I don’t know anything about them, but they suck! Reformy thoughts on Ed Schools

It all started here, when Ben Riley of NSVF suggested that comments from Finnish Ed Guru Pasi Sahlberg (hero of the anti-reformers) regarding teacher preparation in Finland (and elsewhere) meant that the U.S. really needed to start shutting down teacher preparation programs.

Ben Riley’s main takeaway from Sahlberg’s post was that the U.S. should have about the same number of ed schools as Finland…. ? (or at least he lacked clarity on the point… So Sherman Dorn set him straight on the basic math):

A point on which Riley capitulated. So, now we’ve got that straight. The U.S. could indeed reduce the number of teacher preparation programs. But Finland’s total number of 8 really doesn’t match the U.S. Population. Rather, we might use about 500 relatively highly regulated programs, largely housed in research universities and/or professional teaching colleges.

A bit of a sidebar here… Sherman Dorn is also pointing out that the Sahlberg article actually speaks of a system which maintains a strong role for the country’s research universities.

That is, not increased reliance on for-profit institutions, or quasi-academic non-research based startups like Relay GSE (which emphasize sit-down-and-shut-up classroom management) which rely almost exclusively on relatively inexperienced current teachers who themselves hold only a master’s degree (many from non-competitive programs – Relay Faculty/Relay NCATE App 9-2012) to deliver their certification programs.

Then the conversation enters new territory. So, what’s been going in in teacher preparation in the U.S. Where have many of the emerging graduate degrees and credentials been coming from in education?

To which Ben Riley issues the incoherent response:

So, rather confidently as purveyors of decisive reformy thought tend to do, Ben Riley submits that he knows for sure that the system as a whole and invariably is still crappy… and uses the term “ecosystem” to sound informed/thoughtful.

But this is actually really funny, because the whole point of analogizing such systems to natural ecosystems is to understand their diversity and interconnectedness. Yet all that follows here conveys that Ben Riley has limited or no understanding of that nor does he believe that it is important.

So, I figure I’ll jump in (after standing by for a while) and post a link to my slides on changes in the pattern of production of education credentials over the past 20 years:

And why not throw in some citations to published research while I’m at it.

Skipping ahead here… because we somehow went on another tangent about Finland…I ask Ben Riley if he believes this system that he knows for sure is crappy… is crappier than it was 20 years ago?

I dare suggest that history matters. Context matters… and to know where we are headed, we might want to look first at where we’ve been. After all crappiness requires context- either in terms of time, or in terms of some relevant peer group – or both. To know crappy, one must have some idea of what’s not crappy.

And here’s where the conversation just gets stupid and offensive, and so absurdly anti-intellectual that it is perhaps revealing of deeper problems with education in America.

Amazingly, Riley’s response is that it’s just crappy. Damn… that’s just brilliant!  I push to clarify… Doesn’t history matter? Shouldn’t we understand where we’ve been to figure out where we’re headed? The trends are rather striking. Yes, we’ve criticized teacher preparation in the U.S. for decades… but it certainly seems to be coming to a head of late. But what’s changed so dramatically? This post tells an interesting story!

So, asking again about whether history matters… (and yeah… putting it bluntly & chastising Ben Riley… who I feel at this point deserves a jab or two…)

[Note – My original post erred in attributing a Ben Riley response to this statement as denying this statement – a “nope, it does not.” However, the message here still stands. Ben Riley, throughout this conversation displayed complete disregard for the history or context of “ed schools,” or their “ecosystem” responding instead with grossly misinformed, fact-challenged generalizations.]

Apparently, this was not worthy of a response? Does history and context matter? or can we just call the current system crappy without any regard for either?

Perhaps this complete and utter disregard for intellectual inquiry into how/why or even if there are problems, disregard for history and misunderstanding of complexity and “ecosystems” is indicative of the failures of Yale Law School? After all, Yale Law has recently give us this (John King) and this (Neerav Kingsland [who I like and respect, but…]) (and much more to be discussed later).  Is there some funky mind-numbing (anti-critical-thinking) Koolaid being passed around in New Haven?

And perhaps it is indicative of the core problem of the modern education reform movement- be it the emphasis on misuse of measures in teacher evaluation (or rating ed schools) – the desire to rapidly expand and deregulate charter schooling – or the crusade against ed schools as if they are some stagnant monolithic entity.  Our willful ignorance of context and complete disregard for history is leading down a questionable path – well, actually several at once.

We concluded the conversation after one last side trip to Finland. I pointed out that there are various systemic complexities that make it difficult to assume that focusing solely or even primarily on teacher preparation institutions (w/o consideration for earnings competitiveness, etc.) is wrongheaded.

