“No Professional Teacher Should Major in Education”

by Robert Pondiscio
November 13th, 2012

Sometimes, it takes someone outside the field of education to speak the truth.  Historian David McCullough says no professional teacher should major in education.

The award-winning biographer of Harry Truman and John Adams was profiled on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, and his comments highlighted over at The Answer Sheet.  He notes that Americans are “historically illiterate” and tells the depressing story of meeting a student who “came up to me after one of my talks and said that until she heard me speak that morning she’d never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast.”

“And I thought, ‘What are we doing that’s so wrong, so pathetic?’ I tried it again at several other places, colleges and universities, same thing. Now, it’s not their fault. It’s our fault. And when I say our fault I don’t mean just the teachers. I mean the parents and grandparents. We have to take part. The stories around the family dinner table. I say bring back dinner if you want to improve how children get to know history.’

McCullough believes we need to “seriously revamp, the teaching of the teachers.”

“I don’t feel that any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, know something. The best teachers are those who have a gift and the energy and enthusiasm to convey their love for science or history or Shakespeare or whatever it is. ‘Show them what you love’ is the old adage. And we’ve all had them, where they can change your life. They can electrify the morning when you come into the classroom.

I’ve long favored organizing teacher training around subject matter, rather than what Leon Botstein once termed “the pseudoscience of pedagogy.”  I’ve also never been able to resist seeing teaching, like writing, not as a “profession” but as craft work.   The best writers and teachers master their subject, and then find their voice.



  1. This discussion is, as usual, completely hamstrung by a) not specifying whether you’re talking about primary or secondary teachers and b) eliding over the fact that not teaching history is at least as attributable to high stakes testing and accountability in reading and math as it is teacher training or anything else.

    Comment by Tom Hoffman — November 13, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

  2. Agreed.

    Still, I’d observe that the “Fit” b/w undergrad major and K-12 teaching varies by subject.

    1. History and science line up reasonably well. It’s typically deeper learning of the same topics and ideas one has in K-12.

    A little kid learns George Washington. A teenagers learns some causes of the Rev War. A history major goes deeper.

    2. Math is different. A math major covers none of the same knowledge as he’ll teach down the road.

    It’s nice that he knows fractals. But except for the once-a-year opportunity to trot that out, not v. helpful.

    3. English often no connection.

    4. And what exactly are elementary teachers supposed to major in?

    Comment by MG — November 13, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

  3. MG:

    According to “Educating Young Giants” by Nancy Pine, China’s elementary teachers are subject-area specialists. I think the USA should do the same.

    Comment by Ponderosa — November 13, 2012 @ 3:09 pm

  4. I saw the 60 Minutes piece and agree with David McCullough, with one caveat; elementary teachers need some education courses while secondary teachers need few, if any. 6-12 teachers should be experts in their discipline. Elementary teachers need to be a jack of all trades while a master of none (unless they’re so inclined).

    I would like to see ALL teachers have to pass some generic assessment on background knowledge. It’s been my experience over three and a half decades, there are simply too many teachers in our classrooms who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, and that’s in Massachusetts. I can imagine what it’s like in some of the “other” states.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — November 13, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

  5. I totally agree with this! I have observed teacher being forced out of this comfort zone, usually for budgetary reason, and forced into a grade or subject area they do not know. And the response by the administration is, “You’re an elementary teacher, you should know the information.” Yet, in my state, only the middle grades and high school teachers are required to choose a subject to master, and prove it by taking a state mandated assessment.

    Comment by Muriel — November 13, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

  6. I saw this 60 Minutes piece. How can any college student not know that the 13 original colonies were all on the East Coast? This fact was never covered in their high school history courses? We’re paying for “college” kids to learn this elementary data, literally elementary.

    There is some hope for the younger generation. I just gave each of my two kids, grades 7 and 9, a one question oral pop quiz: where were the original 13 colonies located on the map? Both said East Coast, and when asked to be more specific, said by the Atlantic Ocean.

    They both mastered this fact in fourth grade Core Knowledge U.S. History, if not sooner.

