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21st March

First Published in The New York Sun, March 21, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

My erstwhile Bronx High School of Science classmate, Arthur Levine of Columbia University Teachers College, was in the news last week. He is the author of a three-part report on the state of the nation’s education schools, the first part of which was released last week. It focuses on the programs designed to educate school leaders. Mr. Levine rejects every existing program as “inadequate and appalling.”
Financing this four-year project is a laundry list of the usual suspects, the foundations behind every hare-brained educational “reform.” Their ideas have taken American schools from among the world’s best to a solid position among the world’s most mediocre. Mr. Levine is not wrong about the uselessness of the current programs to train school leaders. He wants to eliminate the doctorate in education, and require a new master’s degree in educational administration for principals and other school system administrators. He charges, accurately, that many of the graduate courses required of teachers and principals, upon which increases in salary depends, are a waste of time.

There is already predictable resentment among the education schools that largely follow the Teachers College educational philosophy and are now being told that what they do doesn’t work. Bruce Cooper, chairman of the Division of Educational Leadership at Fordham University, said of Mr. Levine to the Westchester/Rockland Journal News, “I think he’s in a funny position,because he hasn’t cleaned up his own act.”
The problem is that Mr. Levine may question the programs and structure of the education schools, but never challenges the underlying ideology that drives these institutions. Everything we need to know about the problems surrounding the education of teachers and administrators has been said in a book that is now nearly 15 years old, but still as fresh as if it was written yesterday.
That book is “Ed School Follies,” by Rita Kramer,the author of many books on education, child rearing, and historical subjects. She spent a year traveling, checking out schools of education in every corner of our nation. She visited the top schools (including Teachers College), private colleges, state universities, and churchaffiliated schools. At the end, having interviewed scores of professors, students, and educators, and sat in on many classes at each of the schools she discusses,Ms.Kramer painted a uniformly disturbing picture.
According to Ms. Kramer, prospective teachers are taught little of practical classroom strategies and little academic content. There is much discussion about the ills of society, racism, and sexism, almost always slanted to the left, usually to the far left. There is a lot of handwringing about testing, and how it destroys the self-esteem of our children.
Ms. Kramer points out that “where the purpose of the educational system is to promote ‘self-esteem’ regardless of actual accomplishment, substitutes for accomplishment must be found. In the current political climate the chief substitute for measurable individual achievement has become emphasis on the (superior) characteristics of the racial or ethnic subgroup to which one belongs. As a result, the emphasis is shifted from the common values of the larger society to identification with the special interests — and perceived grievances – of this or that racial or ethnic group.”
Testing is to be avoided not just for the supposed ill effects on the children, but because “no one wants to know the actual results of these policies — whether they really help poor students,how they affect the bright and the gifted. The ed school establishment is more concerned with politics — both academic and ideological — than with learning.”
Departure from this value system is not permitted.Those who dare question the prevailing wisdom of cooperative learning strategies such as the “workshop model” mandated in all New York City classrooms, risk being called elitist or racist. In this perverse world, high performance is not the goal, but something that is actually to be avoided.
Since this book is based on research done more than 15 years ago, one might hope that perhaps things have changed for the better since then. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.
The enduring validity of Ms.Kramer’s conclusions was driven home to me recently when I participated in a panel discussion on progressive education at the Fieldston School in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. I was joined on the panel by a professor from the Bank Street College of Education, one of the city’s leading educational schools, whose president, Augusta Kappner,was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg to the Panel on Educational Policy.
The Bank Street College professor’s presentation, frequently punctuated with concerns about peace and justice and racism, might have been taken right out of Ms. Kramer’s book, yet another chapter in her distressing narrative. As I listened to him just last month, it became instantly clear to me just how fresh “Ed School Follies” remains.
The value system promoted in the ed schools has fully infected our school systems, as evidenced by the unfortunate curriculum choices and inflexible instructional mandates of the Department of Education here in New York. The last place reform will come from are those responsible for perpetuating these wrong-headed ideas in the first place.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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