The wellspring of grade inflation

I hate to discourage teachers (we need them!), but there’s a problem in teacher education.

Well, guess which students earn the highest grades? It’s future teachers. According to a new study by Cory Koedel published by the American Enterprise Institute:

Students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline. The higher grades cannot be explained by observable differences in student quality between education majors and other students, nor can they be explained by the fact that education classes are typically smaller than classes in other academic departments.

This is despite the fact that education majors have the lowest high school grades and standardized test scores of all college students.

(Also on Sb)


  1. says

    My department was in a quandary when the announcement for our faculty vacancy went out from our HR office and stipulated that a graduate degree in math or math education was required. A couple of the candidates who applied had doctorates in math education but their transcripts showed fewer upper-division and graduate-level math classes than a plain old master’s degree in math. We weren’t particularly impressed. (The eventual successful candidate had a master’s in math, not math education.)

    P.S.: I happen to have a doctorate in math education, but it was preceded by a master’s in math itself and a ton of grad-level math instruction. I think subject-matter content matters.

  2. 'Tis Himself, pour encourager les autres says

    The grades are easily explainable. The bell curve has a cliff on the low side.

  3. Otto says

    At my undergraduate institute, the dumb guys were all either majors in business or sports medicine; the dumb girls were all elementary ed majors. Now, there ARE good programs in those fields, but my university didn’t have them. I still habitually think of them as “dumb majors,” even though I now attend (for my PhD) a university where it’s damn hard to get into the very rigorous and internationally renowned business school.

    So even though I (irrationally) think an education major is lightweight, I am continually blown away by just how little pedagogical training I was required to have before I was in a classroom. Apparently, if you’re teaching anyone younger than eighteen, you have to go through a screening process and have a degree. If you’re teaching college students, apparently they just say, “Well, you’ve been a student for a while now, you probably know what you’re doing,” and let you go.

    Different departments do different things, and I am genuinely at a GOOD university. I got some teaching training because of my department. But the only training all instructors are required to take is a sensitivity training course about how we should not fuck our students.

    I have, so far, not fucked a student. I think I probably could have managed that without a class on it. What I really needed when I started was help with designing a syllabus and course calendar.

    The whole system of teaching teachers how to teach is massively screwed up. I’m at a major research university, so maybe that’s the problem with my story. But higher Ed tends to SUCK at making teachers.

  4. retired edukatur says

    In the 80’s I mentioned at a faculty meeting that the average student in my community college was far above average(2.88 on 4.0 scale). I asked if grade inflation was something we might study as a faculty and asked if there were any volunteers to form a committee to study grade distribution….show of hands for volunteers……not!

    At that time we were transitioning from “students” to “education consumers”.

  5. says

    Hmm. Interesting.

    I know my grades shot up after switching to an Education major a year and a half into my undergrad, but that was because I finally found something I was passionate about.

    The required courses (the ones that applied to ALL Ed majors) were terrible. They were poorly structured, overly simplistic, and poorly taught. However, the classes that were unique to my major – English Education – were all taught by wonderfully intelligent, insightful instructors – and I worked my ass off for them.

    I second what Otto said; at the science and engineering research university where I went to school, el ed majors were DEFINITELY considered to be intellectual lightweights. And by and large, when I was forced to do group projects with them, they fit that stereotype.

    There’s a difference between doing something because you “love kids” or that you “love teaching”. One is just a general affection; the other is a lot of freakin’ work.

  6. Rawnaeris says

    At my undergrad the Education department was a joke. We had special sub-freshman level classes for them to take in most of the sciences. Even for those who supposedly going to be teaching high school. There was a running gripe in the science department tat we could graduate with a 4.0, too, If our classes consisted of reading 20 books that were intended for kindergardeners. And, no, I’m not joking about that being one of the required classes for Edu. Majors.

  7. Claire says

    At my undergraduate institution, we had a STEP thru STEM program, where you majored in the subject you were going to teach, and minored in education. I figured out that I was going to go to grad school to get a PhD, but I wanted to be a good teacher in addition to a good scientist, so, I majored in biology and minored in education. The science education classes taught by faculty in the science department were great. The education classes taught through the education department were not. At one point for my education class I had to make a 7th grade science project and present it, with a pretty decorated backboard and everything. All of the other science majors who had that class with me thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever.

  8. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    I’m a math student (only for a couple of weeks more, yay) and it is a well known fact that those studying for an educational degree have it a lot easier than the rest of us. In the beginning I suspected it was only a rumor, but then I actually had some classes with them. They were loud, obnoxious and incredibly disrespectful towards professors. In one class, there was too many of us so there was a lot of crowding around front rows. Girls from educational (mostly women go into educational math, at least here) would “reserve” a bunch of seats and then chat during class or even open up newspapers! If we had an oral exam together, those were the people having stupid demands, like : “I thought this[something elementary] was not required for the exam” or “I thought we didn’t have to know proofs to pass”… They were always flabbergasted by the difficulty of the exams. Some professors ended up giving them a different set of exams (easier) than the rest of us because poor things didn’t really need all the difficult stuff we were learning (which was part of the fucking course). They would get higher grades for the same class, but they had easier exams. Yeah, that still makes me a bit angry. I only know rumors about their other classes, but if their expectations were anything to go by, those were an exercise in “How can we make this as easy as it can possibly be”.
    Oh, and this is an account from a small Middle of Nowhere, in Europe, but I doubt our university is an exception.

  9. llewelly says

    The American Enterprise Institute?

    They support global warming denialism, Bush myths about the invasion of Iraq, tobacco industry myths about tobacco, they attack NGOs, they supported Lott and his ridiculous “More guns less crime” notion (untill Lott tried to sue Levitt), they’ve hosted attacks on public schools, and they promote vouchers.

    AEI is a propaganda mill. Color me skeptical.

  10. says

    This is despite the fact that education majors have the lowest high school grades and standardized test scores of all college students.

    Is this also from the study? I find it mystifying. Do the worst students really want to be teachers? I can imagine some of the students who struggled more in high school may have had more direct help from their teachers and therefore been impressed by them, appreciated the good teachers can do, and wanted to emulate them. But otherwise, I am puzzled why students who don’t do as well in school would want to make school their life’s vocation.

  11. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    Camels With Hammers,
    Again, not an American and it’s a math example, but people who want to study math but find the regular courses too hard go for educational. Not because of any wish to be teachers, but because they expect it to be easier. Not to mention, math is rarely filled up so a lot of people who didn’t get into law or medicine or something else totally not related go into math because a spot there can always be found… and again, they usually choose educational because it’s easier. Since they are those who didn’t manage to score high enough to get where they want, it’s obvious that their scores from high school are just not very high.

  12. Chris says

    The education majors who took my biology courses at a couple of my institutions were my worst students but at another institution they were a mixed bag, with a couple of them being my best students.

