Ed Schools

Ed schools seem to make an easy target in public policy debates over the quality of American public schooling and the American teacher workforce.

In many recent lopsided “ed school as the root of all evil” presentations, “Ed Schools,” are treated as some easily defined, static entity over time. In the book of reformyness (chapter 7, verse 2), “Ed Schools” necessarily consist of some static set of traditional higher education institutions – 4 year teachers colleges including regional state colleges and flagship universities – where a bunch of crusty old education professors spew meaningless theory at wide-eyed undergrads (who graduated at the bottom of their high school class) seeking that golden ticket to a job for life – with summers off.

In order to craft a clearly understandable (albeit entirely false) dichotomy of policy alternatives, pundits then present teachers who have obtained alternative certification as a group of individuals, nearly all of whom necessarily attended highly selective colleges and majored in something really, really rigorous and then received their certification through some more expeditious and clearly much more practical and useful fast-tracked option.

This was certainly the theme of a discussion (hashtag #edschools) at Thomas B. Fordham Institute actively tweeted the other day by Mike Petrilli and a few others.  What I found most interesting was that no-one really challenged the assumptions that “ed schools” are some easily definable group of traditional higher education institutions – that this has been unchanged over decades – and that teacher training is some consistent, exclusive domain of traditional public higher education institutions – specifically as an undergraduate degree granting enterprise? That there are and have always been, oh… about a thousand or so ed schools… that well… keep on doing the same damn thing over and over again (for the past 50 years, one participant tweeted) … and well… no one ever shuts down the bad Ed Schools… and that’s why we’re in such bad shape! It’s really that simple.

Because this characterization is simply assumed to be true, the obvious way to crack this broken and declining system is to expand alt. certification and allow more non-traditional, for profit and entrepreneurial organizations – especially non-university organizations to grant teaching credentials – heck – let’s let them actually grant degrees. Who needs brick-and-mortar colleges anyway? Given the assumed static nature of the declining and antiquated system of “Ed Schools” that has brought us to our knees, this is the only answer!!!!!

One of my favorite tweets from the event was from Mike Petrilli, relaying a comment by Kate Walsh:

Walsh: There are 1410 Ed schools in the country. NCTQ spent 5 years determining that number.

You know what Kate, by the time you were done figuring that out (however you did), the number had already changed. Also, FYI, there are actually some data sources out there that might have been helpful for tabulating the existing degree granting programs and the numbers of degrees conferred by those programs.

So, let’s take a look at some of the data on degrees conferred across all education fields in 1990, 2000 and 2010.

Let’s start with a quick look at the total degrees conferred in “education” as defined by degree classification codes (CIP Codes), across all institutions granting such degrees nationally. The interesting twist here is that bachelor’s degree production of education degrees has been relatively constant over time for about 20 years and perhaps longer. Doctoral degree production increased from 1990 to 2000, but stagnated after that. On the other hand, Master’s degree production has skyrocketed.

Now, one might try to argue that what that’s really about is all of those currently practicing teachers who are just accumulating those worthless master’s degrees to get that salary bump. I will write more on this topic at a later point, but that’s not likely the dominant scenario. Yes, many of the master’s degrees are obtained to broaden fields of certification in order to give current teachers more options – either assignment options in their current districts, or other job opportunities. AND, many of the masters degrees these days are initial credentials granted to individuals who did not receive their teaching credential as an undergraduate. Many initial teaching credentials are granted at the master’s, not bachelor’s level. A substantial amount of teacher training goes on at the master’s, not undergraduate level. No matter the case, the master’s degrees – of which there are so many – and so many more being granted than bachelors degrees – are the interesting story here.

Is it really that the same old traditional higher education institutions with crusty old, out of date professors, are now just spewing out masters degrees? Or is something else at work here?

Well, here are the top 25 MA producers in education back in 199o. Even at that time, the largest master’s degree granting institutions were not the top universities – or even the top teachers colleges. But, some of those schools were at least in the mix. Teachers College of Columbia University, Ohio State, Michigan State and Harvard all appear in the top 25 in 1990.

Here are the top 25 master’s producers in 2000. Here, the tide begins to shift a bit. Schools like NOVA Southeastern with their online programs, and National-Louis grow even bigger than they had been a decade earlier. Teachers College retains a top 25 spot, as does Ohio State, and University of Minnesota makes the list. Harvard is gone.

By 2009, “Ed Schools” are a substantially different mix. Not only that, but look at the volume of degree production. Back in 1990, Ed Schools at respectable major universities were putting out about 600 master’s degrees in education related fields per year. They held on to similar rates in 2000 and still in 2009. But by 2009, Walden University and U. of Phoenix were each cranking out 4,500+ master’s degrees per year. Grand Canyon U. comes in next in line. These are the entrepreneurial up-starts that are the product of minimized regulation of teaching credentials.

If there truly has been a decline in the quality of the teacher workforce, and if pundits truly believe that this supposed decline is related somehow to “Ed Schools,” then it might behoove those same pundits to explore the dramatic changes that have, in fact, already occurred in the “Ed School” marketplace.

If there has been a dramatic decline in teacher preparation, and in specialized training, it may be worth taking a look at those institutions that have emerged to dominate the production of education degrees and credentials in recent years. After all, Walden and Phoenix each produce 5 to 10 times the master’s degree credentials in education of major public universities. And, production of education master’s degrees is now nearly double the level of production of education bachelor’s degrees. And many of these entrepreneurial start-ups specifically frame their master’s programs as an option for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in “something else” to obtain a teaching credential.