    Comment by John Webster — November 13, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

  7. In the case of elementary education I am afraid that such learned and wise men as Dr. Botstein and Mr. McCullough know nothing about the education of young children. I suggest they either take a few years to study the scientific literature on elementary education before pontificating on such a serious subject. Look at the tremendous damage the”genius” Mr. Gates has done and is continuing to do to American education. He was a computer nerd from a very young age and I am sure he didn’t get any semblance of a liberal arts education before he dropped out of Harvard to become a ruthless business tycoon. I’m afraid the plutocrats and their stooges: Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and Arne Duncan have gained control of American education. There only a very few heros trying to hold back the tide: Dr. Hirsch, Dr. Ravitch, Ms. Weingarten, Mr. Rothstein, Mr. Pondiscio, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, Dr. Daniel T. Willingham, John Merrow, and John Cody. Dr. Botstein and Mr. McCullough please join us to protect what is left of American Education before these vandals completely destroy what is left of American education.

    Comment by David J. Krupp — November 14, 2012 @ 1:37 am

  8. Robert,

    In ways I agree and disagree with what you are saying. I was never one who thought I “needed” a major in education, just a few classes. Teachers and teacher leaders need knowledge of the content in order to prepare students the best they can.

    To allow a teacher to lead students and their colleagues, being on top of the game and having the proper knowledge are the most important pieces to being an effective teacher. A good, exciting teacher will always be that regardless of content, so with those prerequisite skills, mastery of the content is the most important piece for teachers.

    -S. Smith

    Comment by S. Smith — November 14, 2012 @ 7:51 am

  9. I agree that teachers in elementary school need not be great subject experts, but by Grade 4-5 the math is already uncomfortable for some teachers I’ve known. They’d rather not be doing fractions and percentages. Some falter when it comes to reading aloud large numbers. As for science, the teacher definitely needs to know science. I’ve seen teachers who say equator is a 2D line, like a diameter. Passing on incorrect scientific and math ideas does a lot of damage to a child’s ability to grasp and assimilate knowledge when it builds upon faulty foundations.

    Secondary teachers test should include an assessment on their ‘motivation’ to teach a student rather than knowing different pedagogical theories or knowing that the first two weeks must be spent on drilling in classroom ‘rule & procedures’. What could be more boring and off-putting for a kid in a math/science class than learning a set of ‘don’ts’. Expose them to the wonder of math/science and then teach the dos and don’ts.

    Comment by Sujata Krishna — November 14, 2012 @ 9:33 am

  10. @Tom A few months ago, I spoke before about 100 K-2 teachers in a major metropolitan school district. I chanced to ask how many of them had ever had training in the explicit training in phonics. In other words, they lacked basic training in how to teach children to decode. That’s astonishing. And the idea that not teaching history is a function of high stakes testing is simply goofy. Look, I’ve been a pretty strong critic of the deleterious impact of testing, especially curriculum narrowing. But can you point to any evidence that suggests that America students used to be whizzes in history until NCLB? I sure can’t.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — November 14, 2012 @ 10:10 am

  11. The main reason to require K-6 teachers to major in an academic discipline is simply so that they are forced to demeonstrate that they can do college-level work. And to keep them away from Ed school professors (unless those professors are forced to teach useful stuff). What they really need is a) background knowledge; b)basic pedagogy principles; and c) a curriculum to use, once they are teaching,that doesn’t leave big gaps.

    Comment by EB — November 14, 2012 @ 11:29 am

  12. I’m with EB.I’d like to see k-5 teachers be forced to demonstrate adequate background knowledge across the disciplines. This could be done by a combination of AP,IB,SAT II exams and specific college coursework designed by the academic departments. It should include phonics, English grammar and composition,word roots/prefixes/suffixes etc, physical and political geography,US and world history, US and comparative government,life and earth sciences, music and art history/appreciation and math. Because math seems to be such a weak area for so many ES teachers, I’d like to see math specialists above grade 2 – and it probably would be good to extend that to science. Beyond courses in growth/development, tests/measurements and methods (all level and subject-specific), good practice teaching should do the job. There’s no reason it couldn’t be structured like the practicums that nursing and med tech students have.

