Education Schools Redux

by James C. Sherlock

Dick Hall-Sizemore went to great lengths in an article to rebut one of my own.

He attempted to disprove the two major assertions in my article:

  1. The ed schools have had control of education policy in the Commonwealth and nationally for a very long time. They have in the process made the profession of education in Virginia, both in the preparation stage and the classroom teaching stage over a career, much more expensive and generally maddening for teachers and school staff than it needs be. Ed school careers have been multiplied, assured and profited immensely from the requirements they have sponsored in the General Assembly and the Board of Education.
  2. Democrats in Richmond in the interregnum years of 2020 and 2021 made major changes to the way K-12 education is conducted, and therefore must be taught, in Virginia.

He was right that I should not have mixed politics and the ed school issues.

Dick’s most heartfelt issue is my take on the Democrats’ interventions in education. The Democrats themselves are so publicly proud of what they accomplished in education in the 2020 and 2021 sessions of the General Assembly and in the Board of Education that it seems remarkable to have to prove it to a Democrat.

But so be it. I will now deal with each in turn.

This one is about the ed schools and their death grip on teacher education and promotion in Virginia. And whether they earn their costs. And what the options might prove to be.

The Schools of Education. To quote Dick:

Assuming, however, for purposes of discussion that Jim is correct that the schools of education have a predominant role in developing legislation or regulations, the question comes down to: so what? He seems to assume that, because the schools of education had this role, then, ipso facto, the legislation and regulations are faulty.

My responses:

  • Yes, the ed schools have played a dominant role.
  • Yes, the legislation and regulations are faulty, specifying far too much time and expense for working teachers paying the ed schools for qualifications they could get by other means… and requiring so little student teaching as to be nearly meaningless… student teaching that was waived during COVID. And yet the state requires the student teaching to be done under the supervision of the schools of education at college tuition rates rather than in the schools themselves in paid apprenticeship programs.

Let’s look at Dick’s “so what?”

One of the abuses to which Martin Luther objected was the selling of indulgences that the faithful could buy to get to heaven.

The ed school racket is the selling of credentials that students must buy in order to teach and then get promoted. Those credentials were for many years virtue signals to employers, but were not required to teach.

Virginia teachers, both new and experienced, are now required to pass commercial tests specific to college courses — and therefore additional college time — to enter into, continue, and get credit for expanding their expertise in teaching.

For the rest of this discussion, let’s break the requirements for ed school into two parts:

  1. the requirements to enter the profession; and
  2. the requirements for endorsements for working teachers to teach most courses, to get promoted and to get paid more.

I will leave the incredible proliferation of Ph.D.s and Ed.D’s in our public school systems alone for now, even though they have become de facto credentials for many leadership posts for no other reason than, as far as I can tell, they are so plentiful.

Now ask yourself this:

If the tests were not required by regulation, how many principals of elementary and middle schools would require their working teachers to attend most of the endorsement courses in order to assign them to classrooms?

We should try that for a three-year pilot.

Instead, we are apparently protecting by law our principals and superintendents from what the politicians see as potential poor judgement in endorsing teachers for additional responsibilities.

This is all a result of the mantra “professionalize the teaching profession” that started 20 years ago. Good idea, badly and expensively implemented.

How do the ed schools control the system? The Board of Education writes Virginia’s regulations.

I demonstrated in the column that Dick disputed that ed school staff have controlled all of the chairmanships and the vice chairman position in Virginia’s Advisory Board for Teacher Education and Licensure (ABTEL).

Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure (ABTEL) advises the Board of Education and submits recommendations on policies applicable to the qualifications, examination, licensure and regulation of school personnel including revocation, suspension, denial, cancellation, reinstatement and renewals of licensure, fees for processing applications, standards for the approval of preparation programs, reciprocal approval of preparation programs and other related matters as the Board of Education may request or the Advisory Board may deem necessary. [Emphasis added.]

Dick offered some reasons that control does not matter. Of course it matters. Believe your eyes. If it did not matter, those worthies from the ed schools would not have sought the positions.

