The purpose of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is to require public school instruction to instill knowledge of rich academic content in students. The purpose of schools of education is to instill what Heather Mac Donald has called “anything but knowledge.” “Plain old knowledge, the kind passed down in books, the kind for which Faust sold his soul, that is out.”
Ironically, in order to reform American public education, the CCSS must not only restore a culture of knowledge in school classrooms, but also compel replacement of the “anything but knowledge” culture in schools of education. Or better yet, precipitate the replacement of schools of education themselves.
A paper for the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy by George Cunningham further defines the clash of those two cultures and indicates the challenges to be overcome to bring teachers and schools of education into line with the aims of the CCSS.
Most people believe that the purpose of schools is to ensure that young people learn the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in life. Accordingly, they expect teachers to impart skills and knowledge to their students. The objective of our teachers, first and foremost, should be their students’ academic achievement. That view, however, is not generally accepted in schools of education, where the great majority of teachers receive their training. The philosophy that dominates schools of education…stresses the importance of objectives other than academic achievement….
In the first or knowledge culture:
Proponents of academic achievement want students to increase their reading ability, to become more skilled in mathematics, to know history, and to understand science. They believe that there is a set of knowledge and skills that all students must acquire in their twelve years of schooling. A teacher is only successful to the extent that his or her students acquire that set. In turn, an effective school of education is one that prepares teachers to ensure that their students learn the key material. The content standards that every state has published define the target knowledge that teachers are expected to help students attain….
Within the second educational culture:
Members of this group believe that a set of non-academic goals including diversity, self-esteem, “critical thinking,” and efforts at promoting social justice should take precedence. Education school faculty,…the major accrediting body for education schools, teacher education organizations, and most of the education staff at the state and district level agree with this position, rejecting academic achievement as the most important purpose for schools.
[This] culture is student-centered and often falls under the label of “progressive education.” Instead of teaching traditional academic content, the progressive education culture emphasizes what it views as the needs of the student…
In The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum, education professor emerita Sandra Stotsky summarizes the progressive teaching theory called “constructivism” in which what students learn must be constructed from their own initiatives. Constructivism reflects the learning theories of psychologists Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Students work in groups in which individual discovery of meaning arises largely from peer collaboration. Cunningham explains further:
Because the progressive education culture is most concerned with the learner and his or her unique way of incorporating experience into learning, it places little emphasis on content knowledge, basic skills, improved test scores, whole class instruction, drill and practice, cumulative review, curricular objectives, sequences of instruction, specific skills, or homework….
Teacher educators do not like to think of themselves as mere technicians, providing the concrete teaching skills that new teachers need to have….They would much rather discuss esoteric educational philosophies and their imagined role in social redemption than concern themselves with the best means of teaching students the knowledge and skills they will need….
These conceptual frameworks give education school faculty members an open invitation to teach their students about progressive theory. This advocacy of rhetoric as opposed to practical learning leads education students into realms far afield from normal education as most people understand it. It leaves precious little time to teach the subjects—such as how to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic—that most people expect from a school of education.
Education schools…are very much in the thrall of the progressive education culture. Most professors…embrace pedagogical methods that are not effective in maximizing student achievement, especially in reading and math. To make matters worse, many professors also embrace the idea that schooling has social justice implications that take priority over academic success for students. Consequently, newly trained and certified teachers are not likely to be ready to help their students make the best progress they can.
Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), provides another perspective, in an article in Education Next, on the disconnect between schools of education and parent expectations for teaching in public schools:
Teacher education has long struggled both to professionalize and to fully integrate itself into mainstream academia. At the core of this struggle was a perception that there was no body of specialized knowledge for teaching that justified specialized training….
The most revealing insight into what teacher educators believe to be wrong or right about the field is a lengthy 2006 volume published by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Studying Teacher Education….The volume demonstrates the paucity of credible research that would support the current practices of traditional teacher education….
Studying Teacher Education explains the disconnect between what teacher educators believe is the right way to prepare a new teacher and the unhappy K‒12 schools on the receiving end of that effort. It happens that the job of teacher educators is not to train the next generation of teachers but to prepare them.
Walsh explains that though these two terms—train and prepare—appear to be interchangeable, they are not.
This word choice is a deliberate one on the part of teacher education (“training” is never used) and signals a significant shift in the field over the past three or four decades. While few would disagree that new teachers generally get very little practical training before they enter the classroom, the reasons are profoundly misunderstood. It is not, as many have assumed, because of ideological resistance to various teaching methods….
It is because training a teacher is viewed…as “an oversimplification of teaching and learning, ignoring its dynamic, social, and moral aspects.” This evolution from a training purpose to a preparation purpose started in the 1970s and is described in detail by the AERA volume co-editor…who dismisses training as a “technical transmission activity.”…
The function of teacher education is to launch the candidate on a lifelong path of learning, distinct from knowing, as actual knowledge is perceived as too fluid to be achievable. In the course of a teacher’s preparation, prejudices and errant assumptions must be confronted and expunged, with particular emphasis on those related to race, class, language, and culture….From these activities is born each teacher’s unique philosophy of teaching and learning.