    One concern regarding the article: AEI is not exactly noted for its honesty and integrity. It is an extremely partisan belief-tank. The very one, in fact that offered $10,000 to any climate scientist willing to write a paper casting doubt on anthropogenic global warming. While this doesn’t mean that the study or its data are false (and my experience suggests that there is a grain of truth there) I’d like to see a non-partisan analysis before trusting it.

  13. M31 says

    My favorite Kurt Vonnegut quote:

    When they were inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1973, Kurt Vonnegut said of Allen Ginsberg: “I like ‘Howl’ a lot. Who wouldn’t? It just doesn’t have much to do with me or what happened to my friends. For one thing, I believe that the best minds of my generation were probably musicians and physicists and mathematicians and biologists and archaeologists and chess masters and so on, and Ginsberg’s closest friends, if I’m not mistaken, were undergraduates in the English department of Columbia University. No offense intended, but it would never occur to me to look for the best minds in any generation in an undergraduate English department anywhere. I would certainly try the physics department or the music department first — and after that biochemistry. Everybody knows that the dumbest people in any American university are in the education department, and English after that.”

    (from here:

  14. says

    Cross posted from scienceblogs, because I didn’t realize it had moved:

    One possible explanation here is that education professors are more willing that some professors in other areas to let you redo work in order to get a better grade. I’m an adjunct professor at a teacher education school, and I use a form of mastery learning.

    My students must take difficult assessments (none of that multiple choice bullshit), and many of them fail the first time. However, they can then go through the process of correcting and then retaking the exam. Some of them have to do this a few times.

    At the end of the class, this means that most of my students have an ‘A.’ Those that do not can only blame themselves. Those who have less than a ‘C’ have to retake the class until they get it right.

    I wish more programs in the university was like this. Do you really want an engineer who got a ‘D’ in Calculus III?

    I’m not arguing that grade inflation doesn’t exist, even in education. Many education courses are horribly easy. At the same time, there are many of us who understand that a future teacher getting a ‘D’ in class and being allowed to proceed through their program is not a good idea.

  15. says

    If something ever cried for skepticism this is it. The American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and republicans in general will do anything to destroy public education. Having Cheney on its board is a clue.
    Another question is: So what? Some department has to have the top grades. Why is this a problem? If there is a real problem, how about applying scientific methods to identify and solve.
    I once attended a faculty meeting where it was announced that we had a serious problem in that half of our students were reading below average. What could we do to improve this?
    These problems are not unique to education – Read DILBERT.

  16. says

    I’ve substituted in classes from about 2nd Grade through high school in ten or so local public schools. I’m not sure the laxity of education classes in college (on which I know little, but sounds like it can be pretty bad) much harms K-12 teaching as it actually occurs in public schools.

    First of all, the skills required for doing well in elementary school seem largely independent of grades — ability to control a classroom, patience, enthusiasm, love of kids, ability to explain things simply, and yes sense of humor. If college could weed out some of the students who fail in those areas, that might be more helpful than making education majors competitive in purer academics.

    In middle and high school, academic passion and knowledge of course become more important, but in my experience, most teachers (in our districts, anyway) do know what they’re doing. My son’s math teacher, who may also tutor him in AP physics, has a doctorate in physics, for instance — and is a dedicated teacher. (Though substituting for her, I found some of her students didn’t like her, because she had too little patience for the dummies!) Things may be different in other school districts, but we’re out in the country a bit, and I doubt we’re that special. All in all, high school teachers seem more evenly competent here than they did in the high school in Seattle I went to — we had some brilliant teachers, but also some legendary flakes.

    Probably a lot of those “education majors” wind up harmlessly selling coffee at Starbucks, or teach for a couple years, get married, and move on in life.

  17. skinner city cyclist says

    Teacher education programs at best open the toolbox for future teachers. I have heard it said that it takes about 3-5 years for a teacher to pan out, i.e., get the professional experience that makes them a good teacher. That is also the time frame in which most new teachers leave the profession.

    I am a SpEd teacher myself, but I became certified through a “fifth-year” M.Ed. certification program. I had already earned a BA in history and German and an MA in German, high test scores and GPA. So I will claim exception, but most teachers I know are about average when it comes to intellect.

  18. llewelly says

    Other people of interest at AEI include: John Yoo, author of the G. W. Bush administration’s justifications for torture, Christina Hoff Sommers, promoter of the myth that feminism is ruining young boys, Irving Kristol, Robert P. George “traditional marriage” advocate, and many more.

  19. Pteryxx says

    But otherwise, I am puzzled why students who don’t do as well in school would want to make school their life’s vocation.

    They have to do something as their life’s vocation; at least if they’re not so poor or so wary of student loans that they drop out. Maybe they’ve tried to get into a better field, or even just a better college, but didn’t have the grades for it. Now what? Most of the young men have the option of tech college, but the women get told that teaching’s a high-demand profession where you can always find a job, that teachers have great benefits and seniority and summers off every year, and that education programs have lots of specialized financial aid and (conditional) loan forgiveness. Not to mention that every little local college has an education department (and a nursing department) but getting most specialized degrees means traveling to a larger, more expensive university.

    Now, there’ll also be good strong students wanting to enter education, but they probably get told they’re “too good” for teaching and should set their sights higher. And, even newly minted teachers face that 50% attrition rate in the first five years; I’d guess the best and brightest would feel more confident in switching vocations, or might have more opportunity to do so.

    It’s true that teachers really are in high demand; and teaching is, or should be, a vital, trusted and honorable profession. It’s also familiar, since virtually all students have experienced it first-hand. But they’re probably not going to know all the downsides, any more than the general population does.

    (Also what David Marshall says in #18. Actual teaching skills tend to be neglected by education departments; new teachers pick them up on the job, instead.)

  20. OverlappingMagisteria says

    I had an education class in my undergrad years where on the last day, the teacher asked us all to write down the grade that we thought we deserved and hand it in. I’m a bit of a tougher critic of myself so I gave myself a B. Guess what grade I got for the course.

    Having a big ego was most important in that class.

  21. says

    On the other hand, I had very median grades in high school (always ranked right in the middle of 700 students), but had a 3.6 GPA for my Math-Physics BS, and a 3.9 in the physics courses alone. So it is possible that there is a change in their behavior between high school and college. Though back on the first hand again, I got a Math-Physics degree from a liberal arts college, so I’m pretty sure I was just the fastest kid in the slow heat… :-/

  22. Bill Door says

    LOL. Speaking of low intellectual standards…
    (It is fixed on the html version, though.)

  23. ogremk5 says

    When I was a college advisor, I heard the following on more than one occasion:

    “Well, I’m no good in math so I can’t be an engineer. I hate blood so I can’t go into medicine. I don’t like business. I like children, so I’ll go into education.”

    Yep, the two biggest reasons for going into education related fields is
    1) I like children (you won’t after teaching high school for a few years)
    2) I’m too stupid to do anything else.

    Yay for low teacher pay and zero teacher respect. We reap what we sow.

