The Pope Center posts a provocative “clarion call” for reform in Education schools–coming from an Education professor, Nick Shudak of Mount Marty College. Shudak sees as soluble the problem besetting college and university Education departments, but through the kind of courageous action that, I suspect, can only come from outside the ranks of the faculty.
Shudak, who chairs his school’s Education division and in 2009 received a Ph.D. from UNC, offers a series of proposals that anyone interested in the best possible instructors teaching American public school students should support. He (correctly) contends that the problem begins with student recruitment. Education departments have poor reputations on campus; talented undergraduates generally major in liberal arts or the hard sciences. Shudak recalls that when he was an undergraduate and told fellow political science majors that he planned to switch to Education, “Many couldn’t believe that someone who could choose from a variety of careers in the political arena or law would go into teaching instead.” This bad on-campus reputation means that “many talented students are dissuaded from becoming teachers.”
The problem persisted into his graduate career, when Shudak took not only education offerings but also courses in philosophy and political science. He reports that “many of my professors warned me that education students do not generally fare well in their classes.” I strongly suspect that lots of professors around the country have had similar conversations; I certainly have heard such complaints at Brooklyn.
Continue reading Courageous Suggestions for Reforming Education Schools
Radical Math held its third annual conference in New York last weekend. Four hundred high school math teachers and education professors attended the conference on “Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice.” At thirty-two workshops on Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and in half a dozen city public schools, math teachers demonstrated classroom lessons to help students understand society from a “liberatory,” anti-capitalist perspective. For example, one workshop demonstrated how student math projects could be used to “explore the distribution of wealth in the United States and imagine more socially just alternatives.” Another showed how math problems could be structured to “empower and inspire students to change their world. This workshop will examine the Personal Proof Project, connecting Geometric proofs and activism.” At the Radical Math conference I attended three years ago, University of Massachusetts Professor Marilyn Frankenstein proposed that elementary school teachers who truly care about social justice should instruct their students that in a “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.”
The Radical Math conference can be viewed as a demonstration of Freirism in action. The organization faithfully follows the doctrines of Paulo Freire, the late Brazilian Marxist and “critical pedagogy” theorist. The official program for the conference I attended was emblazoned with this passage from The Pedagogy of The Oppressed, Freire’s seminal work: “There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of our world.”
In The Critical Pedagogy Reader, a widely used text in education school courses, Robert Peterson writes about how he plumbed The Pedagogy of the Oppressed as a young elementary school teacher in inner-city Milwaukee, looking for ways to apply Freire’s theories to his own fifth-grade classroom. Peterson realized that he had to jettison what Freire dismisses as the prevailing “banking method” of education, in which “the teacher and the curricular texts have the ‘right answers’ and which the students are expected to regurgitate periodically.” Instead, Peterson switched to Freire’s “liberating” pedagogical approach, which “relies on the experience of the student. . . . It means challenging the students to reflect on the social nature of knowledge and the curriculum.” Peterson seems to have succeeded, turning his fifth-graders into critical theorists and junior scholars of the Frankfurt School.
Continue reading The Propaganda in Our Ed Schools
The National Research Council has finally issued its rankings of doctoral programs, with coverage appearing here, here, and here . Right now, everybody is trying to assimilate the results, which are more complicated than those in the 1995 report. The “Data-Based Assessment” runs to 282 pages, the “Guide to the Methodology” 57 pages, and each one contains numerous cautionary notes about the conclusiveness of the findings.
Still, however confusing and tentative the results, they bear tremendous authority and universities will plumb them for good news and trumpet them in years to come. For this reason, any criterion that plays a role in the rankings process has a powerful, long-term impact on post-graduate education and research in the United States. If the NRC used one, the logic goes, then it’s a settled norm, and universities looking to rise in the next version of rankings should consider it well.
It is troubling, then, to find two criteria implemented in the project that are, in truth, dubious measures of the quality of research in at least one area of graduate study, the humanities.
Continue reading Two Problems with the New Doctoral Rankings
Two law-school professors, Vikram David Amar and Kevin R. Johnson, recently published a piece in FindLaw.com on “Why U.S. News and World Report Should Include a Diversity Index in its Ranking of Law Schools.” Early on, the piece notes a research finding that, by including in its law-school index the LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs of the students admitted and enrolled, the USNWR ranking “creates disincentives for schools to admit and enroll applicants from underrepresented groups that have not – as groups – fared particularly well in grades or on standardized tests.”
