Education professors: Are they spending too much time in the Ivory Tower and too little in real classrooms?

Are professors of education living in a fantasy world on their campuses that prevents them seeing what aspiring teachers really need to know today?

Are professors of education living in a fantasy world on their campuses that prevents them seeing what aspiring teachers really need to know today?

Based on the number of studies and surveys sent to me, there appears to be nothing more studied today than education. (Although it seems sometimes that the more we study in education, the less we know.)

But I thought this Thomas B. Fordham Institute survey looked at one area that hasn’t gotten enough attention — what’s happening in our colleges of education.

In its report, “Cracks in the Ivory Tower,” the Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington,  suggests that the teachers of teachers are disconnected from the real-world challenges and prefer a more aesthetic approach to teacher education.

In a statement, Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr., said. “Too many education professors still cling to outmoded, romantic views of what education is about and what teachers need. America has grown very practical and demanding about its primary‐secondary education system. Unfortunately, most of the professoriate hasn’t kept pace.”

More than 80 percent of education professors in the study think it’s “absolutely essential” that teachers be lifelong learners, but far fewer believe it’s as necessary for teachers to understand how to work with state standards, tests, and accountability systems (24 percent), maintain discipline and order in the classroom (37 percent), or work in high‐need schools (39 percent).

The survey of  738 teacher‐educators at four-year colleges and universities covered the gamut of hot button topics; teacher preparation and school reform, tenure, academic standards, measures of accountability, and alternative programs for preparing and certifying teachers.

According to the survey:

Education professors are far likelier to believe that the proper role of a teacher is to be a “facilitator of learning” (84 percent) not a “conveyor of knowledge” (11 percent). When asked to choose between two competing philosophies of teacher education, 68 percent believe they should be preparing tomorrow’s class instructors to be “change agents” versus 26 percent who believe they should prepare teachers to “work effectively within the realities of today’s public schools.”

While 83 percent of professors believe it’s “absolutely essential” to teach 21st century skills, 36 percent say that about teaching math facts and 44 percent about teaching phonics in the younger grades.

The institute saw hopeful changes in some of the responses since 1997 when a similar survey was done. For instance, the percentage of professors who believe it’s more important for students to struggle with questions than end up with the right answer has dropped from 86 to 66 percent since 1997. And only 37 percent of today’s professors believe that early use of calculators will improve children’s problem‐solving skills, a 20 percent drop.

Among other findings:

Professors of education show some support for financial incentives for teachers who work in tough neighborhoods with challenging schools (83 percent favor this).

Yet, by 65 to 30 percent, they resist tying teacher pay to student test scores. And they’re evenly split on whether it’s a good idea to measure teacher effectiveness by the academic gains that teachers produce in their pupils.

Most education professors (66 percent) believe that the present teacher preparation system has many good qualities but “needs many changes.” The study also identifies two factions that feel quite strongly: Twelve percent of professors—dubbed “Reformers” —are particularly unhappy with the current teacher education system and are strong advocates for reform while another 13 percent—dubbed “Defenders” — are mostly content with teacher education programs and resistant to reform.

A full 63 percent of education professors think programs like Teach For America are generally a good idea. Just 33 percent however, think it’s a good idea to recruit school leaders based on their success in other fields, and just 17 percent support teacher prep programs run by school districts or charter organizations.

Seventy‐eight percent of education professors support the idea of a core curriculum with specific knowledge and skill standards spelled out for each grade. Forty‐nine percent believe state governments should adopt the same set of standards and give the same tests in math, science, and reading nationwide.

41 comments Add your comment

Peter Smagorinsky

September 30th, 2010
6:07 am

For the record, here’s how the Fordham Institute is described by one source: “A new report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative policy group in Washington that advocates for school choice, studies the distribution of students from poor families in public schools around the country.”

So it’s not surprising that they would reach this conclusion, given that colleges of education tend to favor approaches that do not lead to conservative solutions, such as those favored by Chester Finn. His former colleague and Reagan appointee Diane Ravitch has recently repudiated everything endorsed by Finn and Fordham, and that she herself advocated for over several decades. I greatly value Maureen Downey’s work as AJC education writer, but wonder why a conservative think tank is the only source of news reported here when other opinions are readily available.

