Education professors are "out of sync" with public school teachers and the public on fundamental issues like what and how teachers should teach, according to a survey by a nonpartisan New York-based research group, Public Agenda.
The survey, released last fall, found the professors put their priorities on "teaching kids to be active learners," not on classroom discipline and stressing basics like punctuation and grammar.By contrast, earlier surveys by the group found that teachers and the public put basic reading, writing and math skills, along with discipline, ahead of "curiosity and a love of learning."
The professors concurred with teachers, students and the public on several other issues, such as the need to toughen academic standards. But they disagreed on how those higher standards ought to be measured. The professors resoundingly rejected the use of standardized tests to gauge students' academic achievement and, unlike teachers and the public, said students should not be held back if they failed to demonstrate mastery of certain skills.
The survey of 900 professors in undergraduate and graduate education programs comes as schools of education around the country, responding to a wave of public school retirements and enrollment growth, prepare to turn out some 2 million new teachers over the next decade.
"As you listen to teachers of teachers, it becomes clear that they approach education with the idea of every student being a lover of learning, and they have an idealized vision of what teaching should be," said Deborah Wadsworth, the executive director of Public Agenda. "They need at least to consider the views of those who are experiencing public education on a daily basis and consider whether or not they are arming graduates of their programs for the real world that they face."
She added, "It really is out of sync with the needs expressed by the other groups."
Some education professors said the Public Agenda findings reflect another gulf - that between the latest research by education scholars on how children learn, and what teachers and parents believe about how children learn.
For instance, research shows that putting students of varying abilities in the same classes does not hurt fast learners and can help slow learners, said Dr. Arthur E. Levine, the president of Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. More than half of the academics favored such mixed groupings, compared to only a third of the public, and 40 percent of teachers.
"What this shows," Levine said, "is a failure to get basic research in the hands of parents and the public."
Still, Levine said he agreed with some of Public Agenda's conclusions.
"I think education schools have too often become ivory towers," he said. "They have modeled themselves after graduate schools of arts and sciences rather than professional schools."
Susan H. Fuhrman, the dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said that public opinion and current educational research are at odds because some education issues, such as holding back students, have become politicized in recent years. In the Public Agenda survey, fewer than half of the professors said students should be promoted from elementary to junior high school on the basis of test scores alone, compared with 70 percent of the public.
"Both sides are out of touch with each other," Fuhrman said.
When asked in the survey to describe the "absolutely essential" qualities they sought to impart to prospective teachers, more than 80 percent of the professors pointed to educators who themselves are "lifelong learners," willing to constantly update their skills and "being committed to teaching kids to be active learners."
Nearly two-thirds of the professors said they believed that the reason children become disruptive in class is probably because teachers fail to engage them. Only about a third of the professors said it was "absolutely essential" to train teachers in maintaining classroom discipline.
By contrast, public school teachers identified classroom discipline as among their top concerns in an earlier survey by Public Agenda; 88 percent favored ejecting trouble-makers from their classes, and 84 percent favored expelling students who bring drugs or weapons to school.
More than three-fourths of education professors rejected multiple-choice exams, based on the belief that standardized tests do not demonstrate learning. By contrast, only 47 percent of teachers said they wanted to replace multiple-choice tests with essays. Levine noted that multiple-choice tests are far easier for teachers to grade.
In the survey, a vast majority of education professors also expressed concern about the quality of college students pursuing education degrees, particularly those who had trouble with grammar and spelling.
In previous surveys, public school students have expressed reservations about their teachers. In 1995, for instance, less than a fourth of public high school students said they believed that most of their teachers cared about them; by contrast, twice as many private school students said they felt the same way.
In addition, a majority of public high school students said they could do better in school if they tried, and only a third said that most of their teachers made learning "fun and interesting."
Sandra Feldman of the American Federation of Teachers said that she was not surprised by the Public Agenda findings.
"Teachers always report that their college education hasn't prepared them for the realities of the classroom," she said.
The professors surveyed were evenly split between men and women; 91 percent were white, 4 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Asian-American.