  24. Otto says

    As to bad scholars who go into elementary ed:

    My undergraduate institution was a highly religiooous liberal arts school. You know “pre-med?” We specialized in “pre-sem” – pre-seminarians. People who were specializing in courses that would help them get their M Divs.

    In my experience, there were two kinds of pre-sems. One kind wanted to go into the ministry because they wanted to help people and they thought ministry was the way to do it. Of course, if they were women, they could never be ordained, so they were in deaconess training instead. Because God knows that bitches ain’t shit but hos and tricks. The other kind of pre-sem wanted to go into ministry because they knew they were RIGHT, they were CORRECT, and they wanted to spend the rest of their lives teaching other people how to be right.

    I’d say the same is probably true of a lot of elementary ed students. Some of them have a passion for teaching, but some of them . . . just want to tell people what’s right. It’s shameful that the universities coddle those people under the guise of pedagogical diversity.

  25. Allen L says

    Things are similar in Alberta. When I was an Ed student, I was in the ‘after degree’ program, meaning I already had a degree (BSc. in physics). The regular B Ed students in the high school stream, on average, were weaker academically. The education courses were just the same when my friends and I compared them to our calculus, optics and EM classes.

    I remember getting a comment on a lesson I prepared. It seems I concentrated too much on communicating the concepts and not enough on the opening and closing aspects. I guess I am the only one who ever had difficulty learning about redox reactions. When I mentor a student teacher now I still emphasize content delivery over packaging. I hate the business terminology of teaching.

    Back to work for me on Monday. A new crop of young flexible minds to mess with.(slinks off twirling mustache and laughing evilly).

  26. Allen L says

    Just a followup. I do love my job. I teach high school physics, chem and math. This my second career and I love it when students say they want to take physics because it sounds fun, even though they don’t need it for post-secondary. I really take feel I accomplished something good when a hardworking but weak student pulls it all together for our standardized province wide exams and gets a scholarship as a result plus a good mark in a difficult course to show on their transcript.

  27. Bethistopheles says

    The only elementary school teacher I know chose the major because a) it’s easy and b) Dude! Summer vacation!

    No. Really. By all accounts, that’s all there was to it.

    Biggest pothead I’ve ever met. To put it lightly. Maybe “psychonaut” is a more apt term…

    But to be honest, he’s teaching at one of the best Charter schools in the state… it’s over 99% African American and not in the best part of town, but is ranked 19th out of 806 school districts (both public & charter). He’s worked there about 4 years and judging by all the crudely drawn student portraits of him, it seems the kids like him… so he must be doing something right…

    After nearly a decade away from college, he’s just about done with his Masters’ and it seems like a fairly easy program. From what I can tell, the only difficult part is writing papers w/citations and all that good stuff.

    When I was in high school, it seemed all the smart AND personable teachers that we so desperately needed were the first to leave. I don’t know about other districts, but it seemed like the school did everything in their power to make life more difficult for the teachers. It wasn’t just the school though, there was the funding, the salaries, everything…. The bright ones realized the burden of stress wasn’t worth it and either changed schools or careers. I can’t say I blame them.

  28. Dhorvath, OM says

    skinner city cyclist,

    Teacher education programs at best open the toolbox for future teachers. I have heard it said that it takes about 3-5 years for a teacher to pan out, i.e., get the professional experience that makes them a good teacher. That is also the time frame in which most new teachers leave the profession.

    Does this not strike you as an opportunity to better teacher education? If it takes three plus years of professional experience to make a teacher, why not make that part of becoming one? Apprenticeship might even improve retention of teachers.

  29. NitricAcid says

    I have heard similar things about the education degrees awarded in Alberta.

    I teach a math course designed for the education department. I’ve had some good students, and I’ve had some bad students. I don’t inflate my grades, so I’ve had students horrified to learn that they’d only received a 73% on their midterm. I’ve had students flat-out tell me that they’re not interested in understanding the math; they just want to memorize how to solve the problems.

  30. liebore says

    Education is an easier major than Organic Chemistry?!? I never would have guessed. The only possible explanation is that only lazy slackwits aspire to be educators, and the only way to draw them into the field is through promisses of easy grading for the 4-6 years in college preceeding their thankless 35 year careers.
    To believe otherwise is to adopt the preposterous proposition that a student that has already completed high school math, has some sort of inexplicable advantage in taking high school math education courses that students in majors like botany seemingly lack.
    I, for one, am extremely concerned with the society ending crime of grade inflation. Let’s keep the focus there so we can ignore the relatively unimportant problem of class-size inflation. If all of our educators come out of college with lower GPA’s, the problem should fix itself.

  31. Toasted Rye says

    I am a recent graduate from an education program at a college that has one of the most prolific education programs in my area. I would love to say this article doesn’t hit home with me, but that is not the case. I graduated with a 4.96 (simply because my site supervisor made a mistake that she could not correct at the time I got one B). I really wanted my academic achievement to be something to be proud of. At times it was. There were classes that were not core to education alone where the teachers have incredibly high standards, and I worked my ass off to achieve them. Those are the classes that made me the most proud. My fellow students though made me terribly scared for my own children in public school. I have never seen a larger group (aside from the religious and most of the teachers were highly religious. Gotta love the parallel.) Of people so disinterested in the pursuit of knowledge. It was like being in elementary school again with all the “why do we have to learn this” going on. My fellow education majors wanted to just get through school and get into a classroom. They would rather spend time debating how to say pedagogy rather than understanding it. It made me ache to know I was sending my own kids into their hands.
    There were some education professors that challenged us. Even if they didn’t challenge us grade wise they challenged our opinions about how to approach learning. I am grateful for those teachers.
    My last point I want to mention is that although education programs all over often have a softer curriculum than other majors, it isn’t always a problem with the education programs. I cannot tell you how many times I watched other majors walk into a classroom where the professors had so little concept of pedagogy that it is a wonder that any of the students learned at all. I watched students struggle with all their might to achieve standards that seemed pointless to the class itself. I have said time and time again that college professors should take the time to understand how people learn and use some of those methods in their classes.

  32. cyberCMDR says

    Obviously there is a selection process at work here. People who are competent tend to go into fields that require more rigor, and those competent people who continue into education tend to get selected out by the school environments (faculty politics, abusive parents, near poverty income, etc.). Like natural selection, this process works on probabilities; if you are competent you are more likely to not go into teaching or to leave it.

    This is not to say there are no good, dedicated teachers by any means. Unfortunately however, they are not the majority out there. I also took education classes and tried my hand at teaching high school science. The education classes were a joke, and the theories presented provided little or no help in actually doing the job. I left after two years. Perhaps I’ll try at the college level someday, after I finish my PhD (not in education!).

  33. says

    Count me in with the “you’re a good student, go teach” group.

    I’m teaching “Intro to Computer Programming” (for non-majors, CGS 2060). As one of my fellow TAs put it: “They didn’t throw you in the deep end. They threw you in the lava pit, with the lava sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads.”

