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Massive Fail: Teaching Instruction An "Industry Of Mediocrity"


An important education story from earlier this week that we failed to note: a new study run by the National Council on Teacher Quality has called U.S. colleges of education an “industry of mediocrity” that churns out ill-prepared and under-qualified teachers.

The Wall Street Journal reported the jaw-dropping statistics:

As evidence mounts that teacher quality is one of the biggest determinants of student achievement, critics have complained that teacher-training programs have lax admission standards, scattered curriculum, and fail to give aspiring teachers real-life classroom training. The report echoes the complaints, saying many graduates lack the necessary classroom-management skills and subject knowledge needed. The report contends that it is too easy to get into teacher-preparation programs, with only about a quarter of them restricting admissions to applicants in the top half of their class. The typical grade-point-average to get into undergraduate programs is about 2.5, it said.

The study assigned ratings of up to four stars to 1,200 programs at 608 institutions. Only four were awarded the four-star maximum. Fewer than 10 percent earned three or more stars, 14 percent earned zero stars, and one in seven received less than one star. For these, the NCTQ suggested that potential applicants refrain from applying, because they are “unlikely to obtain much return on their investment.”

And meanwhile, teachers unions ensure that these incompetently prepared people are given lifetime tenure and protected evaluations. So not only are future educators prepared poorly for their jobs, but most receive job protection within one to seven years, consistently avoiding an evaluation that would allow parents to judge their effectiveness.

It’s a real nice system we have.

[Failing grade photo courtesy Shutterstock]

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  • PJ Schwackhammer

    This is a surprise? Not to anybody who’s ever attended a government school, or (to paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke) dated and elementary-ed major…

    • ew_3

      It hasn’t always been this way. I got a terrific education in NYC during the 50s and 60s. But then we had mandatory Regents Exams, and solid core curriculum, like 3 years of math in HS. 2 Algebra and 1 Geometry. Chemistry and Physics bot were required and what you learned in those classes was tested by the Regents Exams.

      Just as I was finishing HS (Brooklyn Tech) in 1970 things were already changing. The teachers unions started taking control of the education process. At about the same time, kids started getting social promotions, which only exasperated the problem.

      Don’t want to even get into what has happened since the Dept of Education came into being in 1980.

      Get politics and unions out of education.

  • Corlyss

    Seems they do pretty well in accomplishing Bill Ayers’ agenda. They’re indefatigable propagandists for diversity and the junk “science” of global warming as other social engineering.

    • bpuharic

      This post is, itself, evidence of the failure of education. Anyone who doubts AGW is, by definition


      • PJ Schwackhammer

        My multiple STEM degrees indicate you’re dead wrong.

        • bpuharic

          Sorry, sport. MS, Chemical Physics, Lehigh.

          Try again.

          • ThomasD

            And this qualifies you to speak definitively on the certainty of anthropogenic global warming precisely how?

          • bpuharic

            Don’t ask me, ask Schwakhammer. He brought it up.

          • PJ Schwackhammer

            Lehigh must not have been teaching the scientific method in those days, or that software models != science… “sport.”

          • bpuharic

            Oh…sorry….my mistake. I wasn’t aware that the scientific method is entirely confined to

            ‘believes, without question, PJ Schwackhammer’.

      • Bruno_Behrend

        This is a ridiculous comment using fake “consensus” and poll numbers, not any kind of scientific debate.

        This is typical of the cohort of “enlightened liberals” who like to pretend that people who disagree with them are unenlightened.

        Anyone who adds false depth with an unnecessary pause is by definition

        a prig.

        Leaving aside the AGW debate, your points on education are pretty weak, mostly regurgitating shopworn talking points.

        • bpuharic

          I didn’t say people who disagree with me are uneducated. I said people who doubt AGW are.

          As to the anti-union rhetoric so common on the right, those are, themselves, shopworn, and false….talking points.

          • fred1724

            Gee, i’ve been wondering why there’s been no global warming for 16 plus years. Probably cause they can’t use the “hockey stick anymore?

