The Decline of Ed Schools: Ten Questions and Answers

1. Does America need education schools?  Should steps be taken to defund or eliminate them?

America does not now need education schools.  They add little and cost a great deal. They are unable to attract talented entrants and fail to add value to their graduates (either by boosting teacher performance or teacher’s lifetime incomes).  Graduate students who attend them have to forego significant amounts of income. Today, ed schools face an increasing number of attractive, lower-priced, online competitors.

2. How many U.S. ed schools are currently operating?

U.S. News and World Reports estimates that in 2009 there are 278 education schools, 187 public and 91 private. (This may be a conservative number, as it omits those that failed to respond to questionnaires related to the rankings developed by U.S. News.)

3. How many degrees do ed schools issue per year?

A great many.  In 2007, almost 200,000 education degrees were awarded:105,641 bachelors degrees, 76,572 masters degrees, and 8, 261 doctoral degrees.  Masters and doctoral degrees in education meet or exceed all other categories of graduate degrees. (According to the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education)


4. How high are the academic skills of ed school students relative to those of other professionals?

Low.  The College Entrance Examination Board reports that students pursuing graduate degrees in education had a GRE Verbal score mean of 449 and a mean GRE Quantitative score of 533, for a combined total of 982. This puts ed school students at the 40th percentile of test takers, lower than students intending graduate study in all other professional fields (including business, engineering, and health).



5. What is the direct cost of ed school degrees to enrollees? What is the foregone income of enrollees? How much does it cost to operate education schools?

A conservative estimate of ed school tuition payments made annually is $1.283 billion. [This estimate assumes that three quarters of our nation’s 100,000 undergraduate ed school enrollees are paying in-state public college and university tuition and related fees of $10,260, and the other one quarter of undergraduates in ed schools are paying out-of-state or private school tuition and fees  ($18,303). It also assumes that similar proportions of graduate students in ed schools are paying in-state ($507) and out- of state/private ($703) tuition for 6 credit hours each.]

The income foregone by students attending ed schools amounts to approximately $1.2 billion.  [This assumes that only graduate students forego income to attend ed schools, that only half of ed school students at the graduate level attend full time, and that these students would otherwise earn an average salary of $30,000.]

If tuition is taken to be fifty percent of college operating costs, then ed schools can conservatively be estimated to spend $2.5 billion annually in direct operational expenditures.

6. What does it cost a student to obtain an education degree online?

Education degrees online range from $300 to $800 per credit.  Assuming thirty credits are required to obtain a degree, the cost would be $9,000 to $24,000 for a masters degree, and twice that for a doctoral degree.  The major cost advantage, however, for students pursuing education degrees online (when compared to students pursuing a conventional, on-campus education degree), comes because online students don’t have to give up their incomes and don’t have to absorb expenses like room and board and transportation.

7. Are online ed schools any good?

No one knows.  The performance of their graduates has not been systematically compared to those completing conventional ed school programs.

8. Don’t ed schools add value to graduates’ instructional capacity? Don’t ed schools contribute by undertaking valuable research?

No on both counts. Researchers (e.g., Hanushek and Rivkin) cannot discern a positive association between students’ academic achievement and their teachers’ post-BA course credits, degrees, or certificates.

Most education school faculty do not undertake research. Those who do are often ideologically, not scientifically, oriented. The few scholarly education schools, e.g., Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, and Wisconsin, that do conduct serious and useful research do not train many teachers.  Other highly visible education schools such as Harvard, Stanford, and University of Washington have forfeited much of their research agenda to other parts of their universities, e.g., econ departments, public policy schools, or university-based think tanks.  Finally, worthwhile education research is increasingly undertaken outside of universities altogether, in think tanks and shops such as RAND, AIR, AEI, and Mathematica, and in regional educational laboratories.

9. What is the long-term future of ed schools? Have any education schools disappeared already? What forces currently prop up ed schools? What political constituencies will defend education schools?

A few major institutions (i.e., Yale and Duke) have dropped their ed schools. Several other visible institutions (e.g., the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley) have marginalized education through budget deprivation. However, these examples are idiosyncratic.

Newly emerging conditions will more likely shape the future.  It is likely that the inability of ed schools to boost the economic well-being of graduates, their ineffectiveness in engendering professional competence, public low regard, the prospect of accountability, and the growth of online programs will gradually begin to erode ed schools’ market share.

Ed schools presently benefit from a lack of public accountability, low political visibility, public policy inertia, and iron triangle protectionism provided by self-interested coalitions of executive branch credentialing managers, teacher union officials attempting to restrain labor market entry, and a few aligned legislators.  If ever subjected to performance accountability, intense high politics, or partisan scrutiny, this protective shield would likely fade quickly.  Ed school alumnae are notorious for their disaffection from and disregard for their training institutions.

10. What possibly could change this scenario?

The development of a science of pedagogy would positively alter the above described scenario, and possibly preserve ed schools, but this development seems improbably.  Conversely, the demise of ed schools would be accelerated by any visible steps toward demanding public accountability of those schools, by evidence that online programs were equally or more effective, or by decreased state insistence upon formal credentials for entry into teaching.

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