And I’m met with the classic “all of the good countries out there” that obviously beat us into the ground on international assessments do it differently… from us… and of course… the same as each other… you know… like they all have only 8 prep institutions regardless of total population, and only take the top 2% of HS graduates into teaching… and that top 2% goes into teaching regardless of expected earnings. And the programs all get accredited and rated and/or shut down based on whether they contribute positively to the country’s PISA ranking.  And while their institutions are called universities… and have instructors called professors… who appear to be engaged in research… really, they’re  more like entrepreneurial start-ups that are totally different from university based Ed Schools in the U.S.? Yeah… okay… whatever. What a load of crap!

My final response:

I’m sick of data-free, research void conversations with those who claim so belligerently to know all of the problems and have all of the answers. In other words, I know a crappy argument when I see one, and this was surely a crappy argument!

Related Research

Baker, B.D, Orr, M.T., Young, M.D. (2007) Academic Drift, Institutional Production and Professional Distribution of Graduate Degrees in Educational Administration. Educational Administration Quarterly  43 (3)  279-318

Baker, B.D., Fuller, E. The Declining Academic Quality of School Principals and Why it May Matter. Baker.Fuller.PrincipalQuality.Mo.Wi_Jan7

Baker, B.D., Wolf-Wendel, L.E., Twombly, S.B. (2007) Exploring the Faculty Pipeline in Educational Administration: Evidence from the Survey of Earned Doctorates 1990 to 2000. Educational Administration Quarterly 43 (2) 189-220

Wolf-Wendel, L, Baker, B.D., Twombly, S., Tollefson, N., & Mahlios, M.  (2006) Who’s Teaching the Teachers? Evidence from the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty and Survey of Earned Doctorates.  American Journal of Education 112 (2) 273-300


  1. I’m not sure if this was covered in your Twitter exchange, but a big part of the US ecosystem is teacher attrition. Prof. Ingersoll estimated a 40-50% attrition rate in the first five years (http://www.gse.upenn.edu/pdf/rmi/EL_TheWrongSolution_to_theTeacherShortage.pdf). Matt Di Carlo notes that this figure, while it should be understood in context, is likely higher in many communities (e.g., Philly) (http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/do-half-new-teachers-leave-profession-within-five-years). Turnover rates in Finland (and Singapore and South Korea) are much, much lower (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/opinion/01eggers.html?_r=0).

    So it seems that until we improve teachers’ working conditions and start treating teaching as a profession we’ll have to keep pumping new teachers into the system. For the record, I would much rather have the excellent “500” institutions and the stable, professional teaching force.

  2. May 27, 2013

    Let me make a couple of points here. I anticipate that when CAEP gets underway, there will be a reduction of teacher education programs in the US. The NCATE standards – and those to be of CAEP (Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation) — just might be too rigorous to approve so-called teacher prep institutions that want to make a quick buck in this online-digital environment that we live in.

    Secondly, enduring teacher-education institutions will be the ones that integrate research and practice. The days of the normal college and teacher or supervisory preparation without the role of research are over with. One of the profound experiences that I had in my training at TC-Columbia University was the indelible role of research into practice.

    I had the pleasure last June to speak with higher education faculty from Finland, Norway, and Sweden. And so, I think that I understand the context of this posting. At least, I have some understanding regarding the rigor of teacher-education programs in Finland. And while the US population exceeds that of Finland, there is a noticeable and similar call for an emerging rigor in US teacher education programs. So, some programs will simply fall by the wayside, especially when the demands call for extensive and documented field-experience and clinical monitoring.

    Not only do I think that the number of teacher-education programs will decline in the long-run due to higher accreditation standards, I believe that public schools may become an emerging training center since the models of teacher and supervisory preparation are CLINICAL. School systems may have a comparative or competitive advantage in providing the required clinical experiences than so-called teacher education programs in higher institutions.

    Now, I need to comment on a previous posting of my colleague Bruce Baker. Please pardon this diversion. I realize that my penmanship in the last posting was marred with a number of expression errors; I simply was typing as I thought. But I must temper my last posting in suggesting that other factors must be considered when referring to schools that are inadequately funded despite high poverty counts. While it is very true that other factors may explain why high need schools are awarded less equalization aid, it is equally and profoundly true that equity remains a policy problem that must be critically addressed with think-tanks who have a proven record in school-finance policy. I raise this issue because the a national report this past year gave Kentucky an F for essentially level of support and a B for equity distribution. And while I believe that the past 20 plus years of Kentucky’s SEEK formula has been equitable when addressing its fundamental problem of inter-district disparities, I question seriously whether the actual average pupil funding is adequate enough for schools to meet the more fomidable Common Core standards, especially since we were the first state in the nation to adopt these national curricular expectations. Perhaps, I should have shared this additional commentary to the previous School Finance 101 posting. But after studying school-finance policy now for over 15 years, I had to slip this paragraph in as a closing thought.

    Tyrone Bynoe

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