The good news is that Amar and Johnson don’t suggest what many on the Left would immediately demand, namely that the index and, for that matter, law schools themselves simply ignore test scores and grades if they have a politically incorrect disparate impact. The bad news is that the authors instead embrace the “welcome development” that Bob Morse, USNWR‘s “point person for law school ratings,” has “recently expressed openness to thinking about incorporating a ‘diversity index’ into the rating methodology.”
Amar and Johnson then agree with Mr. Morse that “measuring diversity is a very complicated issue,” since after all it requires deciding which racial groups “should be included in the definition of diversity, and determining the extent to which the diversity index should go beyond race and ethnicity – to include socio-economic class, gender, sexual orientation, geography, age, and perhaps religion and other characteristics ….” True enough (and probably a good reason to rethink the wisdom of the whole undertaking).
Continue reading Shall We Rank Law Schools for Diversity?
By Frank J. Macchiarola and Michael C. Macchiarola
Why do law schools charge higher and higher tuitions that keep outrunning the cost of living? In the two decades ending in 2007, according to the American Bar Association, the cost of attending the average private law school (including tuition and fees) more than tripled–increasing from $8,911 a year to $32,367. Unsurprisingly, the average amount borrowed by law students has risen just as dramatically. Last year’s average private law student graduated with more than $87,000 in law school debt.
In trying to understand this phenomenon, many have blamed the American Bar Association’s Standards for Law Schools. The ABA accredits 200 American law schools that adhere to the Standards and, by doing so, permit their graduates to sit for the bar examination in every state. These standards govern student’s course of study, the law school’s administration, the faculty’s rights and obligations and the adequacy of the physical plant. Among other things, law schools are reviewed in a comprehensive three-day site visit with several visitors every seven years to maintain their accreditation.
Others, particularly law school deans, who face competitive pressures from other law schools, have blamed the U.S. News and World Report rankings of law schools. These critics believe the rankings spark a tournament of law schools to compete on the magazine’s terms, often at great costs and at the expense of more student-centered activities. In a December 2009 report to the Congress, the General Accounting Office dealt, in part, with concerns that have been raised about how some of the accreditation standards of the ABA may affect the cost of law school.
Continue reading Does U.S. News Make Law Schools More Expensive?
Thanks to the efforts of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—and a rare, if welcome, instance of Congress standing up for students’ rights in higher education—the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) abandoned its de facto “social justice” criterion. Yet while the development made it harder for Education schools to use “social justice” and “diversity” to demand ideological fidelity from students, the ideologues that populate such programs have hardly ceased their efforts. Only now they must take accountability for their actions.
A good example of the continuing problem is the renewed emphasis on “cultural competence”—a term, much like “dispositions,” which is meaningless to anyone outside the academy but has a specific, and ideologically charged, designation to those familiar with Education code. Take, for instance, the Education Department at the University of Minnesota whose activities were exposed by Katherine Kersten in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Kersten uncovered a report prepared as part of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, which is reorienting the U of M’s teacher-training curriculum.
The intellectual interests of the report’s authors not only preview the group’s recommendations but also give a sense of what passes for the ideological mainstream in Education departments on the nation’s college campuses. The work of Professor Tim Lensmire, who says that he uses the classroom to promote “radical democracy” through embracing “various progressive, feminist, and critical pedagogies,” sets the ideological tone: Lensmire notes that his “current research and writing focus on race and education, and especially on how white people learn to be white in our white supremacist society.” The report’s other authors include Bic Ngo, whose research examines “the ways in which the education of immigrant students are shaped by dynamic power relations as they play out at the intersection(s) of race, ethnicity, class and gender” using “critical, cultural and feminist theories” to explicate “the role(s) of critical multicultural education”; committee chair Michael Goh, whose research explores “multicultural counseling”; and two non-tenure track figures, Mary Beth Kelley and Carole Gupton.
