Easy (but expensive) A’s in ed school

“Julia Harvey” spent two years and $80,000 to get a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) at a well-regarded education school. Expectations were low, she writes in Education Next.

She needed only one basic course in linguistics and one in English grammar for her TESOL master’s. Almost all her classmates struggled to pass, leading her to wonder about admission requirements.

A class in adolescent development was useful, but the program offered no course in child development, despite the fact that my certification would be for grades K–12. It seemed that they were skimming over the important topics while bogging me down with courses in “theory and practice,” which did little to make me feel prepared to begin teaching on my own.

In her first semester of student teaching, the supervising teacher provided useful feedback, but the university supervisor was “minimally helpful.”  She worked with a different supervising teacher in the second semester and received no feedback.

Her final project “earned me the last of a full transcript of easy As, with a friendly note on the cover and not a single comment or suggestion for how the unit could have been improved.”


About Joanne


  1. Not that discussion of the quality of ed schools ISN’T valuable, but this “I am so smart and my standards are so sky-high and everyone else is a moron” Ivy League arrogance is pretty disgusting. I hope this full-of-herself snob isn’t in a classroom anywhere role-modeling her attitude to children.

  2. Cranberry says:

    I’d love to have her in a classroom teaching my children. I wonder about the majority of ed school graduates who don’t speak up about the lax academic offerings at education schools.

  3. georgelarson says:


    The writer did not sound like a smarty pants or snob to me.

  4. $80k for English as a Second Language training! Oh, my goodness!

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    If the recipient can actually succeed in teaching English to middle and high school students, the $80 K is a bargain.

    However …

  6. Michael E. Lopez says:

    $80,000 is an insane price to pay for an MA.

    At least now we know where all the money we spend on education is going. The teachers’ unions negotiate higher wages for “advanced degrees”, and then almost all of those wages get captured by institutions offering those advanced degrees.

    It’s a classic subsidization problem: throw government money into the mix and prices go up.

  7. “…only one (of four adjuncts teaching her classes] seemed to have a firm grasp on how to conduct a graduate-level course.

    “My classmates complained that her class was too hard.

    “One of my other instructors spent class sessions badly summarizing the readings, instigating awkward and often one-sided class discussions, or trying to explain the homework assignments and projects she thought up. When she assigned one of her own articles for us to read, it became clear that despite having completed a doctorate at our university, she could not write a coherent academic article.

    “…. Almost all of my classmates struggled greatly in these two courses, leading me to wonder whether perhaps the admission requirements might also need refining.”
    Desperate for a more challenging academic experience, I increased my course load … ”

    Obviously I’ll have to agree to disagree on whether this attitude is admirable or snotty and arrogant. I wouldn’t want to have her over to dinner, though.

    Of course all this is the fault of teachers’ unions, along with war, famine and pestilence.

    • Not the unions, I’d say, but state eds that require Master’s degrees to teach and fail to set high standards in teacher testing for certification. I know of a man who took the NY LAST (Liberal Arts and Sciences Test) five times before he passed… and I’d say the LAST is less rigorous than the SAT. Not sure if he ever got certified, but he was already enrolled in a Master’s program.

      That being said, for all her self-proclaimed intelligence, she seems challenged in mathematics and finance. Paying 80,000 dollars for a degree in a field that pays less than half of that per year (to new teachers) and is experiencing job shortages does not seem too intelligent to me. I’d hazard to guess that she sympathizes with the OWS movement.

      • Oh, and I know by personal experience that it is possible to get an education Master’s in the Northeast from a highly-respected university for a quarter of what she paid.

    • The relationship between the ed schools, the state/local boards of ed, the k-12 system and the unions is incestuous, at best because all are dealing from the same side of the table, along with the politicians bought by union funds. Unions extract funds (before teachers ever see the money) from the teachers whether the teachers support the union agenda or not and give it to politicians at all levels who support the union agenda; it’s an inherent conflict of interest, at best, and essentially corrupt. Without union support, neither boards of ed nor politicians can get elected and the taxpayers have no voice.

  8. Obi-Wandreas says:

    When you compare the standardized test scores of people in various academic programs, you generally find that education is, on average, the home for those unable to withstand the intellectual rigor of basket-weaving. The hoops that must be jumped through to get a teaching certificate, combined with the conditions in schools (especially urban ones) pretty much guarantee that candidates are either extremely dedicated, or simply unable to get work in any other field.

    The whole certification process is a scam. As in any large (especially government) bureaucracy, process is substituted for substance – everyone makes sure you’re certified, but almost no one checks to see if you’re qualified. The result is that many great candidates are turned off by the many years and many thousands of dollars required to be expended up front. Those who take that path are essentially stuck, because there is little in a teaching degree that can be taken into any other field.

    We all know how many really intelligent people there are in this field. The fact remains, however, that there are also a significant number whose intelligence level rivals that of a medium sized tree stump. There is nothing at all snobbish about pointing out that such people have no business being placed in charge of developing young minds.

    • Former Teacher says:

      Please note that secondary teachers usually have to major in their subject areas. For example, my degree is Biology, not education. My education classes were above and beyond the classes required for my degree.

      I’ll put my IQ, test scores, whatever and those of my fellow inner city high school math and science teachers against anyone’s. We score right up there with engineering students.

      • Obi-Wandreas says:

        Would that that were the case all around. In New York State, for example, the rules were changed so that you have to have majored in education. I actually graduated with a history major and math minor, and ended up getting certified teaching math. Nowadays, however, that pathway is closed.

        I definitely agree with you on secondary teachers in general. Spend some time around elementary teachers, though. Among the mostly intelligent, you’ll find quite a few who can’t fix a paper jam in a copier that gives step-by-step instructions with pictures. You’ll soon find that you no longer wonder why so many come to you lacking the basics.

      • When you compare the standardized test scores of people in various academic programs, you generally find that education is, on average, the home for those unable to withstand the intellectual rigor of basket-weaving. </blockquote?


  9. My experience in an alternative certification program to teach English as a Second Language — the one rigorous class was a linguistics class from outside the College of Education, no peer review of education publications spewing articles on Theory and Practice, and assignments at the post-baccalaureate level like “record 50 things you learned from this movie.” Its only virtue was that ESL certification cost significantly less than that Master’s in TESOL.

  10. My experience has been that there is often a significant difference between HS teachers and ES teachers, in terms of knowledge and academic orientation and that it starts with the choice of ES or HS preparation at college entrance. I saw the distance between the two groups widen as the older ES teachers retired and were replaced. The older teachers tended to have a much more academic focus and better subject-area knowledge than did their replacements. This was also often true at the MS level, but the non-academic focus there was clearly a deliberate decision on the part of the county admins; older teachers who had my older kid in the previous JHS (7-8) format told me that the MS focus was to be on students’ developmental needs, even in the honors sections. I think that the number of seriously unprepared/underprepared kids entering MS, and HS, reflects both the weakness of ES teachers and the failure of ed schools to remediate it.

    • Former Teacher says:

      Yet another reason we need to supplement our own children’s education at home. Personally, I’m glad my son’s first grade teacher is so informed in areas of child development, etc. She can help my child love school. I can buy extra workbooks and be the math and reading drill sergeant at home.