  34. magistramarla says

    The education courses that I took back in the ’70s were a joke. We played silly games and did worthless projects. When I asked questions about actual teaching methods that I might need to know in the classroom, I was told that I would learn those by observing my cooperating teacher during my student teaching. I did ask her and her colleagues many questions and learned what I needed to know from them. I was not an education major. I worked my tail off in the classes for my actual major (Latin) and minor (Ancient Greek).

    Fast forward to my Texas teaching experience. I had not taught for 20 years while raising children. I had to pass the Texas EXCET. The subject matter test was fairly straightforward – Latin doesn’t change in 20 years. For the pedagogy exam, I bought a study guide, and took the self-test in a hotel room one evening while I was at a teacher’s conference. I scored an 85, even after a couple of drinks, so I didn’t worry when I took the real thing the following weekend. My principal called me into the office when the scores came out. I had scored a 95 and she was shocked. I found out that many of the young teachers in the school were failing it. We had one young teacher who had to take it eight times!

    I had always believed that my own woefully inadequate education courses were a thing of the past, but obviously education departments haven’t changed over the years. They are not preparing young teachers for the job.
    Perhaps education departments need to be improved?

  35. valine says

    Crazy right wing think tank or not, the study has simply put on paper what everyone who majored in a difficult subject has known from the beginning.

    Education majors had it easy, nutrition was where people went after dropping out of MCB, and business was where the ex jocks who couldn’t cut it anywhere else got to put on suits and play adults in class.

    They can do studies on these things, or not. They will be recognized as true by almost anyone who has gone through college. It quickly becomes apparent that you’re dealing with fools when the people who need to get your help with simple addition and grammar are the same ones who gush about their 4.0 GPAs.

    If you really want to teach, learn the subject, not a watered down cliffs notes version of it.

  36. liebore says

    people who are competent tend to go into fields that require more rigor

    No, people who are competent tend to go into fields that are well matched with their skillsets. People who are egotistical tend to elevate their own fields to a status where they believe only competent individuals can make the cut.

    Like natural selection, this process works on probabilities; if you are competent you are more likely to not go into teaching or to leave it.

    Like natural selection, if you are incompetent at teaching, you are likely to leave it. Thus, the high rate of turnover in a profession most people falsely assume is easy.

    This is not to say there are no good, dedicated teachers – however, they are not the majority out there.

    Good, dedicated teachers are the norm at schools. Throughout my own education and from the persepective of a parent with two kids in public schools, I have consistently been impressed with the vast majority of teachers I have run into. Yes, there are crappy teachers out there, but every profession has that problem. No, there aren’t many teachers that are so inspiring that there will be a movie made about their lives, but there are still more of those stories in this profession than many others. The fact that you couldn’t hack it as a high school teacher (and I confess, I would not be able to do it either) is a reflection of your limitations, not the incompetence of your colleagues.

  37. liebore says


    In my experience in three states (NY, IL, NV), to teach primary school you need a degree in education as well as speciality in the subject you teach. The specialities are not easy to get; physics majors rarely meet the qualifications math teachers need in order to teach HS math, despite the intensive math required to make it through physics.

    Educational theory courses may not provide a future teacher with a lot of practical knowledge about classroom managment, but the student teaching requirement certainly does. I can’t name a whole lot of other professions that require both theoretical and practicle coursework before you enter the profession.

  38. David Marjanović, OM says

    I wish more programs in the university was like this. Do you really want an engineer who got a ‘D’ in Calculus III?

    I’d rather the exams be difficult enough that everyone who doesn’t get an F is actually good enough for whatever the corresponding jobs are.

    I think that’s how it’s being handled over here.

    At the University of Vienna, you can take every exam 3 times, plus another time in front of a commission. At the Medicine University of Vienna, it’s even 4 + 1 times.

  39. Saul Adrem says

    Speaking as a science teacher, I have to agree that the Education classes I took weren’t that difficult. I actually had a degree in Chemistry and decided to change careers and entered an accelerated Masters Program for Education. The Masters program was alot of work but it wasn’t intellectually difficult, it was just work. I also agree that I did not learn enough to be an incredibly effective teacher the first year, but now that I am in my second year I know a whole lot more of what I need to do.

    I also had to take undergraduate classes in biology so I could be certified in Life Science as well (in Ohio, they do not give licenses for Chemistry alone). My first quarter taking the Bio classes I had Cell Biology, Ecology and Human Physiology (a nursing class) and ended up with a 4.0 GPA that quarter (yes, I am totally bragging right now).

    So, while many people may take Education as a major because it is easy, this guy did it because he wanted to make a difference. I teach in a district that is a majority, minorty (oxymoron anyone). We also have about 75% of the students on free and reduced lunches too so it is not the easiest place to teach but it is a district that I feel I can make the most difference in.

  40. digitalsextant says

    A couple thoughts:

    #23: You sound as though you would have gotten an A if you’d said you deserved an A; if you deserved a B, why are you irritated by having a B?. As an instructor who uses self-evaluation as one of my assessment tools, I can tell you that most students (somewhere in the 80% range) are reasonable in their self-assessments. And we clearly recognize the ones who suggest a grade higher than they’ve earned.

    I’m intrigued to see no discussion at all about the nature of grades themselves. The research documented by Alfie Kohn and similar writers suggests that grades, as we use them, are an essentially flawed assessment mechanism that damages intrinsic motivation and harms learning and overall performance. (c.f. PUNISHED BY REWARDS)

    Many of my classes start with a discussion of what grades do, the different kinds of economies they trade in, and what we pretend they’re for.

    That said, I agree with the comments that graduate education usually includes very little pedagogical training. If not for a fellowship I got my first year of grad school, I would have been teaching undergraduates 14 weeks after I graduated with my BA.

  41. Ike says

    I went to a good state university for my BS in Biology where I worked hard to stay on Dean’s List. After graduation I enrolled in that schools Master of the Arts in Teaching Program, a one-year, “intensive,” non-thesis program. It was the easiest stretch of classes I had taken in college, except for the one 400+ Level science course I had to take. I practically slept my way to my 3.9. The only class I didn’t get a 4.0 in, I pissed off the technology teacher for refusing to donate money to an anti-abortion cause (a baby bottle with a picture of an aborted fetus on it).
    I work hard at being a good teacher, this is my 5th year of teaching. I certainly learned little of what makes me a good teacher during my master’s program however.

  42. heraldofserra says

    It’s not the worst high school students who want to be teachers. It’s the group of college students with the lowest high school scores among college students who wind up in education. Not at all the same thing.

    And yeah, grades are pretty much bullshit. The whole system of education as: Read about something, regurgitate, grade, move on, is incredibly flawed.

    It should go more like: Explore, experience, discover, reflect, engage, assess, repeat to mastery, then go find something else to learn and start the process again, including revisiting old information.

    But, grades are what we have to measure academic success right now. The fact that teachers are in general such poor achievers is unsettling.

