NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Low Standards for Education Majors

August 30, 2011

American schools of education have often been spotlighted as the weak link between K-12 schooling and college preparedness.  In his recent paper, "Grade Inflation for Education Majors and Low Standards for Teachers: When Everyone Makes the Grade," University of Missouri economics professor Cory Koedel shows that education school courses typically have very low grading standards.  In many courses, A grades are heavily predominant; in some, every student gets an A, says George Leef, director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

Why do the education schools operate this way?

  • One reason, Koedel observes, is that in the field of education, which is "notoriously ineffective at identifying high- and low-quality workers," there is no penalty for easy grading.
  • Another reason, one Koedel doesn't mention, is that easy grading is a case of practicing what you preach -- one of the reigning ideas among education theorists is that students must have high self-esteem so they will want to keep learning.

As a partial solution, Koedel suggests that college administrators step in and impose stringent grading standards on education departments.  But it's pointless to insist on rigorous grading of courses that revolve around the inculcation of sociopolitical belief systems.  Giving every student an A is not the problem.  The course itself is the problem, says Leef.

It doesn't have to be that way.

  • Japan, a country that regularly outpaces the United States in international comparisons of student knowledge, doesn't have education schools at all.
  • There, students must first earn an undergraduate degree in an academic field and then those who wish to enter teaching apply to become apprentices -- only a small fraction are accepted.
  • The apprentice works with a master teacher for several years.

America's system for training teachers needs dramatic change, far deeper than making A grades less plentiful, says Leef.

Source: George Leef, "Yes, Mostly 'A's but that's Not the Worst of It," Pope Center for Higher Education, August 28, 2011.  Cory Koedel, "Grade Inflation for Education Majors and Low Standards for Teachers," American Enterprise Institute, August 2011.

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