I’m sure that some commenters will assert that I’m only defending the status quo here as part of the “educational establishment,” but I suspect that those who do are not familiar with either my 14 years as a high school English teacher or my body of work since.

ScienceTeacher671

September 30th, 2010
6:14 am

The only thing that surprises me here is that 78% support a core curriculum.

And yes, many are “out of touch” and have spent very little, if any, time in “real classrooms”.

ScienceTeacher671

September 30th, 2010
6:19 am

And Professor Smagorinsky, please know that my fellow teachers and I especially appreciate education professors who have actually “been there, and done that”! :)

d

September 30th, 2010
6:29 am

I agree the professors need to get back in a classroom and see how things are going on. I proctored the GHSWT yesterday and nearly half of the students in the classroom came without any either a pen or pencil. This is after our English department put in extensive time prepping the juniors for this test several times this month. Seriously, if students can’t remember to come to a standardized test and bring something to write with, we have big problems and these are things that new teachers need to know are going on in the classrooms.

Color me confused

September 30th, 2010
6:50 am

catlady

September 30th, 2010
6:59 am

I DO think many professors (but even more so, almost ALL CO and principals) need to spend some REAL time in the classroom now. Many of the professors know a great deal about how to reach kids in general, but are unaware of the students we have now, and their tremendous needs. CO/principals should be rotated back in to the classroom for 2 years of experience every 5 years! It is that simple! And no one should be even CONSIDERED for those positions until they have a minimum of 15 years of classroom experience!

sl

September 30th, 2010
7:50 am

I’m left wondering why “Education professors are far likelier to believe that the proper role of a teacher is to be a “facilitator of learning” (84 percent) not a “conveyor of knowledge” (11 percent).” is considered out of touch or a bad thing.

The internet is a conveyor of knowledge. Books are a conveyor of knowledge. If our students are going to be successful they need to learn how to learn, rather than learn how to write down what someone says (and repeat on a test). True education involves challenging students to accomplish tasks they could not accomplish before – to facilitate learning.

Uga

September 30th, 2010
8:05 am

The head of the Social Studies Education department at UGA spent 3 years in a classroom before going on to teach college. Anytime you have practical questions in this program, they act like you’re wasting your time. He also thinks that every student learns the same way!

What if

September 30th, 2010
8:20 am

Hi Peter- Glad you get an early start to the day :-) – and that you were the first to jump on Maureen’s unbalanced choice here. Departed dear friend Bracey put Fordham – and Checker – at the top of his list of shops that would distort data at any cost to “prove” their beliefs. That being said, have no fear – current policy looks like it will serve to keep any competent person in their right mind from entering the teaching profession to work in public schools, so in a few years the only kids you’ll have at UGA are those headed for private schools (and if current policy succeeds perhaps there will BE no public schools).
I suspect Art Levine’s report of several years ago, while harsh, may have been both better balanced – and more rigorous. As a final thought, UGA certainly can be regarded as an exemplar for ed schools, but I suspect not a representative example. Faculties across the country may be too well represented by individuals who after two or three years either could not survive – or hated – the public school classroom so took the “easy” road and did a Ph.D. or Ed.D. and found themselves a spot in one of the hundreds of brick and mortar (or these days “online”) teacher ed schools. If those in fact are the people supposedly teaching new teachers how to teach, we indeed have problems in the ivory tower. But worry not. Current policy is focused entirely on eliminating “bad” teachers and making sure education is nothing more than raising test scores. I’m sure we’ll be able to find sufficient numbers of robots to do that.
Thanks to both Peter and Maureen for their very different but nevertheless invaluable efforts.

