Dr. Matthew Ladner

Arthur Levine, former President of Columbia University’s Teachers College, has issued a no-holds barred critique of doctoral-level research in the nation’s colleges of education. The report is pretty long and technical, but the punch line is significant for both parents and policymakers.

The short story is that our colleges of education are giving Ph.D.s to researchers who aren’t qualified to hold a Ph.D. These people, in turn, are providing the research on which public school policy decisions and teacher training is based.

Levine surveyed deans, faculty, education school alumni, K-12 school principals, and reviewed 1,300 doctoral dissertations and finds the research seriously lacking. He ultimately recommends that policymakers close many doctoral programs at education colleges and instead suggests a two-year M.B.A. type of degree for would-be school administrators.

Just how bad is the quality of doctoral-level research in colleges of education? Levine’s review doesn’t pull any punches:

In general, the research questions were unworthy of a doctoral dissertation, literature reviews were dated and cursory, study designs were seriously flawed, samples were small and particularistic, confounding variables were not taken into account, perceptions were commonly used as proxies for reality, statistical analyses were performed frequently on meaningless data, and conclusions and recommendations were often superficial and without merit...

Frederick Hess, education policy director at the American Enterprise Institute, reported on papers presented by college of education faculty from around the country at their most recent national scholarly convention. Hess had more than a little fun with paper titles such as “Identity, Positioning, Knowledge, and Rhetoric in the Pedagogical Practices of Elderly African-American Bridge Players” and “The Educational Lives of Alaska Native Alumni of the University of Alaska-Anchorage.”

There were even papers on outer space, such as “Education Policy, Space, and the ‘Colonial Present.’” Beam me up, Scotty.

This might all go for a good laugh, if it weren’t for the fact that these are your tax dollars at work, and that college of education faculty have the rather serious task of training future teachers.

Dr. Matthew Ladner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute and an expert on educational reform and school choice. Dr. Ladner holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston.
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