AEI: Education Majors Have High Grades, Low Standards

A new publication by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research shows that students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline, writes its author Cory Koedel.

In the publication Koedel points out that the higher grades for these specific students cannot be explained by observable differences in student quality between education majors and other students, nor can they be explained by the fact that education classes are typically smaller than classes in other academic departments, AEI says.

The remaining reasonable explanation, Koedel has deduced, is that the higher grades in education classes are the result of low grading standards.

“These low grading standards likely will negatively affect the accumulation of skills for prospective teachers during university training. More generally, they contribute to a larger culture of low standards for educators.”

The publication – “Outlook” – shows that grades awarded in university education departments are consistently higher than grades in other disciplines.

A 2009 report from the New Teacher Project shows that teachers in K-12 schools receive overwhelmingly positive performance evaluations. The report has brought much-needed attention to the low evaluation standards for K-12 teachers. This publication examines the standards by which prospective teachers are evaluated during university training.

Koedel shows that the favorable grades awarded in education classes cannot be attributed to student quality or structural factors like smaller classes.

“Education majors score considerably lower than students in other academic departments on college entrance exams, and although education classes are typically smaller than other classes, this structural difference does not explain the grading discrepancy.”

However, one notable difference between education departments and other major departments at universities is that virtually all graduates from education departments move into a single sector of the labor market — education.

If the education sector is less effective at identifying low-quality graduates than are other sectors of the labor market, this would help explain why professors in education departments are able to consistently award A grades to most students, writes Koedel.

To Koedel, the fundamental problem is simple: there is no pressure from competitive markets in education. The solution, as with any market failure, is external intervention. Two external forces with the potential to meaningfully intervene are university administrators and external accountability measures in K-12 schools.