Walsh adds that:
There is also a strong social justice component to teacher education, with teachers cast as “activists committed to diminishing the inequities of American society.” That vision of a teacher is seen by a considerable fraction of teacher educators (although not all) as more important than preparing a teacher to be an effective instructor.
Cunningham’s and Walsh’s reports explicate how progressivism and postmodern multiculturalism have combined over the past five decades to turn schools of education into engines of cultural, social, and economic transformation rather than knowledge and student achievement. Their teacher graduates—indoctrinated rather than educated or trained—are instruments of “social change” rather than conveyors of knowledge and skills.
In the 1970s, one of the chief intellectual progenitors of this education school culture was the Italian cultural Marxist, Antonio Gramsci. In my book Ordering America, I examined Gramsci’s doctrine that society is transformed by changing man’s consciousness through control of the institutions by which that consciousness is formed—particularly schools and teachers. Gramsci’s motto was “capture the culture.” He especially succeeded in education schools. It is that destructive legacy which must be overturned.
More than one educational reformer has concluded that the best way to cure the ills of our schools of education is to abolish them and start over. Notes Walsh:
Shocked by teacher education’s refusal to train teachers to use scientifically based reading methods, Reid Lyon, who headed a 30-year study at the National Institutes of Health of how people best learn to read, once stated, “If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up the colleges of education.”
While schools of education, turning out academically under-qualified teachers, are a current reality, there is small recent movement towards improving teacher quality. On July 1, 2013, the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) replaced two previous such councils. On August 29, 2013 the CAEP board approved a new set of standards for teacher preparation, overcoming an earlier impasse. In The Wall Street Journal, Stephanie Banchero summarized the standards:
Colleges of education will be required for the first time to track graduates’ performance in K‒12 classrooms and ensure they are contributing to student growth, as measured by test scores or other factors.
Teacher preparation programs will also have to ensure each incoming class has an average grade point of at least a 3.0 and college admission scores in the top 50% of the nation, beginning in 2017. The bar will be raised over time, until 2020, when an incoming class must have average college-admission scores in the top third.
While these are long-desired improvements, the CAEP standards refer only tersely to the CCSS and teacher education:
CAEP will ensure that education programs emphasize connections and alignment between the emerging standards, district implementation, and how teachers are prepared
But the NCTQ Teacher Prep Review 2013 Report, which called schools of education “an industry of mediocrity,” found that:
Fewer than one in nine elementary programs and just over one-third of high school programs are preparing candidates in content at the level necessary to teach the new…[CCSS].
Systemic reform of public education must include fundamental reformation of schools of education if the nation is to realize higher student achievement in the classroom. Governors should use the CCSS as the spur for the needed wholesale restructuring that schools of education have long been able to resist. States should establish programmatic requirements to be implemented by CAEP and schools of education to produce teachers that can meet the academic demands of the CCSS. States should also turn to other private sector venues of teacher education that can meet such requirements, adding the competitive alternatives needed to drive change.
The next article will discuss the revised qualifications that the CCSS will require for existing and new teachers in the public schools and the kinds of training and professional development that will be necessary to make the CCSS, teachers, and students successful.
This is one of a series of occasional articles applying the lessons of Western civilization to contemporary issues relevant to the academy.
The Honorable William H. Young was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to be Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and served in that position from November 1989 to January 1993. He is the author of Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (2010) and Centering America: Resurrecting the Local Progressive Ideal (2002).
 George K. Cunningham, University of North Carolina Education Schools: Helping or Hindering Potential Teachers? Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, 2008, Executive Summary, 2‒3.
 Sandra Stotsky, The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum: What Secondary Education Teachers Can Do (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2012), 106−08.
 Andrew Leichsenring, “The Influence of Piaget and Vygotsky on Everyday Elementary Classroom Teaching and Learning,”, 10 March 2013.
 Cunningham, North Carolina Education Schools: Helping or Hindering Potential Teachers?, 3, 8‒9.
 Cunningham, North Carolina Education Schools: Helping or Hindering Potential Teachers?, 13.
 Kate Walsh, “Teacher Education: Ed schools don’t give teachers the tools they need,” Education Next, Summer 2013, 19‒20.
 Walsh, “Teacher Education,” 20‒21.
 Walsh, “Teacher Education,” 21.
 William H. Young, Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (Indianapolis: Xlibris, 2010), 46‒47.
 Walsh, “Teacher Education,” 19.
 Stephanie Banchero, “Teacher-Training Schools Face Tougher Accreditation Standards,” The Wall Street Journal, 29 August 2013.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain