We need less scolding and more constructive ideas
on how to move forward
by Pedro Noguera
New York, New York
After taking aim at teachers and their unions with an unabashed endorsement of merit pay and charter schools, Secretary Duncan has now decided to focus on a target he seems to think might be more vulnerable -- Schools of Education. The Secretary has accused schools of education of being "mediocre" and of producing teachers who are largely unprepared to teach in the public schools.
I disagree. Although I too have been quite critical of schools of education and the role they play (or more often don’t) in helping public education, my criticisms are of a different nature than the Secretary’s. In fact, I think his critique will do very little to push the nation’s education reform agenda forward. Unfortunately, I believe these critiques on teachers and schools of education are a distraction that will only keep us from addressing the critical issues confronting our nation’s schools.
For the sake of full disclosure I will admit that I have been employed as a professor in schools of education for over twenty years (at Berkeley, Harvard and presently NYU), and I agree with the Secretary, many Ed Schools could do a far better job than they do now at preparing teachers. However, I believe that it makes no more sense to blame schools of education for the failings of public schools than it does to blame business schools for the collapse of our financial sector.
It’s true, many schools of education don’t recruit the best students into the teaching profession (that’s partially because the "best" students are attracted to more lucrative professions), and too often the research produced in schools of education is of little use to public schools. However, many of these criticisms could be directed at American universities as well. Instead of a more general critique of higher education, especially as private tuitions increasingly make college unaffordable, schools of education have been singled out for blame.
In my opinion the Secretary would be more likely to move the nation’s education agenda forward if he did less scolding and more encouraging. As the occupant of the most visible bully pulpit it might help if he offered and solicited suggestions on ways to invigorate our nations schools, not with more testing, but with creative approaches to instruction that foster critical thinking, problem solving and creativity among students.
Pedro Noguera is a professor of sociology in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Development and the author of the recent book The Trouble With Black Boys: Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education.
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