Continue reading Decoding Teacher Training
In May the Illinois State’s Attorney’s office issued a stunningly unusual subpoena. It asked for the student grades, grading criteria, class syllabi, expense reports, and even e-mail messages of undergraduates taking an investigative reporting class at Northwestern University. The class tied into the Medill Innocence Project, a program administered by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism that gathers evidence aimed at overturning wrongful criminal convictions. Over the following months the journalistic world has seethed with outrage at what seemed to be a best a fishing expedition and at worst an act of retaliation against the students for coming up with evidence that could free 49-year-old Anthony McKinney, convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and serving a life sentence without parole for shooting a security guard named Donald Lundahl in the face during the course of a 1978 armed robbery in Harvey, Ill., a Chicago suburb. An Oct. 31 editorial in the Washington Post stated: “These subpoenas — and the stunning overreach they represent — should be quashed.”
Perhaps they should—although on Nov. 10 the state’s attorney’s office filed a 54-page document, complete with signed investigative reports, in which the office alleged that the Northwestern students gave money to two of the witnesses they interviewed (for a reporter to pay sources is regarded as highly unprofessional), including $40 to buy crack cocaine to a man named Tony Drakes in exchange for a videotaped confession to the murder in 2004. The reports also stated that students had flirted with several male witnesses (including Drakes) who then gladly told them what they wanted to hear; and that the Medill school refused to give prosecutors access to much of the students’ notes and tapes, including all records pertaining to student interviews with a second man, Robert Magruder. According to Drakes’s videotape, Magruder was supposed to have fired the fatal shot at Lundahl. (Both Drakes and Magruder denied involvement with the murder in more recent interviews with state’s attorney’s investigators.) The state’s attorneys argue that the students enrolled in the course weren’t functioning as reporters gathering news but as investigators for their professor, David Protess, who also happens to run the Medill Innocence Project. The tapes and notes they produced didn’t result in the students’ writing any news stories, even for Northwestern’s student paper, the state’s attorneys say, but rather, went straight to lawyers affiliated with Northwestern’s law school who are representing McKinney in his quest for a reopening of his conviction.
Furthermore, accompanying the students during the 2004 interview with Drakes (and apparently in charge of the interview, according to the state’s attorney’s office) was a private detective, Sergio Serritella, whose LinkedIn page describes him as the CEO of Tactical Solutions Group, a private-investigations firm in Chicago specializing in criminal cases. (The Medill school says that Serritella, who works on and off for the institution, was along only to provide security, as Drakes had served time for a different murder.) In short, says the state’s attorney’s office, the students, even though they were enrolled in a journalism class, weren’t entitled to invoke the protection of Illinois’s shield law, which allows reporters to keep their notes and sources confidential.
Continue reading Should J-Students Work For The Defense?
The ABA is very big on diversity. To satisfy its standards, nearly all law schools must seriously relax their admissions standards for minority students. But how many of so-called beneficiaries of affirmative action are graduating and passing the bar? And how many are winding up with nothing to show for their trouble but students loans? The evidence is not encouraging.
For years, the ABA has used its clout to demand that law schools toe the affirmative action line. In the 1990s, fully 31% of law schools admitted to political scientists Susan Welch and John Gruhl that they “felt pressure” “to take race into account in making admissions decisions” from “accreditation agencies.”
Law schools must take pressure from the ABA seriously. As the U.S. Department of Education’s designated law school accreditation agency, the ABA, through its Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, has the power to decide whether a law school will be eligible for federal funding. Unless the ABA approves, for example, a law school’s students will be ineligible for student loans. And that is just the beginning. Most states do not allow the graduates of non-ABA-accredited law schools even to sit for the bar examination. A law school that is not in the good graces of the ABA is thus not a law school at all.
Continue reading The ABA’s Diversity Agenda
By Gail Heriot
(Ms. Heriot is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This piece is adapted from Ms. Heriot’s Commissioner Statement for the Civil Rights Report on Affirmative Action at American Law Schools released last fall.)
I have no doubt that those who originally conceived of race-based admissions policies – nearly forty years ago – were acting in good faith. By lowering admissions standards for African-American and Hispanic students at selective law schools, they hoped to increase the number of minority students on campus and ultimately to promote minority integration into both the legal profession and mainstream society. Similarly, however, I have no doubt of the good faith of those who opposed the policies. Indeed, their warnings that academic double standards cannot solve the nation’s problems and may well exacerbate them seem especially prescient in light of recent research.
