Higher Education Needs a Complete Overhaul

In an article for today's FrontPage Magazine titled "Schools of Education: The Academic Slums," Walter Williams was right on the money.  Speaking about schools of education, he said,

"Education professors drum into students that they should not 'drill and kill' or be the 'sage on the stage' but instead be the 'guide on the side' who 'facilitates student discovery.' This kind of harebrained thinking, coupled with multicultural nonsense, explains today's education. During his teacher education, Sand says, 'teachers-to-be were forced to learn about this ethnic group, that impoverished group, this sexually anomalous group, that under-represented group, etc. -- all under the rubric of 'Culturally Responsive Education.'"

At the University of Virginia, we recognized this problem and required our teachers-to-be to earn an undergraduate degree in an academic field, and then apply to the education school for a master's degree if they wanted to teach our young people.  That may seem like an insignificant thing, but it's not.  Not long ago, students in schools of education learned only fluff before being awarded degrees, and I'm being kind. 

People with newly minted education degrees who knew precious little about history, science, math, or whatever descended on our public schools to "teach."  And what did they teach?  They taught what they knew, and they didn't know much.  The situation at colleges and universities today isn't as bad as it used to be because of changes like the ones we made at UVA, but it's still a problem, and our public schools are loaded with teachers who got their education degrees long before any changes were made.

That's helps to explain why Johnny can't read, Sally can't write, and Billy can't add and subtract.  As Williams makes clear in his article, many educators into whose hands we have placed the responsibility to teach our children can't read, write, and do math either, or if they can, they do it at such a low level of proficiency that they are an embarrassment.  Many of them have proven to be deft in some areas, though: union membership, union organizing, and picketing.  If it were not for those teachers unions that you hear so much about, many teachers in our public schools today would be looking for jobs, and with their skill levels they would be lucky to find gainful employment at McDonald's.

Don't expect President Obama to deal with this issue in his State of the Union speech tonight.  As Linda Chavez points out in her op-ed piece titled "Higher-Education Bubble is about Ready to Burst,"

"When President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address tonight, you can count on his making a big pitch for education. No president in recent memory has failed to tout expanded educational opportunity as the panacea for all that ails us -- and Obama has been the most passionate of pitchmen on the issue. In last year's speech, he said, 'Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.'"

Higher education needs a complete overhaul -- not just schools of education.  It's time for taxpaying citizens to demand performance from our colleges and universities and to hold them accountable for producing results.  As things stand now, they are too expensive, and far too many of our college graduates have proven that they can't compete at the global level.  That's why, for instance, the U.S. has been importing college graduates from other countries to fill high-tech jobs for more than a decade.  Stated simply, our colleges and universities aren't doing their jobs, and they should be forced to raise the bar.


Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia.  His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.  His latest book is titled If You Voted for Obama in 2008 to Prove You're Not a Racist, You Need to Vote for Someone Else in 2012 to Prove You're Not an Idiot.