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Education Schools

November 1, 2006

While at the 2006 HES meeting in Ottawa, I discovered that a lot of my colleagues who work on the history of education actually practice in education schools. I knew this could happen, as my dissertation committee member who oversaw education topics, Michael Perko, was housed in Loyola’s School of Education. Still, I was surprised when my informal poll turned up a high percentage of history of education practitioners housed outside of history departments. Then I read this Washington Post article: “Breaking Down the Ivory Tower: Study Finds Ed Schools in Poor Shape.” Here are some lowlights:

– “This should be a shining moment for education schools. Never has the nation paid so much attention to improving the quality of teaching. Yet the institutions that produce teachers have never faced so much criticism. ‘Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world,’ said Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College. ‘Like the fabled Wild West town, it is unruly and chaotic.’ Stanford University educational historian David F. Labaree wrote in a recent book: ‘Institutionally, the ed school is the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education; it don’t get no respect. The ed school is the butt of jokes in the university, where professors portray it as an intellectual wasteland.'”
– “A growing number of educators say ed schools fail to give teachers enough background in their subject matter, fail to prepare them for the difficulties of urban schools and fail to recruit the best students.”
– “Only two of every five principals surveyed said ed schools were preparing teachers very well or moderately well to get new curriculum and performance standards into the classroom. Only one-third said their teachers were very or moderately well prepared for maintaining classroom order. Only one-fifth said their teachers were that well prepared to work with parents.”
– “Some experts wonder if ed schools will ever be more than hiring halls with a few textbooks. ‘The good news about ed schools is that they are not powerful enough to do much harm to American education,’ Labaree wrote in his 2004 book The Trouble With Ed Schools. He added: ‘The bad news is that they are also not powerful enough to do much good for a system of schooling that could really use their help.’ There are slightly more than 1,200 education schools, colleges of education or departments of education. They award about one of every 12 bachelor’s degrees in the United States, a quarter of all master’s degrees and 15 percent of all doctorates. No other branch of academia is so large.”
– “But Levine said ed schools are often cash cows for universities, collecting tuition from students who can be taught on the cheap. Unlike medical schools, they don’t need expensive equipment or highly paid specialist professors. Levine also concluded that ed schools that grant doctorates have a stronger track record than those that don’t. The latter schools, which award degrees no higher than the master’s level, produce most of the nation’s teachers.”

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So, what does one do with this information? How do history of education people fit into this picture? Of course one can’t conclude that history of education practitioners are also doing a bad job. I heard the conference presentations at the History of Education Society and met a number of bright folks, so it’s not that they’re responsible for the teacher education problem.

Is it just the case that history departments do not value the history of education? If so, why? Is it guilt by association? Do history departments assume that those involved in the history of education are less rigorous in their work?

Is the history of education more likely to be taught at education schools that award doctorates? If so, then ‘rigor associations’ are invalid.

Why do history of education people want to be associated with apparently lower academic quality programs? Is it simply economics: education schools will hire them and history departments won’t? Maybe I just need to buy David Labaree’s book and learn more about the disconnects. – TL

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