          • bpuharic

            Probably the same reason why the hockey stick is still in use and because we’ve seen plateaus before. They’re not new and they’re not unique.

          • Bruno_Behrend

            No, they are not.


            If unions have “no effect,” as you argue, then you ignore the fact that they still raise the price of education, forcing the mis-allocation of resources.

            If you get rid of them, it may have no net effect on outcomes, but the cost will come down.

            In reality, unions themselves are merely part of the problem, as they impede the necessary dismantlement of a failed and overpriced system.

            It is the increased and forced centralization of the system that is increasing failure with increased funds, mostly to fund an army of administrators and make-work employees.

          • bpuharic

            Unfortunately you ignore the evidence, no doubt because, to the average conservative American, we live in a perfect society, as Greg Mankiw says, where the rich are genetically superior, and any middle class demands distort the market

            Again, if unions had a deleterious effect on educational outcomes, Massachusetts would not have the highest educational results in the nation. The fact scores are distributed across BOTH unionized AND non unionized states shows unions have little or no effect

            Unions act as a positive check on unrestricted corporate power. The fact is, corporations have almost unlimited power in America today. They can buy elections, structure legislation (see, for example, the recent Citicorp writing of a bill to protect its interests)

            But the American right, laboring under the misapprehension we have a ‘free market’ attacks labor unions rather than advocating checks on corporate power.

            Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out that the conditions under which a ‘free market’ can occur almost never exist…a point reinforced by Nobel Prize winner Robeert Solow recently in the “New Republic”

            Yet the right thinks that, if we restrain the middle class, a perfect free market will naturally occur since corporations are never greedy (see, for example, Alan Greenspan.)

          • Bruno_Behrend

            Your ability to parrot your ideology is surpassed only by your inability to see that it too has some holes.

            As a conservative who worries about “corporate power,” I don’t suffer from the delusion that we live in a “perfect” society.

            Every ill you can name regarding corporations applies to unions as well – public unions in particular.

            Powerful interests abuse power. That simple truth transcends the immature “left v. right” paradigm.

          • bpuharic

            If conservatives were worried about corporate power they’d do more than just bust unions

            Conservatives have not proposed a single piece of legislation designed to check the power of corporations.

            And we have no private sector unions left in America. Less than 7% of all workers belong to them. America has been very effective at destroying the power of the middle class while it’s enhanced the power of the 1%. Romney’s speech about the ‘47%’ to his rich backers was no accident.

          • Bruno_Behrend

            MSNBC talking points with OFA icing.

            Not worth discussing nuances, as it all comes back to the “corporations acting all corporationy” drivel.

            If progressives were right about things, IL and CA would be the most successful states, not basket cases.

            There is a middle, and you can’t fathom it. You are too busy parroting left-speak, and no different than a Fox ranter.

          • bpuharic

            I merely cite the evidence

            You merely ignore the evidence

            That’s what enables you to sleep at night, no matter how the middle class is doing. It’s tiresome to see the right tell us how everything’s OK because middle class incomes dropped in this recession but we shouldn’t talk about it because the rich did fine.

          • Bruno_Behrend

            Predictably unresponsive…no different than a Fox ranter

  • Pete

    “And meanwhile, teachers unions ensure that these incompetently prepared people are given lifetime tenure and protected evaluations. ”

    This is society’s fault for not outlawing teachers’ unions as conspiracies against the common good, which they most definitely are..

    • bpuharic

      And how are those right to work states such as TX, LA, OK, etc doing? They at the top of the heap?

      The evidence shows unions have nothing to do with quality of education. It’s apparent from the ARTICLE ITSELF that we are not attracting quality people to teaching. That’s BEFORE they join unions.

      • Pete

        “The evidence shows unions have nothing to do with quality of education. ”


        The teachers’ unions are the greatest detriment to public education there is.

        Just look at tenure. And the unions resist all efforts at reform that don’t include pouring even more more into their pockets.

        • bpuharic

          I can understand your emotional response. It can’t be easy to look at facts that challenge your faith based assumptions.