    Comment by momof4 — November 14, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

  13. I also agree and disagree with what you are saying. I do believe that teachers and educators need to be masters in their content. I too have seen teachers who are masters in the area of science and have taught it for 25+ years, get moved to teach math because it was easier for scheduling purposes. It is a shame that what is best for the students is not always considered.
    However, I still believe that core principles of education, learning styles, motivating activities and lessons, and pedagogy need to be addressed and taught in college. Being a master in ones content is not enough to ensure student success. I know people outside of the education world who are geniuses in math, but if they had to teach someone else how to solve problems, they are unable to do so. I believe that have strong knowledge in both is equally important.
    Finally, not only elementary teacher, but what about intervention specialists or special education teachers, do they need to masters of all content areas? Middle school and high school intervention specialist that co-teach in all subject areas, are they responsible to have every content mastered?
    While yes, I too believe that being a master in ones content is important, I also believe that is not the only component that leads to student success.

    Comment by Jess G. — November 14, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

  14. @Paul Hoss: You’re correct in your assessment. During periods of teacher shortages, your do what you can to fill the positions. Later, tenure laws are such that you may need to live with that for the next 30+ years.

    And thanks for pointing out what folks in the “other” 49 states think about you and so many of your New England friends.

    Comment by Ewaldoh — November 14, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

  15. @Jess G: So correct! Subject knowledge and teaching skill are two separate issues and both necessary for a good teacher. But, like starting pitchers in major league baseball, there are not enough to go around. Funding won’t change that.

    Interesting about certification in some states. As a physics teacher (chemistry major, physics minor), I had more than enough courses for a minor in math; but my school only granted one minor. I chose the science. Later I found that I could not be certificated in math because I didn’t have the necessary hours in “Algebra and Geometry”. Twenty hours of The Calculus and ten hours of differential equations and vector analysis didn’t matter.

    Oddly, we were offering Calculus to seniors with a teacher who had not taken Calculus in college.

    Some times you just need to turn your head.

    Comment by Ewaldoh — November 14, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

  16. What a foolish notion, what next? Doctors not majoring in medicine only chemistry or engineers only studying physics? I’d have to ask, why this attack on education? Sounds more for dodgy political reasons than for any real desire to improve pedagogy.

    Now unlike many commentators I can speak from real experience, I spent more than twenty years as an engineer, have a science degree and also one in history, I became a primary teacher through a graduate programme, went on to gain a Masters in education while teaching and becoming an Advanced Skills Teacher then moved on to become an associate lecturer teaching primary teachers at a leading teaching university where I am now in my second year of my Doctorate in education. The majority of teachers take a specialism within their studies or on PGCE courses come in with one.

    Comment by Karl — November 14, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

  17. @David,

    Gates is a ruthless business tycoon? Must respectfully disagree. He is the most generous philanthropist in the world giving to education research and health problems around the globe. To me he is a hero.

    As for some of the heroes you’ve listed, with the exception of Don Hirsch and Robert, I must again respectfully disagree.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — November 14, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

  18. Teachers are educators and have to learn many aspects of being a teacher. As a teacher who really wants to be a teacher will master what needs to be mastered in order to achieve student success. Teachers are lifelong learners and continue to gain knowledge in order to become highly effective teachers. It takes the passion to want to be a teacher to instill the love to children that education is important. As a teacher who master in a particular subject will be able to offer other colleagues that expertise and collaborate to have a better quality education for our students.

    Comment by Gonzalez — November 14, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

  19. I think elementary teachers need to learn a little about all subjects to be able to teach the concepts and skills in an effective and fun manner. But I don’t think they need to master all of the core curriculum and subject matter. Secondary teachers on the other hand should master a certain subject to teach. I have experienced teachers who have more motivation, are excited about teaching and are very innovative in their teaching when they have mastered one subject to teach. Teachers should be life long learners and be examples to the students they teach.