Is even more deregulation and entrepreneurial teacher preparation what we really need? Can one really blame the traditional higher education institutions, whose share of production has declined steadily for decades, for declining teacher quality? Only if you ignore these trends, which I expect these pundits will continue to do.


10 thoughts on “Ed Schools

  1. Awesome. Reformers and edupreneurs tout online learning as the way of the future, yet for ed schools, the future is here, and it is this current “future” that they are complaining about.

    So, which is it, Duncan/Obama/Gates/Broad/VanderArk? Is online learning great and the way to go, or do online institutions put out garbage?

    Your analysis pretty much proves the garbage part. Well done.

  2. Bravo! And in a similar vein, a Fordham student defends a traditional, liberal arts education. See http://www.theramonline.com/news/fordham-rightly-resists-offering-online-classes-1.2419190.

    If universities are truly interested in “nurturing human beings,” then one really can’t do that “virtually.” The University of Phoenix’s completion rate rings-in at a stunning 9% (see today’s Washington Post), In any assessment system, it is an utter failure at educating ANYONE (if 91% can’t finish). Furthermore, if the U Phoenix isn’t allowed to prepare doctors, dentists, lawyers and social workers, it should NOT be allowed to prepare educators for our public schools.

    Or, are public school children not that important to policy makers and snake oil salespeople, er, I mean distinguished think tankers????

  3. Bruce, this is a phenomenal post. Thanks so much for turning your skills and attention in this direction. Now the question is: Will your targets see this?

  4. Your analysis provides some much needed depth to this discussion.

    I think further investigation of current “school of Ed” programs is warranted as well. For example, two of the nearby universities in my area have revamped programs which partner with school districts and provide more of an internship in terms of both master’s and bachelor’s programs. And I’m sure many other schools have done the same. To imply that colleges of education are one entity–one behemoth, as it were, is the same as implying that every student or teacher is the same. Hmm, maybe they have already done that.

    Another very pertinent part of this post is pointing to the many different reasons for master’s degrees and many different requirements from locale to locale. This also gets totally ignored by the oversimplification of current rhetoric.

    In any case, thanks for sharing this thought-provoking analysis.

    I wrote about this issue in Huffington Post from a different point of view, but it seems it’s clear from many posts like yours that this national agenda ignores much of the evidence at hand, and ignores the complexity of the issue completely. And if we don’t have a good grasp of the problems, or point at one simple, single culprit, then we can’t really start looking at solutions that are needed.

  5. I’m a graduate of a 4-year Ed program as well as an online Masters program. I learned so much more about my teaching craft, educational leadership, instruction, and assessment from Indiana Wesleyan University’s online program that I learned from sitting through undergrad lectures.

    Undergraduate programs need to have lab schools on campus where teachers in training can find mentors, observe, plan, teach, and apply long before student teaching comes and goes. I earned by B.S., Ed. in 2002–and although I participated in two semester teaching placements long before I took over a class as a student teacher–new and aspiring teachers need more opportunities to observe good teachers and learn from them.

    I’m proud of my advanced degree and the work I did to earn it. I know I am a better teacher thanks to the skills and professional network I developed through that program. Why did I choose IWU and an online degree program? I can’t afford to quit my job and go to school on campus full-time or take five years to finish during evenings and summer semesters.

  6. Great post. I thought it was interesting to note that CUNY Queens College made it onto the 2009 list–a lot of New York City Teaching Fellows are assigned to CUNY Queens for their masters’ coursework. So not only the online schools but also the alternative certification programs influence this list–I would guess heavily. I looked at the Teach for America website to see if they had a list of the schools their particpants are enrolled at, but not suprisingly, they don’t have that information posted. I’d guess that they’ve also influenced the 2009 list. For the better, of course. =)

    I got my Masters’ at Brooklyn College as part of the NYC Teaching Fellows program, while teaching full-time, and I have a lot of thoughts on this subject. Don’t get me started.

    1. The last time I looked (through 2005), MBA expansion was even more dramatic, and even more dominated by previously unknown, relatively non-competitive institutions (small cash-strapped private colleges expanding into online degree programs).

  7. Bruce Baker is to be commended for producing data on a topic that is almost always muddled by those without “bureaucratic” experience in trying to upgrade the academic credentials of prospective teachers, whether in undergraduate or graduate preparation programs. However, the scenario is even more complex that Baker’s charts show, and the complexity at the master’s degree level is even more important to understand than most people know. There is more than one kind of master’s degree program, and unless we start getting statistics on each of the major kinds (M.Ed, MA, MS, MAT ), we will lose a major part of the picture. Once upon a time, subject matter teachers considered the MA or MS program as the next step if they had a BA degree in the subject. That number has gone down to almost the vanishing point, even though in most advanced countries (e.g., Finland, Spain), the subject matter teacher is expected to have a master’s degree in his/her subject. As a Springfield, MASS administrator told a group of us at the MA DoE 10 years ago, she could remember when the department chair at the high school in any subject could be expected to have a master’s degree in the subject (or at least in one of the subjects they supervised). Now, she said, it’s almost impossible to find any high school teacher with a MA or MS degree. Achieving one was not given any more points on the salary scale than a content-free M.Ed. degree and not easy in terms of time involved to get one. If one wants to look at the decline in the academic competence of American teachers, start looking at the number holding MA/MS degrees (forget Ph.D.s, which are commonly found in European high schools–and in more than a science) and also look at the PD points or extra salary awarded to teachers who take authentic graduate courses in a discipline during the summer. Sandra Stotsky

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