It is a national problem.

Basic question.

Why are not working teachers responsible for the standards of their profession? The working practitioners of most professions have a healthy disdain for letting college professors set the standards by which they work. Ivory towers and all that.

What is most important to teach and learn well in public schools? Easy. It’s the three R’s.

The only things we learn in K-12 that stay with us throughout our lives and that are necessary for success in our future education in college are literacy and mathematics. Both are also necessary for the trades. Both must be taught, and learned, well.

Conversely, because people use those skills, they retain them.

The fade rate on the rest of the academic learning in K-12 is very quick unless it is pursued after high school. Most Americans cannot answer a set of simple questions about history or civics,  such as naming the three branches of the federal government.

If a teacher commands English sufficiently well, she can teach in elementary school and middle school.  The rest is about teaching skills, which are most assuredly hard and have to be learned.  They are hard enough that some never master them. Even natural skill takes mentoring to develop.

Student teaching. Virginia’s accredited ed schools are, in fact, in charge of their own standards for student teaching because the Board of Education refuses to set meaningful standards.

Accredited Virginia ed schools in traditional programs offer student teaching in classroom hours varying from 640 to 150, so the Virginia Board of Education has clearly not figured out how much is enough. It requires by regulation 10 weeks.

I have no idea how many supervised classroom hours happen in 10 weeks. Neither does the Board of Education.

The national average is 533 hours as computed by the federal Department of Education.

But no one has to be registered at an ed school to get supervised student teaching. They could do that in their first school while getting paid. Which is how many private schools do it. It is how Success Academy does it.

Subject matter. The skills for successful teaching are, as I said, difficult to learn. And there are different skills required for different levels of courses… and different skills for teaching the huge increases in English learners and mainstreamed students with disabilities… which have made classrooms much harder to manage… and have made teachers’ days longer…  and parents more complex to deal with.

But as to the subject matter, college graduate teachers should need only to refresh themselves on the subject matter to teach many subjects in elementary and middle schools. That can be done on the job.

High school teachers in specialized subjects like math and the sciences may require specialized college coursework if they did not take those subjects in college.

Reading specialists need additional training. It is not clear they need to pay an ed school to learn those skills, but in some cases that may be the best approach.

Nurses are nurses. Social workers are social workers. School psychologists are limited license psychologists. Phys ed and health are not easy to teach well and safely. So, some extra training is required. But, again, it is not clear that needs to be done in an ed school.

Musicians teach music. Artists teach art. Dancers teach dance. But they are not allowed to do it in schools unless they pass one of the Praxis tests I will discuss below.

Apprenticeship method. The work-as-an-apprentice-while-you-learn-to-do method has thousands of years of human history behind it. That is how many of the most highly regarded prep schools around the world create their own teachers. It is how Success Academy does it.

But not Virginia. By law.

Licensure academics. The six-3 hour courses that by regulation students must attend to get a basic license are so crammed with a little bit of knowledge of everything that they must necessarily be designed to teach to a test.

Well, there is a Praxis test for that… and for everything else a teacher wants to do.

The testing industry. Those tests are written and constantly “updated” by ed school industry staffers gathered to review and assess each of 100 tests and its updates at Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton New Jersey (Praxis exams). They are joined in those ad hoc committees by teachers who are graduates of the ed school system.

In Virginia, Praxis has been chosen as the state’s official testing service.  Each exam comes with a study companion and a study plan. Neither, of course, prepares you for the exam. But, helpfully,

Practice materials are available for purchase for many Praxis tests at Test preparation materials include sample questions and answers with explanations.

Those tests must be passed to gain admission to the teachers club in general and specific endorsements in particular. And each, unsurprisingly, virtually demands ed school classes… that are designed to the tests. And vice versa.

There are Praxis core tests, subject tests and content knowledge for teaching (CKT) tests. The core tests are required for entry into undergraduate schools of education. The CKT tests are to qualify to teach in elementary school.

The goldmine for ETS and the ed schools are the subject tests required for endorsements for everything from agriculture to world languages. There are 90 of them. Ninety. I could not make that up.