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lionel

September 30th, 2010
8:34 am

If professors in college of education are too far removed from the “reality,” I wonder how far those people who study college of education professors are removed from the classrooms…

The fact that the writers of this report consider it hopeful that “the percentage of professors who believe it’s more important for students to struggle with questions than end up with the right answer has dropped from 86 to 66 percent since 1997.” If the goal in (college) classrooms is learning, then getting the correct answers isn’t the main point. You do learn so much more in the process of struggling – whether or not you actually get the correct solution. If you are working on problems you don’t struggle, then there is no point on working on the problem – you being in that class.

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Mike

September 30th, 2010
8:49 am

Let me see if I have this right: The Fordham Institute seemingly would prefer that I teach my preservice students to read a script, know how to send kids to the office for punishment, turn on the computer to so they can do Accelerated Reader or FastForward or likewise proven useless programs that eliminate the teacher from the equation, and don’t worry their heads with questions but focus instead on the right answers. In other words, I need to quit teaching them to think and instead do what we require our public school students to do: sit up straight, don’t make waves, stand in line, eat quietly, raise their hands only when they know the answers, basically, do what their told. Thanks Chester, my job just got a whole lot easier.

teacher&mom

September 30th, 2010
9:35 am

Actually the survey results fall right in line with what the Class Keys emphasize…ie “teachers are facilitators of learning.”

What too many folks fail to stop and consider is that ALL the necessary tools needed in today’s classroom can’t be condensed and taught in an undergraduate program. The first two years of college are spent in core curriculum classes. That leaves two years (4/5 semesters) to try and cover curriculum & planning, standards based instruction, pedagogy, student assessment, classroom management, child/adolescent development, integration of technology, AND take the required content specific courses (Biology, Chemistry, etc). Then consider that within those two years, students also need to be out in the classrooms as much as possible.

This is why I believe it is critical that we encourage our teachers to continue on to graduate school.

ChristieS.

September 30th, 2010
10:34 am

Before I comment, I want to see the actual survey the professors filled out. Call me cynical, but I don’t trust the published results of any survey to be a “valid” indicator of anything without seeing the actual questions. Way too much bias is inherent in a great many of these “surveys”.

john konop

September 30th, 2010
10:47 am

Maureen Downey,

It is about balance. People tend to over react looking for a silver bullet. Life is more of journey that has many different paths. The one size fit all path is not the solution.

JacketFan

September 30th, 2010
10:51 am

Education programs are a joke in general. Education needs to be strictly a certificate program for middle grades and secondary education teachers, who should hold degrees in specific areas of study. Early childhood teachers need to major in psychology with a focus on early childhood development. In my experience, Education programs are the most inefficient of any other “academic” program. Furthermore, they are filled with students who have chosen education as the path of last resort after they realize they can’t cut it in the major disciplines.

ChristieS.

September 30th, 2010
10:57 am

Teacher&Mom, I agree with your post. I would advocate strongly that new education Bachelor degree graduates hold provisional certification only, at least until they’ve finished an apprenticeship of one to two years under the supervision of an experienced co-teacher or teacher mentor. I state this opinion as a soon-to-be graduate of an ed program with certification in ECE/ Special Ed general curriculum.

The college students are trying to complete their core requirements in the last two years of their undergrad degrees. They simply don’t have time to be successful in their academic classes AND truly learn the basics of how to run an actual classroom. Running a successful classroom is NOT learned via lecture or a textbook. An actual classroom is where the rubber meets the road. Theory is all fine and good, but new teachers need to learn how to translate theory into practice. That requires a “hands-on” approach. One semester of full-time student teaching and/or a couple of additional practica is not enough classroom experience, in my opinion. Not while we’re still trying to finish our academic coursework at the same time.

lionel

September 30th, 2010
11:30 am

lionel

September 30th, 2010
11:39 am

jacket fan,

although there are students who chose elementary education as their last resort (and the proportion of students who pick that major for that reason is probably just as high as mass communication), there are still a good number of students whose first choice is elementary education. i do agree that so many of education courses are not contributing to their professional growths. i don’t see how psychology will help – even though it is important part. understanding content deeply is what they need – understanding deeply is very different from simply being able to do the math they have to teach or know how to spell, etc, – that is all what those of us who are not teachers need.

