City Journal.
City Journal Winter 2008.
City Journal Winter 2008.
Table of Contents
A quarterly magazine of urban affairs, published by the Manhattan Institute, edited by Brian C. Anderson.

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Soundings.
Adding Up to Failure
Ed schools put diversity before math.

A good education requires balance. Students should learn to appreciate a variety of cultures, sure, but they also need to know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Judging from the courses that the nation’s leading education colleges offer, however, balance isn’t a goal. The schools place far more emphasis on the political and social ends of education than on the fundamentals.

To determine just how unbalanced teacher preparation is at ed schools, we counted the number of course titles and descriptions that contained the words “multiculturalism,” “diversity,” “inclusion,” and variants thereof, and then compared those with the number that used variants of the word “math.” We then computed a “multiculturalism-to-math ratio”—a rough indicator of the relative importance of social goals to academic skills in ed schools. A ratio of greater than 1 indicates a greater emphasis on multiculturalism; a ratio of less than 1 means that math courses predominate. Our survey covered the nation’s top 50 education programs as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, as well as programs at flagship state universities that weren’t among the top 50—a total of 71 education schools.

The average ed school, we found, has a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 1.82, meaning that it offers 82 percent more courses featuring social goals than featuring math. At Harvard and Stanford, the ratio is about 2: almost twice as many courses are social as mathematical. At the University of Minnesota, the ratio is higher than 12. And at UCLA, a whopping 47 course titles and descriptions contain the word “multiculturalism” or “diversity,” while only three contain the word “math,” giving it a ratio of almost 16.

Some programs do show different priorities. At the University of Missouri, 43 courses bear titles or descriptions that include multiculturalism or diversity, but 74 focus on math, giving it a lean multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 0.58. Penn State’s ratio is 0.39. (By contrast, the ratio at Penn State’s Ivy League counterpart, the University of Pennsylvania, is over 3.) Still, of the 71 programs we studied, only 24 have a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of less than 1; only five pay twice as much attention to math as to social goals.

Several obstacles impede change. On the supply side, ed-school professors are a self-perpetuating clique, and their commitment to multiculturalism and diversity produces a near-uniformity of approach. Professors control entry into their ranks by determining who will receive the doctoral credential, deciding which doctoral graduates get hired, and then selecting which faculty will receive tenure. And tenured academics are essentially accountable to no one.

On the demand side, prospective teachers haven’t cried out for more math courses because such courses tend to be harder than those involving multiculturalism. And the teachers know that their future employers—public school districts—don’t find an accent on multiculturalism troubling. Because public schools are assured of ever-increasing funding, regardless of how they do in math, they can indulge their enthusiasm for multiculturalism, and prospective teachers can, too.

Accrediting organizations also help perpetuate the emphasis on multiculturalism. In several states, law mandates that ed schools receive accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). NCATE, in turn, requires education programs to meet six standards, one entirely devoted to diversity, but none entirely devoted to ensuring proper math pedagogy. Education schools that attempt to break from the cartel’s multiculturalism focus risk denial of accreditation.

Ensuring quality math instruction is no minor matter. The Programme for International Student Assessment’s latest results paint a bleak picture: U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 24th out of 30 industrial countries in math literacy, tying Spain and surpassing only Greece, Italy, Portugal, Mexico, and Turkey, while trailing Iceland, Hungary, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and all of our major economic competitors in Europe and Asia.

The issue isn’t whether we should be teaching cultural awareness in education colleges or in public schools; it’s about priorities. Besides, our students probably have great appreciation already for students from other cultures—who’re cleaning their clocks in math skills, and will do so economically, too, if we don’t wise up.

Jay P. Greene is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is also the endowed head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, where Catherine Shock is a research associate.

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