Teachers’ Education

Speed of Creativity reports a recent quote from US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

. . . Districts currently pay about $8 billion each year to teachers because they have masters’ degrees, even though there is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers — with the possible exception of teachers who earn masters in math and science.”

This is a pretty heavy quote. The site which reported it states that this is but the latest campaign “to deprofessionalize the teaching profession as a whole”.

It may certainly be the case: in fact I don’t see why, generally speaking, a Math teacher with a Master’s Degree in Maths should be better equipped to improve student achievements (& what do we mean by that?) than, say, a History teacher with a Master’s in History. On the other hand, saying that a Master’s degree doesn’t add a pinch of salt which then ends up benefiting a student, well, that sounds also weird, especially when we know that today’s BS/BA’s are a bit watered down.

I have no idea of what Secretary Duncan thinks. I just tend to believe that we need very well prepared teachers in their own disciplines, and that preparation cannot usually be obtained at the Bachelor’s level. To achieve the deepness of thought needed in one specific discipline, one must look into graduate studies in the disciplines. Plus, teachers must teach in the same area they studied. Of course, Duncan believes the States can save some money this way.

Actually, thanks to Zemanta’s automated related stories, I found out that Secretary Duncan refers to a study done by professor Dan Goldhaber in 1997 which has shown that “students of teachers with master‘s degrees show no better progress in student achievement.” {It’s on the Huffington Post article cited at the end of this post.}

Which adds a whole new angle: Why do we tend to give such a big importance to quasi-scientific social studies? You know, those studies according to which you find pretty dandy causal correlation “results” after sampling a specific population. Except you can never, ever isolate the many variables and be actually sure of the causal relationship! I don’t know for sure this is the case at hand, but come on, a proposition like that, referring to dubious research, calls for dubious analysis! Last, again: what sorts of “student achievements” are we talking? The PISA results that show the US so much behind the rest of the western and eastern worlds?

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About Antonio Vantaggiato

Professor, web2.0 enthusiast, and didactic chef.
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3 Responses to Teachers’ Education

  1. Prometeo says:

    There is certainly a correlation otherwise I wouldn't be teaching today. But spending more time inside an academical institution is not a guarantee that the teacher will be “better”.

  2. antoniovantaggiato says:

    Hey Prometeo, thanks for your comment!
    I agree: specifically Degrees are not an assurance of anyone's preparation -lest of his behavior; however, a teacher's “performance”, as you call it, is certainly (strongly) correlated to her depth of knowledge of the discipline she is teaching, wouldn't you say?

  3. Prometeo says:

    Whoever thought that a teacher's Degree of education has anything to do with his/her performance on the academical level is equating an academic degree with quasi-magical properties. A teachers performance is determined by the unique circumstances surrounding his teaching environment.

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