And what the Taj Mahal is. And when the US Civil War was fought. And by whom. He believes that this lack of background knowledge is one of the things responsible for poor reading skills in some/many students and that teaching this background knowledge will help those kids do better.

    I am highly amused (but not surprised) to find that this effort to teach history and geography content prioritized by importance and usefulness is characterized as a way of preserving the status quo.

    I expect that their analysis of Chester Finn is equally accurate …

    -Mark Roulo

  4. Mr. Nash:

    It’s not Joan, FYI. It’s Joanne.

  5. Mr. Nash, I recommend you look at what Supt. Mike Miles has done in Harrison District 2 in Colorado Springs before you say there are no systems in place to pay teachers for student performance. It’s one of a few criteria used there….

  6. John Nash, that site is hilarious; I thought for a fleeting instant that it might be serious, but then seeing ‘E.D. Hirsch’ transposed into ‘Ed Hirsch’ opened the window into the knowingness we all love in our post-enlightenment humor. It’s also side-splitting fun when — to take just one of many gleaming examples of Fenwick English’s solecisms and malapropisms — the article describes how David Horowitz the ‘Goo-goo’ underwent a ‘convergence’ from leftism to conservatism.

  7. Well, I do have to make one snarky comment regarding the story – Don’t education professors need to know tradecraft to be able to teach it?

    While the school I attended all had professors that spent long enough in the system for full retirement (or longer – one taught for over 40 years), I have heard of many education professors that my coworkers have had who have only spent 10-20 years in the classroom. Some were moonlighting teaching the evening courses… others moved up to the college level after earning their Ed.D. I’ve only been in the classroom for 6 years, and I can’t even begin to think of passing on my skills (or lack thereof) in 4 years. So, what do these professors pass on?

    Well, in the case of the still-in-the-classroom, I’d say that many are truly trying to be practical. They’ll pass on good advice regarding classroom management and such, but also prepare their students for the variety of education fads that are currently implemented in schools so that the new teacher candidates will be able to conform to them and get a job easier.

    As for the Ed.D.’s, well, I’m not so sure what entitles one to that degree other than the ability to write voluminously and parrot back what the recent educational theorists are saying. Hence, that is what they teach.

    From my days as a student and as a teacher, I have yet to see a truly skilled teacher leave the classroom before age or infirmity forced them to.

  8. John Nash: “Certainly within our center, CASTLE, we believe that educators are best served with the kinds of tradecraft that support 21st century learners.”

    I’ve never encountered anyone–in business, government, or the nonprofit world–who wrote sentences like that and who had any useful insights to offer on anything.

  9. J. Remarque says:

    John Nash: So public education employees are compiling “enemies lists” now?

  10. If someone referred to “enemies of the trucking industry,” then I’d be pretty sure that his loyalties lay with the firms and operators in that industry, and *not* with the consumers of freight transportation, who might in many cases want to use alternative modes, such as rail or barge. And if he referred to “enemies of the trucking industry **leadership**”, then I’d be inclined to think his loyalty was not just to that industry, but to the incumbent management thereof.

    I’d think it more appropriate for a state government employee to represent the consumers of education, rather than one class of producers.

  11. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Do all ed schools have labs schools? If not, why not? Do med schools let their professors just teach or do they all also work in hospitals with patients?

  12. I’d note that the lack of tradecraft-teaching applies in other fields, though probably not to the same extent as in ed schools. MBA students, for example, are unlikely to learn much about questions like: What kind of sales force works best to sell a particular kind of product? How should it be organized and incentivized? What factors are involved in keeping good sales reps happy?

    A writer observed that a particular B-school, in the 1950s, had a class on production management taught be a guy who actually ran a nearby Ford assembly plant–and that this would never happen today because the factory manager lacked the required credentials.

    It’s been noted that in military matters, “the amateurs talk about strategy, the professionals talk about logistics.” University professors, in whatever professional field, too often want to talk exclusively about big-idea “strategy” matters while shortchanging “logistical” topics that will be particularly relevant to their students during the early stages of their careers.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kriley19, Joanne Jacobs. Joanne Jacobs said: New blog post: Education profs don't teach tradecraft […]

  2. […] Education profs don’t teach tradecraft — Joanne Jacobs Filed under: education — coopmike48 @ 9:07 am Education profs don’t teach tradecraft — Joanne Jacobs. […]