    To the person above who is afraid of sending their children into the public school jungle of incompetency, don’t then. Bring them home.

  43. liebore says

    valine, #39:

    Can you please enlighten all of us and tell us what the one True Difficult Major is that you chose so we may all bask in your glory? Please, use small words, as I was a lowly business major and my coursework in economics, statistics, finaical derivatives and operational analysis has left me ill prepared to deal with the magnitude of Knowledge someone of your stature commands.

    I find someone’s college major is a clear indication of the value that person adds to society. Measures like life achievement or community involvement are just red herrings.

  44. says

    Bush & Perry are best counter examples for the theses of this whole thread.The failure was not all at the HS level and it was not all in the Ed dept.
    Imagine a set of teachers each year for eight years trying to teach someone something and all fail. Then, the next thing you see is that person on TV running for president. Can happen.

  45. Darksider415 says

    I’d argue that a lot of what is hurting the educational system now is that there are too many students going in with the thought that it’ll be easy, and the actual bright ones end up getting discouraged when the real world hits. Maybe more educational programs should do like they do in my little corner of Alabama and have a laboratory school for teacher training.

  46. petejohn says

    Personally, I went into education because I really like history, I’ve learned a lot about it, I think it’s important, and I want to help kids get to where they need to be in life.

    Others go into it for other reasons. They like kids. They don’t know what else to do. They loved their Xth grade teacher. They want summers off.

    The people in the first do well in Ed school and would’ve earned high grades regardless of how difficult the classes were. The second… well…

    Simple fact is that the MAE program I just finished is not particularly rigorous. There’s a lot of work to be done, no doubt, but none of it is scrutinized carefully. Anyone who manages to emphasize a love of helping kids and who can spit back buzzwords can graduate. I learned more in my social studies education methods class, which was taught by a former high school teacher who went on to get a history Ph.D and become a professional historian. Ideally that’s who would teach all education classes, but that’s not how it is.

    I take solace in knowing that folks who are from the aforementioned second crew get weeded out because they simply can’t handle how stressful teaching can be. Unfortunately, that weeding out may not happen quickly enough and some poor kids natural curiousity will be destroyed by some chub without a clue who damnit it all can make a pretty word wall and knows how to run the copier and print off guided reading exercises.

  47. TimKO,,.,, says

    So what? The people I knew at university that were education majors all got straight As, too. Some of them didn’t go to class and still got As. Some of them flunked out of sciences, or engineering, dropped to education and got As. So I don’t get the “can’t be explained” part. I think it can be explained.

    I knew a girl who was an elem ed major and one day I saw her with a bunch of paperbag puppets. Good thing she was able to tap on her previous assignment – in 1st grade. Or , as the joke went, she was majoring in “MRS”. True story.

    Not to knock anything. I honestly wish it had been my major.

  48. valine says

    liebore, while you may certainly misrepresent what I said, I do not maintain that there is a One True Major.

    What I am saying is this: the more technical a major gets, generally the more difficult it gets. This isn’t a slight on other majors. It was annoying during school, for sure, when a person would simply opt out of a major and suddenly graduate because their new one had much fewer requirements. But it wasn’t a terrible thing, it was just a different set of requirements for a different major. I was pointing out that whatever the source of this study, it isn’t making a controversial point, or one that takes too much reflection to realize on your own. Even if it is from wingnuts, they seem to have gotten something right for once.

    About the only thing that really upsets me about this whole affair is what has annoyed me from long before I ever saw the study: the people who have the easiest time in college are set up to be the teachers of the next generation.

    Talking to biology education majors older than I was who believed the literal story of genesis convinced me that they simply were never forced to grapple with the science that an actual biology major would have to.

    This isn’t absolute, of course, and fools can sometimes slouch their way through more difficult majors without letting any knowledge seep into their skulls. But the problem is that in a technical major, this is made clear by the low marks on their transcripts, whereas in education, a complete moron might still have a reasonable GPA, and then go on to tell kids in highschool that the science they are getting from their textbook is ‘just a theory’.(happened to me) Or that the hoverboard in Back to the Future was actually real, and worked through the earth’s magnetic field. (also an experience with a teacher)

    Having had to deal with that multiple times in high school, I’d prefer a more rigorous process that forces students to think, even if some of them are revealed to be poor thinkers in the process and marked down accordingly. And education needs it most, because education majors frequently go on to inflict whatever misinformation they might have learned on another generation.

    I apologize for being an ass about Business. But I have never been able to take the major seriously after seeing a group of poshly dressed business majors open their briefcases to reveal nothing but the day’s Sudoku puzzles, every day in the class before mine. It always seemed to be more about appearances than, well, business.

    And for the record, the One True Major is Biochemistry. ; )

  49. nmcvaugh says


    As I take a break from dissertation, I’d like to thank you for reminding me of why I have changed my mind about going into science education. I originally entered the educational psychology doctoral program because I had hoped to design improved methods for promoting student conceptual change in the teaching biology and evolution.

    Several years later, I’ve been cured of this desire by observing the contempt that teachers are held in by students, society, and especially politicians such as my governor Rick Perry and his “education” board. It’s unexpected but not surprising to see so many pharyngulites who share this attitude.

    At this point, I’m looking to go into computer and technical training. You know, the sort of thing where a group of business majors come in, lay out a few grand each for 2 or 3 days of training followed by certification. It lacks the appeal of helping to inspire and train the next generation of scientists, but at least it’s respected, you aren’t expected to act as a foster parent for the students, and you don’t have to take your work home at the end of the day. And of course, the pay is much better.

    Is there grade inflation? Sure. Does some of it happen in education? Of course. Does this mean that education majors “have the lowest high school grades and standardized test scores of all college students” or that they have the highest grades of all college disciplines? I have a feeling that the world isn’t this black and white, and that the conclusions promoted by the American Enterprise Institute may not be as solid as you’re presenting them.

    Given the critiques that you’ve given to research claims such as the “cyanide based life” study, it’s surprising that you’d accept this one at face value. But with the status of teachers in the US, and how we tend to embrace messages we agree with, it’s not that surprising.

    At any rate, it’s clear from the comments that the best teachers are those who come from real academic programs, and that education has nothing to contribute. Given your academic superiority, I’m sure that the first-class science education that the American public enjoys will continue unchanged. Glad it’s not going to be my problem any more.


  50. Snikkers says

    In my B.Ed. graduating class, there were three people who did not graduate with an A average. Two of the three were extremely intelligent that couldn’t stomach the course requirements…and didn’t. The other one was me.

  51. archimedes109 says

    Really? Teachers have the lowest standardized test scores in our universities? Utter nonsense. The majority of colleges of education have minimum ACT of 23-25. Compare that to the entrance requirements of our public universities. Does anyone really believe a highschool chemistry, physics, math, or biology teacher had lower test scores than the thousands of students entering college with scores as low as 15-18? Why do you think they offer all those remedial classes to incoming college freshmen? It’s so they can suck an extra semester or two of cash out of the 15-18’s before they flunk out…

  52. M Groesbeck says

    Ah, yes, we have it again — the science-major ritual of shitting on anyone who has or is working towards a degree that requires a communication level above what’s expected for blog comments on the internet.