    Comment by Barbara — November 15, 2012 @ 1:16 am

  20. My husband and I are both teachers. I taught fourth grade for 20 years before taking over the ELL program for my district. My husband taught U S History for 8 years (after he passed the History test) even though his degree was Exercise Science with a minor in Health. He is now teaching Health and has a better understanding of the content he is teaching. Elementary teachers are different because they need to have a wide range of knowledge in all subject areas. I can say that Science was not my best subject so what I did was I began working with 3 other teachers so that we could teach the concepts in Science that we felt the most comfortable with. For example, I would teach the Rock Cycle four times as the students rotated classrooms. It is hard to know it all but I feel like I need to be a lifelong learner for my students. Other teachers are our best resources, teachers need to know it is okay to ask questions or get help. Teaching is all about learning and using information to help guide our students’ educational progress enabling them to become lifelong learners.

    Comment by Dawn — November 15, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

  21. How is it any teachers fault that the student had never been able to put two and two together when looking at a map? That is just ridiculous. Are you saying they had never been shown a map of the 13 colonies or the east coast? Why are people so eager to find definitive proof that education has failed students, when the students are not being asked to prove themselves?

    Comment by Suezette Given — November 15, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

  22. I was curious when I saw the title of the blog. I had never given much thought to not majoring in education. Education is a profession and I believe teachers should have knowledge in more than one subject. At our school we never know what we are teaching from year to year. At the elementary level teachers are required to teach all subjects so I am not in agreement with this philosphy. Collaboration is the key for teachers to improve their own teaching methods. The ultimate responsiblity for a student to succeed is up to the student. Teachers, parents, and community can only do so much. We can put the education in the classroom, but students must want it first.

    Comment by Judy Johnson — November 16, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  23. I agree with David McCoullough that kids need more history, but I wonder if that is a consequence of teacher training or curriclum? In my experience there is just too little emphasis placed on it in the standards, curriculm and even time allocated.

    Comment by DC Parent — November 16, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  24. Children do need more history, but it has to start at home. With the new common core rolling in, parents need to do more at home. In the early grades, parents need to be the childs number one advocate until the student can take the responsibility on their own. Being a kindergarten teacher, I have to teach all the subjects. History and science come last, after reading, writing and math. I find the lack of parental involvement hurts the students so much in these areas.

    Comment by Massimino — November 16, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

  25. I would have to agree with a comment left by Massimino that education starts at home. If parents would start reading to their children at a very early age and talking them about their heritage, then they would some knowledge when they start school. Since teachers concentrate in the reading, writing, and math subjects over the other subjects, when they touch in these then students hopefully will have some background knowledge to be able to understand the concept. Teachers do have to time to teach everything, so sometimes they integrate subjects to able to meet student expectations. Teachers want is best for their students and they make the choices necessary to meet those goals.

    Comment by Gonzalez — November 17, 2012 @ 10:00 pm

  26. In the state of Texas educators can be certified through a traditional university education program by majoring in education; or an Alternative Certification Program where they take education courses after receiving ANY bachelors degree could be business, liberal arts, or communications. The best educators I know went the alternative route, which means they came into education with some other experiences under their belt. This brings a different perspective to the classroom. And a respect for the difference they are making in students lives.

    Comment by Mary Garcia — November 17, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

  27. I am currently a primary teacher, but have also taught in the middle school. I see the need for K-6 teachers to be the masters of content knowledge, also. K-2 teachers must have a deep understanding of all areas of phonics, and how words work in order to teach the most important part of reading-decoding. Grade 3-6 teachers also should have an understanding of both of these, plus a deep understanding of literary vices. I have taught with so many teachers who are learning phonics and literary devices along with the students, an doing a great disservice to students who are beginning readers. For example, I had a 6th grade teacher come to me and ask what the literary term “climax’ of the story meant. How could she have taught that concept for years without knowing it? I am glad she came to me to find out what it was and how to teach it.
    I have had countless students through my 15 years of teaching who did not have a grasp on basic phonics/decoding skills and/or knowledge in literary concepts. And, I know teachers in my own district who are just teaching for the test, or teaching only what they know, which is usually out of an impersonal scripted curriculum. My district provides professional developments and on-going learning opportunities, but those are usually on pedagogy, or new programs the district has purchased, or on technology. As a teacher leader in my school and district, and as someone who has a strong background in phonics and literature, I am hoping to teach and enlighten teachers of the many facets of phonics instruction, and the countless ways to interpret literature. I plan to do this through the technology instruction and curriculum mapping advise I provide to my school.

