College Professor gets it wrong on K-12 teacher…… with State Representative Craig Ford


George Mason University economics professor Walter Williams has written an editorial where he insulted every school teacher and every university in the country – including the one that employs him – by claiming that, “With but a few exceptions, schools of education represent the academic slums of colleges,” and that “American education could benefit from eliminating schools of education.”
The only thing more frustrating than the arrogance behind these statements is ignorance in them, and I feel obligated to respond.
Professor Williams’ entire argument is based on his belief that “…there is a low academic quality of so many teachers.” He attempts to back this claim up by citing questions from teacher certification tests in Michigan and Arizona that he argues show that states set a low bar, and that even with a low bar many college graduates still fail the test.
The first problem with this argument is that he is making assumptions about university colleges of education based on certification tests that they aren’t responsible for writing.
Most state licensure exams are either written by private companies that have been contracted by the state or they are written by the state’s department of education. So why should we blame our universities for tests they are not responsible for creating?
The second problem with Professor Williams’ argument is his assumption that if the tests he cites ask basic level questions, then the various university colleges of education must only require basic level knowledge of those subjects.
But just because a state’s licensure exam requires only basic-level knowledge of core subjects doesn’t mean that our universities’ colleges of education don’t have higher standards.
And I’ll also point out that teachers don’t need to know higher-level material for every subject. For example, an elementary school teacher who only will be teaching basic math doesn’t need to know high levels of calculus.
And a high school history teacher doesn’t need to know the most advanced concepts in quantum physics any more than the physics teacher needs to be fluent in ancient Mesopotamian hi-story.
Professor Williams goes on to talk about the numbers of teachers who fail a portion of the licensure exams or have to take the exams multiple times before they pass.
But how many doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals fail their licensure exams one or more times before they finally pass? People fail tests for lots of reasons, but if you pass, then you’ve passed. Anyone who’s passed the exam knows the information, even if it took them a little longer to master it all.
Professor Williams uses this flawed logic to argue that we should do away with degrees in education and only hire people with degrees in the subject they want to teach.
This is one of those arguments that sounds reasonable until you think about it.
First, most education majors do have a minor or second major in the subject they want to teach. But just because you have a degree in math doesn’t mean that you can teach math.
Go ask any college freshman and he or she will tell you that they’ve had professors who were brilliant in their fields but couldn’t teach to save their lives.
And having a degree in English or biology doesn’t prepare you for the realities of teaching in the K-12 system. Professor Williams is used to university students who are motivated to learn (or they skip class entirely) and who are mostly well-behaved in a classroom. K-12 teachers often don’t have that luxury.
A math degree doesn’t prepare you for when students get into a fistfight in the lunchroom or how to handle a student who disre-spects you in front of the whole class. And a degree in literature doesn’t prepare you to help a student with a learning disability or who can’t read at their grade level.
Maybe a college economics professor can get by with only, “Pedagogical techniques [that] can be learned through short formal training, coaching and experience,” but teaching in K-12 requires more than that.
Professor Williams ends his argument by citing a pri-vate school headmistress who doesn’t hire education majors at her school. But that is not the case in almost every other private school.
Most private school tea-chers are retired public school teachers who have degrees in education. Many are still required by those private schools to pass the same state licensure exams and other certification tests that are required of public school teachers.
Professor Williams’ argument is as weak as it is insulting. He should stick to economics and leave K-12 education to the professionals.
Craig Ford represents Gads-den and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.

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