What’s Wrong with Education?

Here are some test questions. Question 1: Which of the following is equal to a quarter of a million? (a) 40,000 (b) 250,000 (c) 2,500,000 (d) 1/4,000,000 or (e) 4/1,000,000? Question 2: Martin Luther King Jr. (insert the correct choice) for the poor of all races. (a) spoke out passionately (b) spoke out passionate (c) did spoke out passionately (d) has spoke out passionately or (e) had spoken out passionate. Question 3: What would you do if your student sprained an ankle? (a) Put a Band-Aid on it (b) Ice it (c) Rinse it with water.

Having reviewed the questions, guess which school grade gets these kind of test questions: sixth grade, ninth grade or 12th grade. I’m betting that the average reader guesses: sixth grade. You’d be wrong. How about ninth grade? You’d still be wrong. You say, “OK, Williams, I can’t believe they’re 12th grade test questions!” Wrong again. According to a School Reform News (Sept. 1) article “Who Tells Teachers They Can Teach?” those test questions came from tests for prospective teachers. The first two questions are samples from Praxis I test for teachers, and the third is from the 1999 teacher certification test in Illinois. And guess what. Thirty-one percent of New York City public school teachers fail teacher certification tests.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times (Sept. 6) 5,243 Illinois teachers failed their teacher certification tests. The Chicago Sun-Times also reported, “One teacher failed 24 of 25 teacher tests — including 11 of 12 Basic Skills tests and all 12 tests on teaching learning-disabled children. Yet, that teacher was assigned to teach learning-disabled children in Chicago. That’s classic: the blind leading the blind.

Most of these inept teachers are graduates of the nation’s schools of education. Unfortunately, for the most part, schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, are home to students who have the lowest academic achievement test scores when they enter college, and they score the lowest among college graduates taking tests, such as GRE, MCAT or LSAT, to enter professional schools. If we’re really serious about improving public education, we’d shut down schools of education. There is absolutely no relationship between teacher quality and having graduated from a teacher’s college and being teacher certified. There may even be a negative relationship as suggested by the fact that students who are home-schooled by parents who have had no teacher training have achievement scores higher than 85 percent of all other students.

Another serious education problem is the fact that many teachers have little or no training in the subjects they teach. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 36 percent of public school teachers — 972,000 teachers out of 2.7 million nationwide — didn’t major or minor in the core subjects they teach. In other words, there are teachers teaching math and science who might not have taken a single class in those subjects.

The long-term solution to our education problem is to break the education monopoly by introducing the kind of competition that can come from school vouchers, tuition tax credits and other school choice programs. Of course, the powerful education establishment fights tooth and nail against anything that even smacks of competition. There are some shorter-term measures that can help stem the decline in education quality. State legislators and school boards have it in their power to eliminate standard certification requirements. As it stands now, a Nobel Laureate in physics wouldn’t meet teacher qualifications in most school districts.

Finally, my education question to the NAACP, Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus, black mayors and city councilmen who walk lock step with the teaching establishment and do their bidding: In which schools do you think you’ll find the absolutely worst teacher quality?