    I just completed a group project with a bunch of science and pre-med people — and most couldn’t write a coherent sentence, let alone a paper. The science people make a point of mocking anyone who isn’t up to at least an upper-division undergraduate level in their preferred science (because, yeah, most of the humanities and social-sciences people aren’t) — but that will carry a bit more weight when I see more science people up to a college-freshman level in the basic reading, writing, etc. skills.

    I’m on the fence in the sciences vs. humanities war — literature major, physics minor, heading to grad school in applied physics. And I know I’ll always have a job waiting for me as “the guy who can write grant proposals and articles”, because most people in the sciences can neither write effectively nor maintain any concept of people in another scientific field (let alone anything else).

  53. liebore says

    OK valine, I’ll admit I used your last post as a springboard, so don’t take my harsh comments too personally.

    I agree that critical thinking should be a greater part of al education, especially for educators. Nonetheless just because one major is easier than another or that students in that major get higher GPAs does not imply that the quality of education in that degree is inferior. The fact is, society needs more educators than biochemists, so it’s rather convenient that education is easier to access for a greater number of individuals.

    My real issue here is the intent of this study isn’t to draw attention to a serious problem, it is to distract everyone from the real problem. If we can keep soiling the image of the average teacher, we can blame them for all the problems in education, rather than the dearth of funding and support. As someone that clearly values education, please don’t fall into the trap these wingnuts have set or your voice will only be added to the opposition.

    And, for the record, if you are going to brag about the One True Major, Biochem is a damned good candidate. As for my field, do you know how many business majors it takes to screw in a lightbulb? Only one, but we get three credits and get to parlay it into a six figure salary ;-)


  54. llbguy says

    In law school, the ed majors were always fun. They basically got the worst jobs in the end, but it is important to have a good sense of humour.

  55. mouthyb says

    M Groesbeck: That’s a familiar tune. I have a writing MFA and a list of publications long as my arm. I’m in my first semester of graduate school in sociology, and I’ve gotten to unpleasantly/pleasantly surprise just about everyone. I just love talking to someone who says “oh, so you have an MFA,” followed by that look of dawning shock as they realize I understand them and can keep up a theory conversation.

    On the plus side, I’ll be writing funding grants when everyone else is trying to figure out what to do. And if asked nicely, I’ll help others with their grants, course proposals, dissertations and articles, because I’ve taught myself how to write them and I attend those workshops.

  56. Valine says

    Hey liebore,

    Nice to hear back from you. I agree that educators aren’t the problem, and in fact I have a great deal of respect for people who deal with all the bullshit I saw teachers deal with. But I do think that a teacher in any given subject is usually better when they have actually had intensive training in that subject, rather than peripheral training in it. And so for some others in this thread who are accusing posters of attacking education, I don’t think many people here were. They were discussing Education, and while sometimes people might conflate the two, they are not equivalent.

    Different people have different opinions about teaching methods, but the best teachers I had didn’t try to incorporate the newest theories of learning, didn’t try to make things more interactive, didn’t try, in short, to buy into all the buzzwords of Education. What they did was made sure at the beginning of every lecture that they knew what they were going to say, barely needed to look at notes, and could elaborate on any questions pertaining to the subject matter, off the top of their heads. It was, in short, a complete immersion in the subject they were going to teach, rather than a familiarity with teaching theory, that made them good teachers.

    That didn’t always mean they were nice. I had a teacher who was quite unpleasant in person, and made no allowances for any kind of slacking. At the time he seemed pure evil. But looking back, I realized that I learned more from his class than any other, simply because I had to bust my ass studying, and because he demanded complete familiarity with the subject. Education majors don’t hold a monopoly on good teaching practice, and the best teachers don’t necessarily hand out the highest grades.

  57. Collie says

    @ Allen – finishing up a regular BEd in Alberta and this made me laugh. The degree seems horribly panned-out, I wasn’t even able to even touch a course from the faculty until my third year. When I did take my first education course it came as a complete shock to the vast difference in students. They tended to divide the secondary and elementary, but for the ones we did do with the elementary it was laughable. From what I gather the elementary ed students are only required to take watered-down versions course of each major subject while the secondary are dumped into the faculty they specialize and fished out a few years in to do the odd education course.

    Despite this difference I found the secondary students still didn’t hold up to the average of my other faculty peers. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part they just seemed weaker in an academic sense. I am by no means a top student; I received average/slightly above average in my other-faulty courses, but when the student teaching condensed term of pure education classes came…well I walked out with nothing but A’s in each class. Nothing to do with an increased performance, but it was the simple fact that they were smaller curved classes with weaker students.

    This always rubbed me the wrong way, and I even considering changing my degree (doing the 4+2 after degree) over it as I felt my degree was cheapened. Although I’ll suck my ego up and finish it…too much student debt and a wishy-washy market to change my mind now!

    PS I’d love nothing more than a mentor teacher that reads Pharyngula, that gives me hope after struggling through ultra!christian mentor teacher of last year (which was fairly amusing because she gave me the sex-ed portion of her grade 7s..I held back a bit knowing she was absolutely willing to fail me…but I had my fun). Very awesome.

  58. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    In my experience, 1) education majors choose that major because they want to teach and not because it’s easy, BUT 2) the education major is pretty easy* and the students are used to getting good grades without really working hard, BUT 3) teachers who take grad level biology courses for Masters credit tend to be well suited for the course work.

    In other words, it isn’t all that clear to me what’s going on.

    *At my university anyway.

  59. pHred says

    I have been over on the wrong host on this… Sigh…. The source of this specific study is terribly suspicious and of ill intent, but the problem cited is real. You find the same kinds of studies in American Teacher (AFT publication) and in education journals.

    My experience teaching and advising students has been sadly similar to ogremk5 @26 – Students who think that teaching kids is going to be fun, with summers off and an easy path to a career acceptable to their parents. It seems to come as a shock to them that real teaching is hard work and that you have to actually know something in order to teach it. They whine in my content courses that they are too hard!

    The other thing that I mentioned is that one of the studies I read in a teaching mag or journal showed that current college texts are now at what was formally considered an 8th grade reading level. Just look at an college text for an introduction science course now (say the “Visualizing” series) and the texts used for the same course just 10 or 15 years ago. All the text (i.e. information) has been replaced by glossy pictures and the books are only about 1/4 as thick (while being 5x as expensive!)

  60. lucifermourning says

    my sister was an education major (Early Childhood specification), and her experience was pretty interesting…

    the Ed classes were easier to pass – in part because a minimum GPA was required to teach in that state, and the Ed. instructors felt they needed to help students who might not get top grades in their General Requirements. But she did think the programme was very good, and they got a lot of hands-on experience, at least in Early Childhood – there was an on-site nursery, so they got experience before their formal student teaching.