JacketFan

September 30th, 2010
11:53 am

@lionel – early childhood education needs teachers who understand how children in that stage of development learn. I would hope a college graduate who know enough language arts and math to teach K-5th graders. Of course, required examinations for teachers to test their abilities in these fields would be necessary before granting them a teaching certificate.

teacher&mom

September 30th, 2010
12:04 pm

We are bombarded with the relentless message that the entire American education system is flawed. For example: JacketFan writes, “Education programs are a joke in general” and “Furthermore, they are filled with students who have chosen education as the path of last resort after they realize they can’t cut it in the major disciplines.” Really? You know this for a fact?

We have been fed the “public schools suck” kool-aide for so long that outrageous statements like the one above are accepted as fact. Yes, there is always room for improvement. Good education programs are always looking at how they can better prepare the next generation of teachers.

I read the link below last night. I thought it offered a thoughtful, interesting perspective that is rarely shared on a national level.

http://zhaolearning.com/2010/09/26/who-will-invent-the-next-apple-or-google-my-speech-at-nbcs-education-summit/

teacher&mom

September 30th, 2010
12:10 pm

@JacketFan…if you think elementary school teachers are the only educators that need to understand how students learn…..you obviously have no idea what middle school teachers and high school teachers do on a daily basis. I would argue that any secondary teacher who does not understand adolescent development (physical, emotional, cognitive) is an ineffective teacher.

teacher&mom

September 30th, 2010
12:18 pm

“Of course, required examinations for teachers to test their abilities in these fields would be necessary before granting them a teaching certificate.”

Obviously you have not looked at the college requirements and certification requirements for early childhood, middle grades, and secondary teachers. You also realize that all certified teachers in GA are required to pass several examinations?

jwr

September 30th, 2010
12:48 pm

Catlady, you are being very generous. Most education professors don’t even know how to teach curriculum, thus, the belief that elementary students need “21st century skills” instead of math and reading fundamentals. Even their ideals on “how to reach children” are based on philosophy, not reality.

In short, they are experts in “education philosophy”, not “practical education”.

Personally, I think that in order to be part of a certified teacher producing or evaluating program (to cover both professors and principals), you must rotate back into a public school classroom to teach one year out of every four.

tiredoftheratrace

September 30th, 2010
12:55 pm

Jacketfan is right, at least in my experience. I’m a provisionally certified HS teacher with a bachelor’s in my content area. I’ve been teaching nearly 3 years, and have just started both a certification program & a master’s program (it has to do with timing, I know it’s possible to get certified through a M.A.T. program). The certification is a joke, and I’m very irritated with it. I’m paying a lot of money, and it’s a huge waste of time and resources….basically I show up (when the teacher decides to have class) and jump through a few hoops. That’s great for most because that’s all they want to do, but I want to be a great teacher. This is more than just a job, though I see why most people turn or burn in this place. You turn away from all ambition, effort, ideas, etc. because you watch the abuse of the system over and over again, or you burn out completely and go back to the private sector. The lack of organization or professionalism is disgusting, but I have to do it if I want to keep my job. What I saw of the program while I was in school was very similar. There are teachers in my content area that don’t understand the content because they have the basic number of content hours required (and passed a standardized test that says they do), and I’ve heard them explain it wrong!!!

I’m really enjoying my master’s programs, as the students are a little more dedicated (there are still frustrations….using about.com as an academic journal, for one!) but I’m challenged to think and learn, and I’m relating it to my classes. I would have started this a year ago, and not had to deal with incompetent, out of touch people that are more interested in getting (over) paid & patting themselves on the back

tiredoftheratrace

September 30th, 2010
12:57 pm

sorry, I meant to say I should have started this a year ago, and avoided the cash cow program altogether

Billy Bob

September 30th, 2010
1:10 pm

Sonny Perdue gets all his advice from idiot professors, lawyers who cannot practice law and budget people who have never been in a classroom. See how well that is working out!!