Virginia Praxis requirements are found here. There are

  • six tests and associated courses required for elementary school entry and endorsements;
  • four for middle school endorsements;
  • thirteen for high school;
  • five for all grades;
  • one for reading specialist;
  • one main test for special education and a supplementary test for Braille instruction; and
  • one for administrator/school leader.

There are four ways to get a specialty endorsement. Three of them are tied to the colleges. One option is to test directly without returning to college, which teaches to the tests, which colleges as a group have written.

I have requested VDOE to let me know what percentage of endorsements are given to teachers who pass the test without going back to school. I will report when they get back to me. I expect it to be a small percentage.

Ed school staff and their progeny EdD’s and PhDs write the requirements, change them to meet their “research” discoveries, teach the courses built from the requirements, create the tests for the material they teach, and pocket the money at every step in the process.

When Bachelor of Education degrees were criticized as useless for years, the ed schools declared them Bachelors of Science. See UVa. It offers three undergraduate education majors:

Bachelor of Science (B.S.Ed.) majors:
– Early Childhood Education
– Elementary Education
– Special Education – General Curriculum

Problem solved.

Bottom line. I believe that there is a role for some pre-teaching education.

Whatever is determined, after extensive and confidential interviews with teachers after their first year in their first school, should be retained. The rest should be dumped.

Teachers I have talked to believe that most of the value of pre-teaching education is supervised instruction in public and private school classrooms. But Virginia has set student teaching minimums so low that Virginia public schools are not guaranteed what they are going to get.

During COVID, some or all of the student teaching that typically occurs in the last semester of the last year was waived. The graduates went to their first schools anyway. How has that worked out? If they have been successful, then college students don’t need to pay college tuition while getting student teaching credits.

Then there are the working teacher education and testing requirements for renewal of licenses, subject endorsements and endorsements for administration and leadership.

It is my take from speaking with teachers and principals that some of that helps depending upon the subject. But much of it is simple but expensive box checking. The value of many is to the ed schools, not to the working teachers who are their students, mostly for the test prep. Because the test is a box check.

Look again to the laws and regulations.

  • The laws on education requirements have been written by the General Assembly, whose Senate Education and Health Committee has been chaired by Louise Lucas, B.S. in education from Norfolk State. In her first six years as a senator, she worked for both Norfolk State and Old Dominion University as a federal lobbyist.
  • The regulations have been approved by the Board of Education. The board whose ABTEL, which governs teacher training and credentials, is dominated by ed school staffers in all of the chairman and vice chairman positions.
  • There are commercial tests required for initial and renewed licensure and for specific endorsements in Virginia. They are written and revised by EDS with ed school staffers in dominant positions in the review, minimum passing score assessments and approval process. EDS is a private company. For a list of what they sell look here.
  • Ed school courses that used to be voluntary are now considered necessary to pass the 32 individual Praxis tests written by EDS and required in Virginia. Those tests are changed at regular intervals with new minimum passing scores and teachers must pass them as mandated by Virginia regulations to teach in Virginia public schools.

Teachers are at the end of that education/industrial complex whip.

The entire teacher education system needs to be restructured and reduced considerably. What we have now is far more expensive and time consuming than it is worth.

I don’t know how many people it is keeping from becoming teachers. Or how many teachers leave because this is one of the burdens of the profession in getting promoted and paid more. No one knows.

But teachers need neither the expense nor time spent for unnecessary requirements. They and their principals will tell you what they need. Ask them.

As long as the ed schools are running the show, there will be no change except for the worse.

It really does not matter what I think or readers think. What matters is what teachers think. To quote the Gates Foundation:

“Since teachers are the frontline of delivering education in the classroom, the reform movement will not succeed without their active support.”

I expect that the Governor, his Secretary of Education, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and newly-appointed Board of Education appointees will take this on.

And ask teachers what they think. Encourage them to think outside the box they are in. But ask them.

Dick, you were right that I should have separated the topics. I’ll get to your Democrats next.