    She’s now a brilliant teacher (according to feedback from her superiors) – in China. She works at an international school, because it was the only place she could get a decent salary and teach in her chosen field (3-5 year olds). Our home state is actually half-decent on teacher salaries, but has very few full-time kindergartens, and every fewer places for younger kids. So very little call for teaching that field. That left teaching kindergarten at a nursery school – only affordable while she was living with our parents.

    She also got no real support while teaching in that environment – very little to help improve her skills and become a better teacher.

    If you want bright, motivated teachers, the field needs the respect and the money to encourage those students to join the field and stay there.

  61. pHred says


    If you want bright, motivated teachers, the field needs the respect and the money to encourage those students to join the field and stay there.

    Hear, hear! I agree completely.

    Unfortunately, bright and motivated is exactly what we are not selecting for at the moment. Those truly bright and motivated students who do get their education degrees and certifications *sometimes* bloom into inspirational teachers, but more often are then beaten down by the “teach to the test” and push the paperwork mentality of our educational system. Then they leave or become cynical and warped.

  62. calliopejane says

    Perhaps related: When I was in grad school getting my PhD in psychology, we all considered those in school psychology to be the lower-ability students who got an easier path. They were the ones who often struggled with the statistics classes, even though they didn’t have to take very many stats classes and so never got to the really tough stuff. All the other fields (neuropsych, social psych, industrial-organizational psych — hell, even the animal behavior folks) had to take many many statistics classes, until we could do complex multi-level modeling techniques & the like. The school psychs struggled with multiple regression. A couple of the school-psych professors were known to have HIRED someone to do the analyses for their own dissertations.

    And when it came time for comprehensive exams (multi-day exams to move up to “PhD student” after achieving the masters), the school psych students got to know what their questions would be about ahead of time!!! WTF…??? The rest of us spent all summer trying to memorize EVERYTHING EVER done in our field (with appropriate citations!) since that was OUR domain to be sampled from in testing.

    I don’t really know what my take-away message is from this. Is everything to do with schools just too infested with the self-esteem movement, that we can’t even risk letting those people fail? Is there just too much difficulty getting the brightest people to go into school-related fields? If so, is it because those programs do in fact have a reputation for lacking rigor?

  63. Kirian says

    I’m sorry, but just about anything that comes out of AEI is either horribly distorted or an outright lie. They hate unions; therefore they hate teachers’ unions; therefore they hate teachers; therefore any study done by them on educators is at best horribly flawed and more likely outright made of cherry-picked data.

  64. ukko says

    I showed this to my education professor wife and she asked an interesting question. She said an important part of what they do is “counsel out” students, that is convince them they should not be teachers. Her state university has a 50% retention rate. So, if you are disappearing the lower half of your cohort one would hope the average GPA goes up.

    Then again maybe that was controlled for in the study, then again the fact that it cover all majors kind of makes me think that it is not properly addressed.

  65. nmcvaugh says

    The following is the short version – those wanting more detail (additional comments, bibliogrpahy, etc) can find it here.

    “Students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline.”


    “education majors have the lowest high school grades and standardized test scores of all college students.”

    As a doctoral student in education at the University of Texas at Austin, I found these claims to be suspect because they presume an extraordinary level of evidence. That a single discipline would have significantly higher grades than all other disciplines across all universities (in the US) seems far-fetched, as does the claim that all education majors score at the bottom for high school grades and standardized test scores. As Carl Sagan noted, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Given that the source was the AEI, it seemed likely that the claims and evidence would be less than commensurate. This is not to say that grade-inflation does not exist, or that it is distributed evenly throughout higher education. Reputable and peer-reviewed studies of grade-inflation do exist, especially (though not limited to) in the field of education. For those interested in doing actual research, a large literature is available.


    The article itself is short, and readers are urged to see the original source. Given the extreme claims that Koedel makes, the literature review and analysis would be expected to make up the majority of the paper, and in the case of actual peer-reviewed research, this would be the case. However it should be remembered that the AEI is a political organization dedicated to “limited government, private enterprise, vital cultural and political institutions, and a strong foreign policy and national defense.” In line with this mission, the literature review consists of 380 words out of a 2,059 word essay (abstract, bibliography and figure captions excluded). Based on the premise that education majors are the least capable of all higher education students, the remainder of the article proscribes remedies for this premise. Specifically, that university administrations should “externally dictate the grade distributions in education classes” and “facilitate private-market-like incentives for education departments.”

    Examining the first premise

    Of course if the premise does not hold, then the conclusions are invalid. The first premise is “Students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline.” (p. 1).

    Koedel backs this assertion by pointing to three studies. The first (Weiss & Rasmussen, 1960) is over 50 years old. Koedel’s one sentence characterization of the study is “these authors showed that undergraduate students taking education classes were twice as likely to receive an A compared with students taking classes in business or liberal arts departments.” Fortunately it is possible to turn to the original article and let the authors speak for themselves. After reporting on overall statistics that match Koedel’s claim, the authors then provide the context that Koedel ignores:

    In all of the universities included in this study, education is mainly upper-division work. Only one of the universities was able to supply statistics that permitted a comparison of marks in education, business administration and liberal arts according to class-level. Table II compares the information about education and liberal arts. The data support the widely held belief that upper-division classes generally have higher grade-point averages than lower-division classes. The fact that most education courses are at the junior and senior levels therefore accounts for much of the discrepancy between grades in liberal-arts and for education courses listed in Table I. (pp. 143-144)

    After adjusting to compare equivalent students (freshman to freshman and so forth), grades in education were found to be 9 to 10 percent higher than in liberal arts, with other departments exceeding education in terms of GPA. The necessity of comparing divisions will turn out to be significant when evaluating Koedel’s comparisons.

    The two remaining articles that Koedel cites are of more recent vintage. (Babcock & Marks, 2010) was published by his AEI colleagues, but its inclusion is odd:

    “At the University of Missouri-Columbia, depicted in figure 2, every single student received an A (that is, 4.0) in one out of every five undergraduate education classes.4” (p. 2).

    Footnote 4 cites Babcock and Marks. This is strange for two reasons. First, figure 2 is taken not from Babcock and Marks, but from Koedel (2011a). It is doubly strange because Babcock and Marks’ article does not address student grades or departments, but is concerned with changes in the amount of time students study. It has no bearing on grade inflation within education.

    This leaves us with Koedel (2011a) as the sole source for the modern grade inflation claims of Koedel (2011b). Remember, we’re addressing the claim that “Students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline.”

    Koebel’s “every other academic discipline” consists of twelve departments divided into three groups: science (biology, chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics and physics); social science (political science, psychology, sociology); and humanities (English, history and philosophy). In order to maintain Koedel’s comparison with Weiss and Rasmussen, it should be noted that 7 of these 12 departments are part of UT Austin’s College of Liberal Arts, itself made up of 21 academic departments along with 24 centers and institutes. Liberal Arts is one of 7 colleges and 9 schools that make up UT Austin.