Claudia

September 30th, 2010
2:42 pm

I didn’t take any education courses in college, but my grad school education profs seemed focused on technology for “student-centered, teacher-facilitated” learning. Many of our professors, who were preparing us to teach high school English, assured us, “You’ll have computers and LCD projectors in the classroom” and seemed incredulous when we reported our experience to the contrary. They assigned, and I created, at least a dozen elaborate Power Point presentations that I couldn’t use during my pre-professional classroom practica or during the first several years of my teaching career simply for lack of equipment and facilities. At the last high school where I taught, for instance, we had fewer than 100 working computers for more than 1400 students. While that situation is finally improving somewhat, education professors are still out of touch with public school realities in grades K-12.

After I finished up my master’s in secondary English instruction, I kept in touch with a couple of my professors and occasionally asked for their advice, particularly for my classrooms of 40 or more students, where student reading levels ranged from early elementary school to post-high school. Their first response was, “You can’t have that many students in your classroom.” But I did. So did my colleagues. Their next response was, “Just differentiate your instruction.” (”Differentiate” is a popular word and an ill-defined practice. Even the best instructors would be hard-pressed to “differentiate” instruction among that many students across that wide a gap while simultaneously attempting to prepare students for college.) Imagine trying to teach Shakespeare or the Transcendentalists to young people who read on a second-grade level. Imagine trying to teach algebraic functions and factoring (or even fractions) to high school students who have never learned their multiplication tables. We’re out there trying to do this–and more–every day.

One of my professors, considered an expert in his field and much sought-after as a consultant, had only one year of experience in the middle school classroom and one year of experience in the high school classroom; the rest of the time, he had taught at the college and post-baccalaureate level only. Most of my professors had good intentions; they just needed a reality check. I believe that even a few weeks’ observation of real-world classrooms would change their pedagogy–for the better.

john konop

September 30th, 2010
2:56 pm

Claudia great post all should read!

Booklover

September 30th, 2010
3:20 pm

ALL teachers of every level should have to take several courses in brain development and child and adolescent psychology.

This includes all the morons working at the state Department of Education. Regarding this Math I, II, III garbage: a sizable minority of freshmen (ages 13-15) have not yet reached the point in their intellectual development when they can understand abstract concepts.

Some kids are ready for abstract concepts (eg. solving for “X”) at age 12 or below; many are ready around age 14-15, which corresponds to the traditional freshman year Algebra I class. Some students, however, need a year or two more. Some students will NEVER get abstract concepts. This is one of the characteristics of having a low IQ.

I’m weary of this ineffective, unrealistic, *harmful* garbage coming out of the state DOE. Not all kids learn the same, and not all learn at the same rate. Until the education professors and state DOE understand this, we will continue to teach ineffectively in this state.

Booklover

September 30th, 2010
3:23 pm

And yes, Claudia is right: most of my MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) professors were former elementary education teachers who had not been inside a classroom in 10 or 15 or more years. And a good number had NEVER taught high school. I tried to learn what I could from my professors, but typically, their advice was so jaw-droppingly bad for high school teachers!

Attentive Parent

September 30th, 2010
9:15 pm

The definitive study of the poor quality of most schools of education is from 2006 by Arthur Levine, the former President of Teachers College at Columbia.

Here’s the link: http://www.edschools.org/teacher_report.htm .

But the schools of ed are cash cows to their colleges and universities.

JacketFan

September 30th, 2010
9:50 pm

@teacher and mom – I’m not saying they don’t need courses in childhood development, quite the contrary. All I’m advocating is that teachers in middle grades and secondary ed are degreed in their respective teaching areas as opposed to holding a useless, dumbed-down “education” degree.

lionel

September 30th, 2010
11:48 pm

@jacketfan,

Just because someone is a graduate of college does not mean s/he has the knowledge of content needed to teach at elementary level. Certainly we expect them to be able to do elementary school mathematics, but being able to do math is different from understanding math in the way useful to teach it.

teacher&mom

October 1st, 2010
7:05 am

@JacketFan..most of the teachers I work with are just a course or two away from being degreed in their respective field. If you looked at our college transcripts, you would not see a huge difference in the content specific courses I took as compared to a History, English, or Math major. My advisor decided to “spread” out my science courses because I planned to teach in a rural district. So if you were to take a look at my transcript (I was originally a middle grades science major at the time), you would see I took many Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and Astronomy courses, along with several math courses. All of which have served me well through the years.