          The fact is states with no teachers unions don’t have better education than those that do. I’m not really interested in your ‘hogwash’ dismissal of the facts. If you can’t handle the truth, perhaps that’s something that’s really standing in the way of making a logical decision.

          • rheddles

            “states with no teachers unions don’t have better education than those that do.”

            So there is no relationship between unionization and quality of education. Therefore, why have teachers’ unions.

          • bpuharic

            For the same reason other unions exist.

          • rheddles

            Unions seem to be disappearing in the free market. Ask any steel worker or auto worker or any worker from a now extinct industry. Looks like there isn’t a reason for them to exist.

          • bpuharic

            Steel workers were done in by the transition to plastic, rather than steel, for cars.

            Just ask the German auto workers, where 30% of their workforce is unionized and they out export us, with 1/4 of our population.

            And since unions don’t exist here, but do in other countries, why isn’t our economy stronger than theirs?

            Why is inequality MUCH higher here than there? Why have middle class wages been stagnant for 30 years, as unions disappeared?

            We keep destroying unions, and the middle class is paying the price…literally.

          • J D

            The decline of unionism doesn’t explain the stagnation. Read Tyler Cowen’s short book.

          • bpuharic

            It accounts for about 20% and is the single largest factor

            Read Timothy Noah’s short book

          • Bruno_Behrend

            Yes, to produce as little as possible for the most amount of money.

          • bpuharic

            We had a depression caused by conservative economics in 2007. The middle class paid the bill for bailout of the wealthy

            Funny how conservatives complain when the middle class tries to better itself but ignores the plundering of our economy by the 1%

          • J D
          • bpuharic

            Growth of middle class incomes after inflation in the last 30 years?


            Growth of the 1%?


          • J D

            Do you imagine that this constitutes an argument?

          • bpuharic

            Yep. Just as rampant denialism on the part of the right is considered to be THEIR strongest argument

          • PJ Schwackhammer

            Idiot. The crash was caused by over-selling of mortgage loans to buyers with bad credit… as encouraged if not outright forced by liberal government policies.

            Seriously: you’re too dumb for discussions like this. Come back when you can reply with something other than generic Leftist cant.

          • bpuharic

            Yes I know that’s what Rush and others would have you believe.

            More’s the pity.Let’s do the numbers, shall we?

            In the last 30 years, home ownership has remained constant at about 64-68% of all households. Minor change.

            What DIDN’T stay the same was CREDIT DEFAULT SWAPS which, between 1997 and 2007, increased by

            twenty thousand percent

            20,000%…from 320B to

            sixty two TRILLION…more than the GDP of the entire planet

            So it was the Wall Street guys, NOT the main street guys…who blew up the economy.

            While Alan Greenspan and the right wing libertarians were swearing on a stack of bibles that Bankers are NEVER greedy, and would NEVER act against the interests of this country

            That’s exactly what they did.

            You c’mon back when you learn how to count. I know that’s expecting alot from the talk show crowd….

          • J D

            Guy ridicules his ideological opposition having not even accurately described their views. Par.

          • Bruno_Behrend

            To imply that the downturn was due to “conservative” policy is to ignore 35 years of bad policy under numerous administrations.

            It also ignores Bush’s repeated attempts to rein in the money-laundering schemes at Fannie and Freddie, both of which remained untouchable by their congressional protectors in both parties.

            Conservatives were as responsible for the downturn as Reagan and Clinton were for their respective booms – only partially.

          • bpuharic

            The GOP congress held hearings on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2003. Result? Nothing.

            And the GSE’s were relative latecomers to the market, which was already distorted by private lenders.

            The real source of destruction was unrestricted trading in credit default swaps, a policy enabled by both democrats and republicans. Wall Street was the source of the 2007 depression

          • Bruno_Behrend

            “a policy enabled by both democrats and republicans.”

            Exactly. Now pluralize “policy” and add 2 decades, and you start to get the picture.

          • fred1724

            Which is?