    Comment by mplet — November 17, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

  28. @massimino and @Gonzalez- that sounds great to have this start at home, but what if home can’t or won’t provide this background? Given the number of immigrant households, American culture and European based literature will not be the norm at home. I know being married to someone from the Middle East that there is a lot he would not even know how to communicate. Education will have to address these issues, which means maybe less experimental education and lot more here are the basics. That or it continues to fail.

    Comment by DC Parent — November 17, 2012 @ 11:44 pm

  29. @mplet,

    Do all students learn to read through phonics or do some do better in a sight program? It was my experience after three and a half decades as a Massachusetts public school teacher (elem classroom) that while many kids did well with phonics some simply needed a sight program, while still others did best through a combination of the two.

    All kids are different.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — November 18, 2012 @ 8:27 am

  30. I feel that teachers should be experts in the subject that they are teaching our children. Just because you are a teacher doesn’t mean you can teach every subject. As a parent I would want my child to have a teacher who was an expert in the subject that is being taught. I feel that a teacher has to have a strong knowledge of teaching and the subject matter.

    Comment by Shelia Caison — November 18, 2012 @ 9:43 am

  31. Paul,
    I agree that some kids learn differently. And not every word follows phonics patterns, since so much of our language comes from different languages. However, if a teacher is going to base early literacy practices on phonics, then she should know the rules, exceptions, and awareness patterns needed for a complete phonics instruction, plus how to teach the rule breakers, etymology of words, the effects of affixes, etc, and how to tell the difference in all of these when giving a strong phonics background to children. For example, in a 7th grade class I taught years ago, a student was reading out loud, and came to the word “bit.” When he got to that word, he actually said, “Is this word “bit” or “bite”? (direct quote I cannot forget). Clearly that child has not basic phonic skills. A skill like this follows a basic phonetic rule. And is a skill taught in K/1st grade. I think that a sight program needs to go hand-in-hand with phonics program for those phonemic rule breakers. As teachers, we need to know all the tricks so as to give all kids lots of ways to learn. A good grasp of the subject matter will broaden a teachers repertoire of tricks.
    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Comment by mplet — November 18, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

  32. I agree, it is hard to start at home. My school offers classes to parents on how they can continue school at home. It teaches them how to help students with their homework, how to foster literacy in the home and expand on what the teacher is teaching. It sounds great and it can work, but only so few parents decide to go.

    Comment by Massimino — November 18, 2012 @ 5:11 pm

  33. @paulhoss “Do all students learn to read through phonics or do some do better in a sight program?”

    They do better through phonics. There are decades of studies comparing the two approaches that show this. And Diane McGuiness explains why. She says that, with few exceptions, human writing systems consist of alphabets in which each symbol stands for a sound, or a couple of sounds blended together. Early human languages evolved like this because a system of pictographs, in which each word had its own unique symbol was unworkable. Why was it unworkable? Because humans can only memorize, at the most, about 2,000 picture word symbols (ie, “sight words”). And that wouldn’t be so bad if your language only consisted of 2,000 words. But as people’s vocabularies grew exponentially, way beyond the 2,000 word mark, the pictograph system was jettisoned in favor of the sound/symbol system. Why does this approach work better? Because, while there may be an almost infinite number of words in your language, there are usually only a few dozen or so sounds. If base your writing system on sounds/symbols, you only have to remember a few sound/symbol patterns in order to be able to read the vast majority of the words in your language. As difficult as it is to learn the various English spelling patterns for a single sound, it is impossible to learn to memorize each word as a picture.