The real conflict over race-based admissions policies has not been about good or bad faith or about whether we should aspire to be a society in which members of racial minorities are fully integrated into the mainstream. There is no question we should. The conflict is about whether racial discrimination – something that nearly all Americans abhor – is an appropriate tool to achieve that end. Put starkly: Should the principle of non-discrimination be temporarily sacrificed in the hope that such a sacrifice will, in the long run, help us become the society of equal opportunity that we all aspire to?
Justice Stanley Mosk warned of the risks associated with such temporary compromises with principle over thirty years ago, when, writing for the California Supreme Court in Bakke v. UC Regents (1976), he held racially discriminatory admissions policies to be unconstitutional:
To uphold the University would call for the sacrifice of principle for the sake of dubious expediency and would represent a retreat in the struggle to assure that each man and woman shall be judged on the basis of individual merit alone, a struggle which has only lately achieved success in removing legal barriers to racial equality.
Continue reading How Mismatches Devastate Minority Students
Beware the words “social justice” and “dispositions” when used by schools of education and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). These apparently harmless terms lay the groundwork for politicizing the training of teachers and giving the ed schools an excuse to eliminate conservatives from their programs. The news this week is that NCATE is backing down a bit from its use of “dispositions” and “social justice” while denying the political use of these words and calling its new policy a “clarification.”
“Dispositions” refers to the correct mindset that would-be teachers must have. “Social justice” is the most controversial of the dispositions sought. In its benign sense, “social justice” means a sense of fairness, honesty and a belief that all children can learn. In its politicized sense, it can refer to endorsement of affirmative action and a formal (often written) endorsement of policies favored by the political and cultural left.
“NCATE never required a ‘social justice’ disposition”, NCATE said on its web site. True, but the statement is a slippery one. In fact, the group had ruled that education departments could “include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice” – in effect ruling that public school teachers could be evaluated on their perceptions of what social justice requires. So the ed schools, basically a liberal monoculture, could rule that a student flunked “social justice” by displaying a negative view of multicultural theory and other policies of the left. At Washington State University, where the college of education tried to expel a conservative student for flunking “dispositions,” the dean was asked whether Justice Antonin Scalia could pass a dispositions test at her school. “I don’t know how to answer that,” she replied.
As NCATE tells it, “the term ‘social justice,’ though well understood by NCATE’s institutions, was widely and wildy misinterpreted by commentators not familiar with the working of NCATE.” The group now defines professional dispositions as “professional attitudes, values and beliefs demonstrated through both verbal and non-verbal behaviors. The two professional dispositions that NCATE expects institutions to assess are fairness and the belief that all students can learn. Based on their missions and conceptual framework, professional education units can identify, define and operationalize additional professional dispositions.”
This is a mild improvement. Still, one wonders about those “non-verbal behaviors” and how they will be judged. The word “fairness” remains a linguistic sinkhole and the phrase “additional professional dispositions” keeps the door open for more politicization. NCATE’s “clarification” doesn’t clarify much.
In 1997, the National Association of Social Work (NASW) altered its ethics code, ruling that all social workers must promote social justice “from local to global level.” This call for mandatory advocacy raised the question: what kind of political action did the highly liberal field of social work have in mind? The answer wasn’t long in coming. The Council on Social Work Education, the national accreditor of social work education programs, says candidates must fight “oppression,” and sees American society as pervaded by the “global interconnections of oppression.” Now aspiring social workers must commit themselves, usually in writing, to a culturally left agenda, often including diversity programs, state-sponsored redistribution of income, and a readiness to combat heterosexism, ableism, and classism.
This was all too much for the National Association of Scholars. The NAS has just released a six-month study of social work education, examining the ten largest programs at public universities for which information was available. The report, “The Scandal of Social Work,” says these programs “have lost sight of the difference between instruction and indoctrination to a scandalous extent. They have, for the most part, adopted an official ideological line, closing off debate on many questions that serious students of public policy would admit to be open to the play of contending viewpoints.”
Continue reading Creating Activists At Ed School