          • bpuharic

            To protect working people in the middle class

            Which is why conservatives despise them

          • Bruno_Behrend

            Iowa Hawk addressed this argument over a year ago.


            Unions are clearly a part of our education problem, and pointing to unionization in Finland offers nothing to the discussion here in the US.

            If you are saying unions aren’t the only problem, few will argue the issue. If you are saying unions are benign, I think a fair review of the entire “Government Education Complex” would provide evidence to the contrary.

          • bpuharic

            The ship of your argument keeps running aground on the rocks of empiricism. States with no teacher’s unions are no better than those with. Unions ‘aren’t a factor.

          • fred1724

            Maybe the unions are less important than the fact that ed schools get the bottom 25% of HS classes.

          • bpuharic

            I’m not going to disparage teachers, but neither am I going to ignore the evidence

            You’re right. THAT may be the important factor.

          • lou1785
      • ThomasD

        Student performance in the ‘top’ states still stinks, and those ‘education’ systems are grossly expensive for the purported ‘value’ returned.

      • SDN

        Actually the bottom of the heap is CA, hardly a right to work state.

        • bpuharic

          Meaningless. The right would have us believe that all right to work states are at the top and all union states are at the bottom

          Given the top of the heap is MA, you have a bit of explaining to do.

          • J D

            See my reply to wigwag.

  • lukelea

    In defense of the teachers, I saw a report somewhere recently that while those admitted to education schools have low scores those who graduate and actually go into teaching score considerably better.

  • bpuharic

    WRM has a thing about unions. The fact southern states have low quality education though they have no unions is ignored.

    • gunsmithkat

      Florida has had a teachers union for years. They had a strike back in the late sixties or early seventies as I recall. The education in this state stinks because of the union’s failure to implement any form of teach evaluation.

      • bpuharic

        Funny that, as I said, states without teacher’s unions are among the worst in the nation

        But the anti union fundamentalists in the US, waging class warfare, will not let evidence spoil their dedication to Austrian libertarian economic theology

        • J D

          Unionization is not the only variable, doesn’t seem to be the very most important one, and yet can be rightly criticized. The uncomprehending jab at “Austrian” economics is as revealing as it is misplaced.

    • PJ Schwackhammer

      Really? The Alabama Education Association doesn’t exist? And it didn’t call the tune to a Democrat-majority legislature for a good 50 years?

      And you’re calling other people “uneducated”…

      • bpuharic

        Is Alabama a right to work state? If so, the unions have no power.

        And Democrats in AL are conservative.

        Again…you need an education on what power unions do, and don’t, have.

        • PJ Schwackhammer

          You have no idea what you’re talking about, and every successive post proves it. The AEA is one of the famous “big mules” in that state, its endorsement even swung the GOP primary in the last governor’s race. Repeating unionist mantras doesn’t make you better informed, it just makes you look like a hack.

          • bpuharic

            Does the AEA negotiate salaries? When’s the last time there was a teacher’s strike in AL?

            And union endorsements in AL are about the same importance as creationist endorsements at MIT.

          • PJ Schwackhammer

            Further evidence that you’re speaking out of ignorance. Bye, troll.

          • fred1724

            Naturally you ignore the point of PJ’s comment on the political clout of the AEA.

          • bpuharic

            The political clout of any union pales in comparison with that of the 1%

            We just went through a depression. Role of unions?


            Yet conservatives shriek hysterically when the word ‘union’ is mentioned in polite company, all the while fighting like kamikaze pilots against ANY efforts to tighten banking reform

            AND as everyone agrees, unions have no role in the outcome of education since states with no unions often have worse educational results than those with strong unions

            Go wring your hands somewhere else.

  • Dan King

    Deja vu all over again.

    One in seven received less than one star = 14% who received zero stars.

    Methinks Professor Mead needs to repeat 6th grade math.