    Comment by alamo — November 18, 2012 @ 5:38 pm

  34. As I posted earlier, I feel we need to study a real content to be taken seriously. How can we be taken seriously if we aren’t even degreed in the area that we teach. How can we be considered experts if we don’t even have the accreditation to back it up? As I said earlier, teaching can be learned on the job whereas you need to have the content to teach. A great teacher can’t be a great teacher if they don’t have the knowledge of a content to teach about.

    S. Smith

    Comment by S. Smith — November 18, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

  35. @DC Parent, Yes, there are parents that do not come from different cultures and traditions, therefore they cannot educate their children the background from where they live. I do believe it takes the community and the school to help parents understand and value the culture they now live in, in order to educate their children.

    Comment by Gonzalez — November 18, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

  36. I would agree that not all professional teachers should major in education. My major was Criminal Justice and I teach Law and Justice. This course calls for teachers with experience in the career, not just a teacher that majors in education. I feel that teachers with majors, other than education, can also become master teachers. Teachers that have a gift to teach and engage students in a topic that they love will enhance student learning. I also feel that teachers with majors other than education can become great leaders in education. These teachers have a different perspective and often have valuable insight on student learning.

    Comment by Ablackstock — November 18, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

  37. Year ago on the Core Knowledge website, there were sample syllabi for college courses to prepare to teach core knowledge the K-6 level. If I recall, there were courses in children’s literature, reading, math (focused on deep understanding of the topics taught in elementary school), science (biology, chemistry, physics, earth science), geography, US and world history, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few. I read through them, and was impressed with the depth and breadth of the topics covered.

    Robert, any chance you could dig those out of the archives?

    There are/were also a couple of colleges (one small school outside of Chicago?) that have a major in elementary education for Core Knowledge – I would be interesting to see what they require.

    Comment by Mia — November 19, 2012 @ 11:51 am

  38. Found it – What Elementary Teachers need to know (2002)
    The eighteen courses cover the following subjects:
    • Biology
    • Earth Science
    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Math I and II
    • US History I and II
    • World History I and II
    • Geography
    • Art History
    • Music
    • Composition and Grammar
    • British and World Literature
    • American Literature
    • Children’s Literature
    • Teaching Reading

    Comment by Mia — November 19, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  39. As an untraditional classroom teacher, I could not agree with you more. I obtained a BBA in Marketing in 2005 and in 2009, received my teaching certification through an Alternative Teacher Preparation Program. I currently teach Marketing and my content knowledge stems from college courses that prepared me with the critical passion and information to transfer to my students.

    Because I want to truly understand the pyschological and emotional needs of my students, I consistently research and use personal observations and experiences to better my practice. I have studied the works of Ruby Payne, Dr. Robert Marzano, and Kottler. These educational experts provide crucial knowledge, resources, and research-based strategies that guide and improve my practice.

    Comment by Katie — November 20, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

  40. Mr. Krupp-

    are you seriously saying that Bill Gates is responsible for the horrible education system we have? Are you kidding? It seems from your comment your despise of Mr. Gates has more to do with him being successful than any “damage” he has done in education.

    I’m curious to know what damage Bill Gates has done to our education system. One of the things I have noticed about the Gates Foundation is they use the scientific method in their research, and fund programs accordingly. The Gates Foundation use of the scientific method would be a deviation from the norm in the education establishment, which uses the political method. Just so we are clear, I define the scientific method as conducting a study (using reliability/validity and having a control group and experiment group), analyzing the results and then coming to a conclusion based on factual data. The political method is stating a conclusion then finding the “evidence” to support that conclusion. Facts are irrelevant in the political method.

    You might hate the guy for being rich, but that is a drastic improvement and I don’t see how this is a bad thing.

