November 2, 2007

A failing grade

The University of Chicago is often referred to as the “Teacher of Teachers.” U of C graduates tend to go into academia at much higher rates than do those at peer schools, and many of the ideas associated with the University—the “Life of the Mind,” “Chicago Math,” and “progressive education,” for example—are directly relevant to the challenges faced by America’s K–12 schools.

Having benefited from a great education, many Chicago students would appreciate the opportunity to introduce the next generation of students to the world of ideas. Unfortunately, their desire to do so runs headlong into a system that discourages them from teaching in public schools.

This was not always the case. John Dewey, arguably the greatest educational theorist of the 20th century, started the U of C’s School of Education in 1895. The program was allowed to deteriorate until it was finally shut down in 2001. Students in the College now have no way to earn teaching certification or study the discipline of education during their undergraduate years.

Each year, many U of C graduates enter Teach for America or other alternative certification programs. Such programs tend to send recent graduates to the toughest, most disadvantaged schools in the country, with minimal training. Although many graduates are able to rise to this challenge, the high turnover rate shows that these programs are not appropriate for everyone.

U of C students who want to teach generally must choose between alternative certification programs and graduate school in education. But the burden of student loans combined with relatively low teacher salaries often precludes the latter option. The current system encourages U of C students with a desire to teach to become investment bankers or consultants instead.

There is a growing consensus in American society that education at the K–12 level needs to be a top priority if American workers are to remain internationally competitive. America’s schools will continue to underperform if the best minds of our generation are turned away from the profession because of financial and practical constraints. As long as the University does not provide a way for students at the College to pursue certification as undergraduates, the University is part of the problem.

The administration should commission a study to determine the best way to reinvent the School of Education and make it one of the top programs in the country. This would fit comfortably with the University’s traditional focus on research and theory as well as with the administration’s goal of giving back to the community. It’s the least a place that preaches the merits of the “Life of the Mind” can do.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.