Walter E. Williams
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American education is in a sorry state of affairs, and there's enough blame for all participants to have their fair share. They include students who are hostile and alien to the education process, uninterested parents, teachers and administrators who either are incompetent or have been beaten down by the system, and politicians who've become handmaidens for teachers unions. There's another education issue that's neither flattering nor comfortable to confront and talk about. That's the low academic preparation of many teachers. That's an issue that must be confronted and dealt with if we're to improve the quality of education. Let's look at it.

Schools of education, whether graduate or undergraduate, tend to represent the academic slums of most college campuses. They tend to be home to students who have the lowest academic achievement test scores when they enter college, such as SAT scores. They have the lowest scores when they graduate and choose to take postgraduate admissions tests -- such as the GRE, the MCAT and the LSAT.

The California Basic Educational Skills Test, or CBEST, is mandatory for teacher certification in California. It's a joke. Here's a multiple-choice question on its practice math test: "Rob uses 1 box of cat food every 5 days to feed his cats. Approximately how many boxes of cat food does he use per month? A. 2 boxes, B. 4 boxes, C. 5 boxes, D. 6 boxes, E. 7 boxes." Here's another: "Which of the following is the most appropriate unit for expressing the weight of a pencil? A. pounds, B. ounces, C. quarts, D. pints, E. tons." I'd venture to predict that the average reader's sixth-grader could answer each question. Here's a question that is a bit more challenging; call your eighth-grader: "Solve for y: y - 2 + 3y = 10, A. 2, B. 3, C. 4, D. 5, E. 6."

Some years ago, the Association of Mexican American Educators, the California Association for Asian-Pacific Bilingual Education and the Oakland Alliance of Black Educators brought suit against the state of California and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, charging that the CBEST was racially discriminatory. Plaintiff "evidence" was the fact that the first-time passing rate for whites was 80 percent, about 50 percent for Mexican-Americans, Filipinos and Southeast Asians, and 46 percent for blacks. In 2000, in a stroke of rare common sense, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found CBEST not to be racial discriminatory.

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Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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