The problems of public education are well-documented: embarrassingly low scores on internationally-normed tests, high school graduates who cannot read, write, speak, compute, or think at the sixth grade level, and—worse yet—young people who are so thoroughly indoctrinated that they can be easily manipulated by unscrupulous politicians. There are many reasons for the state of public education in America. One of the worst contributors to this sad situation is the college of education. Most universities have a college of education where future teachers and administrators receive their training and degrees, just as they have colleges of business, engineering, medicine, liberal arts, and law. But if the top tier of a university is its college of medicine, the basement is its college of education.
One might think that America would want its best and brightest to be the teachers of their children, but apparently this is not the case. Undergraduate education majors typically have the lowest SAT and ACT scores of all college majors. Graduate students majoring in education score lower as a group on the GRE than all other applicants to graduate school. Further, education majors who change career paths and decide to go to law school or medical school score lower on the LSAT and MCAT than majors in any other college disciplines. In other words, colleges of education scrape the bottom of the academic barrel when it comes to the caliber of students they attract. Then, having attracted the lowest-scoring students colleges of education put them through the least rigorous curriculum in higher education.
This being the case, is it any wonder that so many aspiring teachers cannot pass the ridiculously simple certification examinations required for a teaching certificate? For example, the first time pass rates for aspiring teachers who take the California Basic Educational Skills Test or CBEST is approximately 80% for whites; 50% for Mexican Americans, Southeast Asians, and Filipinos; and 46% for blacks. Writing about this subject, economist Walter Williams gave the following example of the types of questions asked on CBEST (other state certification tests for teachers are just as simple or worse): “Which of the following is the most appropriate unit of measurement for expressing the weight of a pencil?” Test takers have the following multiple choice options to choose from: “A. Pounds, B. Ounces, C. Quarts, D. Pints, and E. Tons.” The people failing certification tests such as the CBEST—in other words those who think that a pencil might weigh a quart, pint, pound, or ton—not only have college degrees in education, they want to teach your children.
I once talked to a bright young woman who had recently taken her state’s test for teacher certification. She was the type of individual any parent would be proud to have teaching in the public schools—someone who could have been an engineer, lawyer, or physician but who was committed to teaching young people. I asked how she did on the test. She smiled and said, “I aced it.” Not yet aware of the ridiculously low level of teacher certification tests, I complimented her. I will never forget her response. She said: “Thanks for the compliment, but my dog could have passed that test.” She went on to explain that the hardest problem on the Math portion of the test was to add 1/2 and 1/4th . Seeing my surprise she went on to say: “More than half the people in the room could not solve that problem.”
The world recently learned of a widespread cheating scandal in Georgia’s public school system. One would expect the cheaters to be students, but in this case the cheaters turned out to be teachers. Teachers in Georgia have been charged with giving students the answers when proctoring state-required graduation exams. Some are accused of actually going behind students and changing their incorrect answers on completed tests. This sad situation appears to be a case of hiding the fact that some public school teachers are incompetence and cannot teach—a fact that would be revealed in the test scores of students if the scores were left unaltered. Not surprisingly the motivation behind the cheating scandal is self-preservation. Is it any wonder that students in American public schools cheat in epidemic proportions or that we have become a society that tolerates cheating?
Americans were shocked by the cheating scandal in Georgia, but they shouldn’t have been. After all, when you take the lowest level college students and put them through a watered-down curriculum that wouldn’t challenge a fifth grader this kind of thing is bound to happen. American needs to reform its public education system from top to bottom. A good place to start would be colleges of education.