‘An Industry of Mediocrity’

Education schools are “an industry of mediocrity,” opines Bill Keller in the New York Times.

In 2005 Arthur Levine, then the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, shocked colleagues (and himself, he says) with a scathing report concluding that teacher preparation programs “range from inadequate to appalling.”

Last month,  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised admission standards for state education colleges.

Deborah Kenny, who runs Harlem Village Academies charter schools, plans to train her own teachers, creating the equivalent of a residency program for new teachers.

“Where charter schools were 10 years ago, that’s where teacher preparation is right at this moment,” Kenny told me. With start-up money from the media executive Barry Diller (who says he hopes to see the venture amplified via the Internet) and a core of master teachers like (Bill) Jackson, Kenny has begun to build a graduate education school that will be integrated with her K-12 campuses in Harlem.

Ed schools are “cash cows” for universities, Keller writes. There’s “no incentive to change because they have plenty of applicants willing to pay full tuition, the programs are relatively cheap to run, and they are accountable to no one except accrediting agencies run by, you guessed it, education schools. It’s a contented cartel.”

Reformers want to make teacher colleges more selective, writes Keller. Only 23 percent of American teachers — and only 14 percent in high-poverty schools — come from the top third of college graduates, estimates a recent study.

Reformers also advocate “sustained, intense classroom experience while being coached” by master teachers.

Susan Fuhrman, who succeeded Levine as president of Teachers College, support raising admissions standards and holding ed schools accountable, Keller writes.  But Fuhrman is worried about alternative teacher schools that aren’t part of a research university.

“One reason for the widespread mediocrity is that universities have had a cozy, lucrative monopoly,” concludes Keller. “It’s about time the leaders of our education schools did feel threatened.”

About Joanne


  1. I love statistics like this “. Only 23 percent of American teachers — and only 14 percent in high-poverty schools — come from the top third of college graduates, estimates a recent study.”

    Do people realize that if we increase the number of teachers coming from this population, we decrease the amount in other areas, such as doctors. So, we could have more teachers from this group, but doctors on average would be more likely to come from the lower rankings of students.

    Secondly, is it any surprise that very qualified teachers prefer to work in environments that might be considered an easier workplace? Areas with a significant level of family support and general support for education?

    Do people ever think that there are significant economic reasons that we have this statistic, and its not some hidden conspiracy or group working to keep it like that? Its just the result of our economic system.

    • I’m not sure exactly what you’re trying to get at but I can assure you that there’s no such thing as “very qualified teachers”.

      In order for that mythical creature to come into existence there would have to be qualifications and there currently are none – see the “Industry of Mediocrity” post.

      In order for qualifications to become a necessity there needs to be a demand for qualifications and there current is not.

      School districts are happy to unload their responsibility to vet teachers onto ed schools and ed schools are quite happy to broadly imply that a teaching certificate from their esteemed institution is proof that the prospective teacher’s been doing something more or less related to education for some period of time and now has the bit of paper gripped in their grimy, little hand to prove it.

      The process is an institutional paraphrasing of the old joke popular in the late, unlamented Soviet Union – they pretend to teach us and we pretend to learn.

      • Mike in Texas says:

        Gee, what a surprise Allen is bashing teachers.

        Of course he will not be deterred by the fact that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

        • Feel free to offer a substantive response.

        • Allen knows whereof he speaks. Colleges of Education add nothing to teacher competence. Students of teachers with degrees in the subject outperform students with degrees in Education. In some cases, Education coursework degrades teacher performance. Consider “discovery” methods of Math instruction and Whole Language methods of Reading instruction.

  2. The fact that there’s so little variation in quality between teaching programs – including alternative certification programs like TfA – doesn’t indicate “mediocrity” so much is “irrelevance”. It may just be that teacher prep has rapidly diminishing returns (for example), so the whole idea of a year (or two) in a teacher prep program is pretty pointless.

    So it might be not so much that these programs are “bad” so much as they’re “not helping and so kind of a pointless waste”.

  3. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    I’d be happy if the people who went into certification programs weren’t generally made /stupider/ by the process.

    That would be an improvement.


    • Colleges of Education act as filters. If you accept faddish mush such as Whole Language methods of Reading instruction, Discovery methods of Math instruction, Critical Pedagogy, or culturally sensitive curriculum, you qualify for a teacher’s certificate. If you don’t submit enthusiastically to the College of Education’s psychic lobotomy, you aren’t fit for a position in the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools.