No Easy Fix

For those who claim that improving education and sending more kids to college will solve the country’s economic problems, Vox offers “Why more education won’t end poverty, in one chart”.

The chart is interesting enough, illustrating how “we have massively improved the educational credentials of people living below the poverty line” over the past 25 years while the overall poverty rate has increased.

The writer’s closing, however, better addresses the complex relationship between poverty and education.

People face various kinds of barriers – the macroeconomic situation, economic conditions in the town where they live, certain kinds of disability, family responsibilities, substance abuse problems, etc. – that make it hard for them to get a full-time job.

To reduce poverty, you either need to address those barriers or you need to just hand over some money. More schooling has certain kinds of real benefits to society, but it hasn’t moved the needle on poverty historically, and there’s no reason to think it will in the future.

Jefferson’s sentiment that “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” is certainly true.1 But it’s not the only “vital requisite” for American society.

Do Teachers Need Education Degrees?

In the Room for Debate section of the New York Times’ web site, they recently posed that question and invited a variety of people to write a short post to address it.

Most of the writers are involved with the universities that market the degrees, so let’s look at the two writers who are actually involved with K12 education.

From Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at a high school just up the road from here.

Nothing shows how downright phony the game is than the Ed.D.s – the Doctors of Education. I have seen administrators who have had trouble writing clear letters home to parents and who murdered the English language in public go about brandishing their degrees and insisting on being called “Doctor.” On the other hand, the two best principals in my high school – T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Va. – never bothered to get “doctorate” degrees; in fact, one did not even have a master’s when he was first hired. Both were appointed by wise superintendents who knew natural leaders when they saw them.

The credentialing game is even worse when it comes to teachers, because bureaucrats, obsessed with rules and numbers, would rather hire a mediocre but “fully certified” prospect than the brightest, most promising applicant who lacked the “education” courses.

And from a principal at an elementary charter school in California.

A liberal arts education, offered by America’s best institutions of higher learning, is immensely practical as a resource for life-long learning, for responding to technological and social change, and for passing on the value of a well-rounded learning experience.

The art and skill of effective pedagogy is arguably equally critical to effective classroom instruction. While most aspiring teachers hope to develop these skills through university coursework, in reality the most effective training is acquired through an apprenticeship at a high-performing school with a highly effective classroom teacher. As with most trades, the craft of effective pedagogy is one that is best developed in the context of the “workplace.”

Certainly a teacher should have a Bachelor’s degree in some academic area; there needs to be some kind of minimum standard and that’s probably the best we have right now.

After that, the process of finding and training good teachers is very hard to pin down, although I’m pretty sure that just attaching MA or PhD to your name does not by itself improve your teaching skills.

And I won’t defend education method classes since I learned much more from my first year of teaching than I ever did from those required credits.

Anyway, all of the essays are worth reading, as are the comments.