The reality for many rural schools…which make up a large proportion of GA schools, is that you have to be ready to teach many different subjects within your department. For example, in any given school year I have to be prepared to teach Physical Science, Biology, Chemistry, Anatonmy & Physiology, Forensic Science, Environmental Science, Earth Science, and possibly Physics.

When I graduated college, I had the knowledge necessary to teach the content. What I was unprepared for is how to effectively teach that material to the students. Lectures, notes, and a few labs didn’t do it. Just because I knew the material that didn’t always translate into effective teaching. There is an assumption outside education that teachers aren’t knowledgeable in their content areas. At the secondary level, this is rare. I just decided yesterday that I had heard enough about how unprepared and stupid teachers are….I apologize that you were the target of that anger. You’re not the only one one this blog that preaches from that soapbox.

Lee

October 1st, 2010
7:32 am

It’s just not the schools of education. Sadly, a large percentage of college professors don’t have a clue about the “real world.”

I remember as an eighteen year old college freshman, how in awe I was of those phd types with their fancy words. In my mid thirties, when I went back for my MBA, I realized how full of crap many of those professors were. It was a frequent topic of conversation between myself and fellow classmates who had a few years experience in the workplace.

teacher&mom

October 1st, 2010
8:26 am

MMR

October 1st, 2010
12:25 pm

My mother has been a teacher for almost 40 years now. When she was in school for her Master’s in Education, she suggested to one of her professors who was giving the class information on teaching methods that professors should return to the public school classroom every few years to see what the real world was like.. Several years later another student was a teacher at the high school that was attached to the college. The high school teacher told the college professor that the information they were being taught was not going to work. They struck a bargain, they decided to switch jobs as much as possible. The professor worked in the high school for a year and found out that all of the theories and methods they were teaching in college did not work. Professors who teach teachers need to know what is going on in the real world and need to have extensive classroom experience. They need to go back into the classroom regularly in order to see how the children are changing and how the job that teachers are expected to do is changing. My sister is a teacher and when she was getting her advanced degree, she could not believe what the professors were telling her was the “best method” to teach. My mother’s comment was “tell them what they want to hear, then do it the right way in the classroom.”

jwr

October 1st, 2010
2:35 pm

The issue with many of the teacher education programs is that they mirror programs which get people sociology, math, biology, etc degrees. The problem is, those sociology, math, biology, etc professors are doing research in their fields, and to be relevant (and thus publishable), their research requires realistic field work. When it comes to education, the “research” amounts to teaching college students. Education professors don’t leave the “ivory tower” becasue they don’t have to…they can write up some drivel, which will be accepted by other professors who also haven’t left the tower. The system (which would never be tolerated in any other field…engineering firms would learn very quick not to hire anyone from school x, where professors who had never actually done any engineering were training students), school systems know that the education program is a “block check”, and it can fall on principals, APs, fellow teachers and “the school of hard knocks” to get new teachers spun up. They figure a certain number of students aren’t going to become rocket scientists anyways, and the ones who are can survive these teachers-in-training. Compare this to a company building a skyscraper, which can’t afford for the engineers to be getting OJT since their school only taught them theory, and theory which only applies in perfect scenarios at that.

Claudia’s experience is spot-on. A teacher education program only provides a piece of paper that allows the school system to legally put you in charge of a classroom.

Burroughston Broch

October 2nd, 2010
4:00 pm

@ jwr, you are right on target.

I have some experience with a retired university professor of teacher education. During his 37 years of academia (4 years under grad, 3 years grad and 30 years instruction), he was never outside a university classroom. He wouldn’t have soiled his hands doing so. Yet, he is considered an expert. That is a common problem with academia that transfers to politics. Witness the top White House officials who tinker with our economy – 97% of them have never held a job in private business!