    His contention that “The low grading standards in education departments, illustrated by these authors over 50 years ago, are still prevalent today” thus appears to be based on substantially different data, with no effort is made to reconcile the two data sets. In sum, it is clear that Koedel’s claim that he has demonstrated that education grades are higher than “every other academic discipline” is invalid.

    It could be argued that this was simply a rhetorical flourish, and that the graphs and statistics in his article make the point that educational grades are grossly inflated next to the disciplines that Koedel has selected. This conclusion is not warranted for several reasons.

    Consider the figures in Koedel (2011b). While his study involved a convenience sample of 3 universities, he included only the two that best fit with his conclusions and omitted the third one, that did not. I suggest interested readers obtain a copy of the article here and examine the graph for the University of Miami.

    In a gesture towards generalizing his data, Koedel requested data from for additional universities. However, he requested only data for education, and did not request data on other departments. The resulting data are graphically similar to those for his convenience sample of universities, but he fails to analyze them for statistical fit. Even were he to do so, the lack of comparison data precludes generalizing his claims to other universities.

    Finally, it is important to return to Weiss and Rasmussen’s observation that grades tend to be higher in higher level courses, and the significant reduction in grade discrepancies when this factor is taken into account. He acknowledges this on page 4, noting that ” education departments offer very few level-1 classes.” Given his citation of Weiss and Rasmussen, it would be expected that he would make a similar adjustment. Instead he continues by stating “I do not distinguish by course-level in the analysis. However, note that class-level designations are of no consequence to the results—my findings can be replicated within class-level.” No statistical comparison is made to support this claim. Given the prior evidence of Weiss and Rasmussen, this claim is suspect.

    Examining the second premise

    The second premise was that “education majors have the lowest high school grades and standardized test scores of all college students.” This is actually a quote that PZ included which comes from Daniel Luzer of Washington Monthly, and which does not appear in Koedel’s article. What Koedel does say is that “education majors score considerably lower than students in other academic departments on college entrance exams.” Koedel provides two citations, Arcidiacono (2004) and The College Board (2010).

    The College Board survey reported on intended major, rather than retrospectively matching graduates to SAT scores. A quick analysis of this data shows education majors coming in 24th out of 36 for combined reading, writing and math scores, while ANOVA showed no significant difference in scores between intended majors.

    The Arcidiacono article includes some data on SAT, but the primary focus of the article is on estimating earnings for various majors as an indicator of whether college is a good investment or not, and is based on data from 1972 and 1974. For those years, SAT scores were compared for natural science, business, social science and education majors. On the math scores, education majors were at the bottom for both years, while for verbal they tied business majors for both years. This provides partial support for Koedel’s assertion, though the more than 37 year old sample is a bit dated. On a side note, the conclusions that Arcidiacono reaches about earnings in 1986 based on major are worth considering:

    “Note that more than $16,000 dollar mean spread between the highest paying major, natural science, and the lowest paying major, education, for the 1972 choice. In fact, those who chose not to attend college actually had higher average earnings than those who chose education either in 1972 or in 1974.”

  66. Greg says

    I’m a teacher and (obviously) a grad of an education dept. at a small private college in Minnesota. I’m not at all surprised that ed. students have the highest GPA of the disciplines – ed. courses are easy. Really, really, easy. Education course material is, in my experience, a painfully simplified version of a number of other disciplines. Pedagogy is mostly watered down versions of cognitive psychology and economics. Classroom management is a combination of watered down gen. psych. and war stories the professors like to tell.

    I’ve complained to friends and (very) occasionally colleagues that the standards to become a teacher are insultingly low. Why not have teaching candidates take cog. psych. instead of ed psych? As a professional teacher the continuing education offered is just as, if not more, insulting. Two hour sessions about “brain based learning” that offers such a reductive and out of date picture of our current understanding of the brain that I am fairly certain I’m somewhat dumber for having listened to the whole thing.

    Were I to informally diagnose the heart of the problem with education I would boil it down to two issues: first, most folks who become teachers do it because they are good at school and that is markedly different from those who are good at math or science or whatnot (this might also explain why their grades are higher. It is very possible to be good at the system of school without being good at anything in particular outside of that.) Second, teachers are so often the whipping boys (or children, to be gender neutral)that we are forced to spend lots of time being our own cheerleaders. This makes us less critical of one another and less critical of the abilities of up and coming teachers.

    If teachers want to be taken seriously as professionals and have a sound basis for negotiating salary increases, we have got to raise our standards for ourselves.

  67. nmcvaugh says

    Congratulations Greg.

    I guess I should extend my condolences as well, since as education majors you and I had the lowest high school grades and standardized test scores of all college students.

    Then again we should be congratulated – somehow despite our intellectual and academic shortcomings, we managed to find the one major that anchors itself at the bottom of the academic ladder that allows us to coast through to our undeserved degrees. Education is our a perfect match, at least as far as Koedel and PZ are concerned.

    Then again, perhaps not. You note that “most folks who become teachers do it because they are good at school and that is markedly different from those who are good at math or science or whatnot.” The “most” seems to have escaped the notice of many posters here who feel that (as Valine notes) “the people who have the easiest time in college are set up to be the teachers of the next generation.”

    Well Valine, I guess I had it easy, have never needed to engage in real scholarship, and (like Greg) am lucky to have found a major that matched my intellectual shortcomings.

    THAT is the core of my criticism of PZ’s embrace of the AEI article. Do I think that education has shortcomings? HELL YES! One has only to look at AERA and its ongoing drift away from qualitative studies and embrace of qualitative “research” to see that the field can lack academic rigor. As Greg said, “If teachers want to be taken seriously as professionals and have a sound basis for negotiating salary increases, we have got to raise our standards for ourselves.”

    However, holding a very flawed AEI study up as evidence that ALL educators are from the bottom of the academic spectrum, and coast by on inflated grades despite a complete lack of academic talent sounds a lot like the populism of Rick Perry, and his claim that climate change is simply due to feeding at the trough of public research money.

    While educational standards could be improved, I’m tired of fighting for better standards from the inside while getting disdain and contempt from all quarters, especially here. It’s time for the US education system to collapse – perhaps Asia will pick up the slack for the next few centuries. Based on the comments of many pharyngulites, there’s nothing to loose.

  68. nmcvaugh says

    I shoulda done review’d da last post a bit mo’ befo’ submittin. But hey – I’m in edumacation, an’ big words done confuse me. Where I’m a wrote:

    and his claim that climate change is simply due to feeding at the trough of public research money

    I shoulda have been mo’ ‘pecific. How ’bout:

    and his claims that climate change scientists are promoting global warming in order to feed at the trough of public research money

    I’ma tank U 4 lettin’ me a post ma correxion.

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