    Comment by Kate C. — November 21, 2012 @ 3:04 am

  41. Dear Kate C.
    I do not despise Mr. Gates for being rich. I admire his work to improve the health of the world. I do hold Mr. Gates responsible for using his tremendous power to induce school systems to make drastic changes based on zero scientific evidence. First, the Gates Foundation spent two billion dollars supporting the breaking up of large High Schools into small ones. This had absolutely no positive effect on student learning. In fact, Mr. Gates acknowledged this mistake in a speech in Seattle Nov. 2008.
    Now Mr. Gates is supporting holding teachers responsible for their students progress based on reading and math tests. The result is that teachers are being required to teach to the tests using test prep. books. The real curriculum-science, social studies, art, music and health education are being given much less emphasis. If this fad continues the students will be taught a very narrow curriculum. For this I hold Mr. Gates responsible.

    Comment by David J. Krupp — November 21, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  42. In a world rich with distractions and attractions designed to startle and seduce, it’s challenging for children to connect school learning with meaning in their lives. It’s even more challenging for adult teachers and parents to understand how children make meaning and find intrinsic reward in such a world.

    Comment by Jeffrey Miller — November 21, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

  43. David,

    Bill Gates is not the originator of linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. He is also not responsible for narrowing the curriculum in schools to math and ELA.

    He may have contributed thoughts along these lines to policy wonks but to suggest these concepts were his doing is preposterous.

    You’ve read too much from Diane Ravitch, et al who are jealous Bill Gates gets listened to more than they do, even though he’s not an educator. They might want to consider some of the ideas they attempt to champion and then ask themselves if their ideas are more pragmatic or malarkey.

    FYI; I have all the respect in the world for Diane and the battle she is attempting to wage in an effort to “save” public schools. She’s simply going about it in the wrong manner.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — November 22, 2012 @ 9:28 pm

  44. Memo to Paul Hoss who has three and a half decades of experience:

    Bill Gates has over 66,000,000,000 dollars. Diane Ravitch has, well let’s just say she has a tad less, mkay? Even her et al, like me don’t quite match up. Many of the ideas Gates has championed have failed. http://crooksandliars.com/nicole-belle/why-should-we-reform-education-using- http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/teachers/bill-gates-troubling-involveme.html

    Get it now?

    Comment by Jeffrey Miller — November 25, 2012 @ 4:48 am

  45. Yes, some of Bill Gates ideas have failed, there are quite a few failed i in education, schools without walls anyone? But frankly, education, especially urban education has needed to be thinking outside the box for a while and if it takes the Gates foundation to shake up some of the moribund thinking, not all of it will be perfect, but it is needed. Isn’t the reason that a lot of us come to this blog, is to see a debate about educational ideas, not just vilify various advocates? I know it is why I come every couple of days.

    Comment by DC Parent — November 25, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

  46. Jeff,

    You clearly sound like one of Diane’s minions (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a hard line anti- billionaire boys club member. Your comments are laced with jealousy of Gates and his like.

    My point on Gates and his Foundation is NOT that he has all the answers or even pretends that he does. He is, however, willing to get involved (monetarily and personally) with attempting to improve public education and make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than himself. He doesn’t have to do anything. He could sit idly on the sideline like many other wealthy individuals, but he has demonstrated a commitment to education reform that I find helpful, refreshing and inspiring.

    The intonation that he might carry more clout than Diane or her followers in the dialogue also has to do with some (not all) of his ideas and a willingness to explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned. He’s admitted publicly he’s made mistakes along the way but that will not deter him.

    DC Parent’s comment immediate to this one is more bipartisan and looks more at his whole body of effort than most everything coming from Diane.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — November 26, 2012 @ 8:55 am

  47. @Paul: “You clearly sound like one of Diane’s minions (not that there’s anything wrong with that)”

    Main Entry: minion ?[min-yuhn]
    Part of Speech: noun
    Definition: sycophant
    Synonyms: backscratcher, backslapper, bootlicker, brownnoser, dependent, doormat, fan, fawner, flatterer, flunky, follower, groupie, hanger-on, lackey, parasite, puppet, slave, stooge, subordinate, toady, yes-man/woman, yes-person

