Colleges of education instill in aspiring teachers the values and capabilities they want them to exhibit in the classroom. But what if those values and pedagogical approaches don’t serve students well? What if colleges of education are training teachers to impart divisive content and in particular critical race theory?
Colleges of education enjoy a long history of credentialing teachers in the United States. But today, many of those schools indoctrinate aspiring teachers in CRT, while doing little to boost actual effectiveness in the classroom.
At top-ranked colleges of education across the country, nearly half (48%) of faculty list race as a research interest or area of study. This is, of course, a fine area of focus. But as the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and I found, up to one-third of education school faculty who study race do so through the questionable lens of CRT.
When the teachers of teachers focus on how to “resist neoliberal logics that render math learning a stratifying project of race, class and gender in schools,” as one Berkeley associate professor does, it should come as no surprise that such approaches to math make their way into the K-12 classroom.
And could the misguided focus come at a worse time? The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress found that math scores for 9-year-olds fell seven points — the first decline ever recorded. Reading scores declined five points, the most dramatic decline in three decades.
These students were largely second graders when the pandemic began. They were largely shut out of in-person instruction for long periods at one of the most critical times for reading acquisition. Unfortunately, subpar academic outcomes, while deeply exacerbated by COVID, are nothing new.
And putting colleges of education in charge of teacher certification is not helping matters.
Research demonstrates there is little, if any, connection between teacher certification and student academic achievement. And the difference in outcomes between traditionally certified, alternatively certified, and uncertified teachers is negligible.
Differences in teacher effectiveness within these groups are large, however. “To put it simply,” concluded researchers Robert Gordon, Thomas J. Kane, and Douglas O. Staiger, “teachers vary considerably in the extent to which they promote student learning, but whether a teacher is certified or not is largely irrelevant to predicting his or her effectiveness.”
Prior to the 20th century, individuals in most professions (including teaching) gained education and experience through apprenticeships, rather than through college instruction. But, as Stanford University’s David Labaree explains, following a drive to “professionalize” teaching in the early 20th century and increasing state requirements for bachelor’s degrees, by the 1970s, teacher education had become a “wholly-owned subsidiary of the university.”
Today’s colleges of education have also influenced personnel in a way that cements critical race theory and associated ideas like radical gender ideology in K-12 instruction through districts’ hiring of chief diversity officers, or CDOs. Nearly 80% of the country’s largest K-12 school districts now employ CDOs, mirroring the trend of ever-increasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) faculty in higher education.
In both instances, DEI and CDO staff do not contribute to academic excellence or a more intellectually diverse and welcoming school climate. Rather, they can “be best understood as political activists who articulate and enforce an ideological orthodoxy” in schools across the country, according to the Heritage Foundation’s Jay Greene and James Paul.
States and school districts should break up with these ineffective and divisive institutions and remove requirements for certification conveyed largely through colleges of education. Instead, schools and school systems should be fostering alternative teacher certification routes and allowing for full reciprocity of teacher licensure — or ending licensure requirements altogether in favor of demonstrated expertise in the subject matter being taught.
The Heritage Foundation’s new Education Freedom Report Card measures how well states do in that regard. Florida is among the leaders, with 42% of teachers making their way to the classroom through alternative routes. Other states should follow suit. America’s students — and America’s teachers — would be better for it.
Lindsey M. Burke is the director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy.