14 September 2011

Educating The Educators

Posted by Dan Satterfield

This is part two of a guest post from retired professor John Annexstad about education. Part one is here.

In my last (post) I related the advances in education that the
country of Finland is enjoying. I also noted that a columnist,
Eggers, from the Bemidji Pioneer has suggested that we remove grading
from our schools. It is interesting to note that Finland does require
testing but they do not teach towards the tests – only toward
understanding. The idea of eliminating testing has been around for
awhile and as a program it needs to be evaluated.

Today I will discuss an article which has appeared in Education
Outlook entitled “Grade Inflation for Education Majors and Low
Standards for Teachers.” Whether you agree or not is immaterial
because the results of grade inflation are in many ways why problems
beset the U.S. educational system.

Grading standards in education departments at universities, where
teachers are trained, are strikingly low. In fact, students taking
education classes were twice as likely to receive an A when compared
to students taking business or liberal arts classes. This was shown
to be the case in 1960 and the practice is still prevalent today.

These grades which are favorable to education classes are not the
result of student quality or small class size. In general – education
majors score considerably lower than other students on college
entrance exams. I reference here an article entitled “Grading
Standards in Education Departments of Universities,” Education Policy
Analysis Archives 19 (2011) by Dr. Cory Koedel, professor of
economics at the University of Missouri. So using this criterion what
are the consequences of grade inflation for the U.S. system?
“We are training teachers who know less.” This means that students
who find it easier to get an A will not work as hard.

The skills required for teachers are obviously diminished if the candidate is
not required to perform in a demanding environment. Just attending
class is not a sufficient reason for a grade as I found to be the
case at my university. Grades also play an important part in weeding
out those students who have limited skills or are poorly matched to
the discipline.
“Education Departments are Contributing to the Culture of Low
Standards for Educators.” The favorable grades received during
teacher training are similar to the positive evaluations most
teachers receive from K-12 schools. These ratings have been shown to
be true in Florida and other schools in a study by Harris and Saas
who surveyed school principals in 2010. This is not surprising when
we see that a large group of teachers eventually became principals
and district superintendents. The problem of low standards in many
cases is passed on as these people advance through the system.

When we compare the departments of a university we find that outside
of education the graduates in science/engineering for example are
forced to compete into a labor market run by competition. The bright
and best of the students will receive the better jobs and
consequently higher pay. This means that the education sector which
moves students into a single labor market has been ineffective in
identifying high/low quality workers. There doesn’t seem to be a
competitive market forcing schools and districts to be efficient and
consequently develop a mechanism for evaluating great or mediocre

So – there is no pressure from competitive markets in education. To
solve the problem, university administrators need to intervene by
imposing more stringent standards on grading students. This has
already been done at Princeton University where university wide
grading guidelines have been established. Also needed are
accountability standards in K-12 schools. Here the districts need to
link teacher effectiveness to teacher-training institutions. The
result would be an identification of teacher-training programs that
produce the best candidates. And so – the market place will produce
the incentives needed for university education departments to
increase performance levels.

In conclusion – we find that society resists change and this is
particularly true in education. As noted in the article I have
referenced – “rather than asking why these grading standards should
be changed… we should ask why shouldn’t they be changed?”