    Comment by alamo — November 26, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  48. @Ponderosa – Yes, elementary teachers in China are subject specialists. They train to be either math or Chinese language teachers, and you can prepare to become a teacher either in a college of education or in a math or Chinese department. Often the math teacher also teaches science, and the Chinese teacher teaches history. The class of students stay in the classroom, and the teachers come to them. This structure only works, however, because schools and the teaching profession itself are organized in China to support the transfer of craft knowledge (pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge) from expert teachers to novices. Teachers spend only half the day in front of students. The rest of the work day, they are conferring with colleagues, observing other teachers, planning lessons, grading homework, and doing lesson study. In some schools in the more affluent provinces, there are special rooms with stadium seating where a teacher teaches a lesson with students at the front while colleagues observe, and then they debrief afterwards. Teachers have much greater status, approaching that of university professors, and there are career ladders. There are teacher journals where practicing K-12 teachers contribute articles and the results of lesson study.

    I actually think that is much to be said about having elementary teachers specialize in this way. I think we expect too much of elementary teachers in terms of being knowledgeable about 4 disciplines and also on how to teach each of them. They need a deeper understanding of fewer subjects. I agree with MG, though, that I’m not sure a college major necessarily helps for teaching certain elementary subject areas. As he points out, knowing college math is of very little help in teaching elementary math. Also, the hyper-specialization in higher education means that even majoring in a discipline doesn’t ensure one has a broad exposure to a range of topics within it. There are fewer survey courses in higher ed, and it’s very possible to graduate with a history degree, say, and have serious gaps on one’s knowledge. Finally, there is definitely a knowledge base for teaching reading, and there is important training necessary for working with special needs students.

    To a certain extent, I think this the above debate is a bit outdated. Actually these days very few people major in education (or only in education). Most people major in an academic discipline, though sometimes it’s not a discipline that is quite aligned with a K-12 subject (e.g., psychology).

    Comment by Ed — November 26, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

  49. alamo,

    I’m aware of the meaning of minion. I believe I used it appropriately. As I stated, “…not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Diane has thousands of minions/supporters, not just Jeff…as in a fan, a follower, a yes-person, etc.,

    Comment by Paul Hoss — November 26, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

  50. @Ed: thanks for the extra information about China’s system. I agree that hyperspecialization in universities is a problem for prospective K-12 teachers. I’d like to see college courses that resemble deluxe, in-depth versions of the commonly taught K-12 courses. I teach medieval and early modern world history. I can imagine a year or more of full-time study devoted to this content –a slate of courses that would include a Maya/Aztec/Inca course; a Renaissance course; a Chinese civilization course; etc.

    Comment by Ponderosa — November 27, 2012 @ 1:49 am

  51. Calling someone a minion is an insult. Adding the “not that there’s anything wrong with that” doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying, “You’re an asshole–not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

    What exactly did Jeffrey say that makes him a minion?
    I searched the thread and the only time he mentioned her name is when he said she makes less money than Bill Gates.

    Comment by alamo — November 27, 2012 @ 8:43 am

  52. Civility, please.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — November 27, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  53. alamo,

    I didn’t invent the word or its multiple meanings. I simply used it according to the context. Minion and asshole possess two very different connotations.

    You provided the following synonyms: “backscratcher, backslapper, bootlicker, brownnoser, dependent, doormat, fan, fawner, flatterer, flunky, follower, groupie, hanger-on, lackey, parasite, puppet, slave, stooge, subordinate, toady, yes-man/woman, yes-person.” Select whichever connotation/synonym you want for Jeffrey. I believe I selected the correct term.

    “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” is a Seinfeld reference that’s been used on this blog before. No one here or on the show ever equated a gay person with being an asshole.

    I’ve always insisted in conversations such as this, if the shoe fits…

    Civility now (Frank Castanza).

    Comment by Paul Hoss — November 27, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

  54. Oops. Actually Frank’s exact words were, “Serenity, now.” Thought I’d try to sneak one by Robert or Nancy.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — November 27, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

  55. To the excellent list of coursework for prospective ES teachers, I would add US government, comparative government and basic economics. For the latter, I would recommend Sowell’s Basic Economics – which would be a great HS requirement for all (excepting those taking AP micro/macro econ courses).

    Comment by momof4 — December 2, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

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