  • ljgude

    I was a professor at a teacher ed program and I can’t but agree that we don’t use the sharpest tools in the toolbox to teach our kids and schools are such institutionalized and bureaucratized institutions – unionized or not -that it is very difficult to change the system. That’s why leaner charter schools and even home schooling succeed. The recent article here about Texas dropping the last years of high school and spending the money on pre K education caught my attention because it showed a willingness to actually change 150 year old structures.

  • bittman

    Apparently, the only discipline that is allowable in our schools today is the ability to suspend students for supporting our Constitution (e.g., using their fingers to imitate a gun, wearing supporting the USA or the NRA, etc.). Parents need to become activists and conduct mass protests for the way the Bill Ayers’ trained teachers are treating their children.

  • wigwag

    bphuaric gets this precisely right; the existence of teachers unions has little or nothing to do with whether children thrive in school. There are school districts all over the country that parents are so desperate to get their kids into that they will pay far more for a home than they can afford. Kids in Greenwich, CT, Scarsdale, New York, Brookline, MA, Shaker Heights, OH are educated by teachers who went to the same schools of education and belong to the same labor unions as the teachers of kids from failing districts.

    Education schools and labor unions are irrelevant to the success of public schools.

    What matters are the kids and their parents.

    • J D

      I think you’re combating one overstatement with another. Ed. schools and unions aren’t irrelevant; it’s that areas with high levels of human capital and parental investment are able to withstand and succeed in spite of them, and that other areas may not be able to. A perfectly functioning market for education in a town that doesn’t particularly value it won’t outperform public schools in Cambridge, no matter their institutional imperfections.

      • bpuharic

        The flying spaghetti monster argument applied to education. Impossible to test since, by definition, whatever the results show, they can’t POSSIBLY be right since, by definition, unions are baaaaaaddddd

        • J D

          No, I try to account for variables and weight them. Experimenting in social science is difficult. Determining causation is difficult. I shouldn’t have to tell you that you have been assuming it from correlation to this point.

          Your tone has me wondering whether I am feeding a troll. : /

          • bpuharic

            You do nothing of the kind. You’re engaged in special pleading. Evidence shows that unions have little or no effect?

            Skew the argument so that this is ignored to show exactly the opposite.

            What you’re doing is arguing with someone who lets the data speak for itself. To the right, that’s the definition of a troll.

          • J D

            Of course you don’t let the data speak for itself. Your language has been ideological from the beginning, and you have far less than you think you do (a correlation that matches correlations for other variables, which you wish to disqualify for political reasons). Read Jim Manzi’s recent book, I guess?

          • bpuharic

            Correct. I’m ideological.

            What’s risible is the pretense on the right that you’re not. Unions are ALWAYS bad, no matter what the evidence shows but if you mask it enough it’s not ‘ideological’. Nonsense.

            Being anti-union IS an ideological position. There’s precious little evidence unions are bad and PLENTY of evidence that the unrestricted class warfare we’ve let the 1% wage against America HAS done damage

            And I’ve read Manzi. He has had some good points but, as is generally the case with conservatives, comes off 2nd best in debates.

            The problem with contemporary conservatism in America is it’s extremist. The US GOP is so far right as to be almost unrecognizable to any major party in the western world

            And the right pretends that’s ‘objective’.

  • Eric H Givler

    Being a certified teacher for the last 10 years still looking for a job… I agree with this article. I have seen, by substituting, what constitutes education in our middle and high schools, and leave the job shaking my head in disbelief. I also see the administrations as the partial cause for much of this. They look for teachers that will follow their directives and do what they are told; innovation comes from them, not the teachers. I have a great deal of appreciation from the students I have taught on long term assignments, but I get in trouble when the original teachers don’t like how I have taught. I have all but given up looking due to the system that is in place hiring our educational personnel.

  • GRL

    Two thoughts came to mind. ‘If you can’t do, teach’ and ‘garbage in, garbage out’. I know strong teachers, but they would be quality in whatever occupation. They are the exception, not the rule. Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot Randi Weingarten (NYC) and that union prophet from IL always remind us there are not enough rich, white people to throw money at the problem. Horrifying that these people are crushing our childrens’ spirits and poisoning their minds.

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