Sunday, March 11, 2001

Valley Edition

Valley Perspective

Just What the EDD Should Not be Ordering

A State so Sorely Lacking in Qualified Schoolteachers Hardly Needs a New Program to Lure Them Out of the Classroom


"He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches," goes the hoary adage of G. Bernard Shaw. Yet were the Irish-English writer around to ponder the disconnect between teacher training programs and the stark realities of our public schools, he might augment his dictum accordingly:

"And those who prefer neither doing nor teaching should get a doctorate in education."

That appears to be the message telegraphed by Cal State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed, who recently proposed creating an autonomous doctoral program in education at six CSU campuses, including Cal State Northridge.

The state currently allows only the University of California and private universities to authorize such a doctorate, one that Reed--and apparently nobody else--worries is on the back burner at UC.

Meanwhile, California lacks about 30,000 qualified K-12 teachers. Luring more instructors from the classroom by offering a part-time EdD program for working teachers seems just what the doctor should not be ordering.

It would, in fact, reinforce a conviction about another trend: that the more impractical one's educational pursuits and avoidance of students, the greater one's reward in terms of power, prestige and dollars.

How else to explain why doctored-up school district managers, consultants, college administrators, deans and presidents--who spend most of their time away from students--earn six-figure salaries that can be 10 times that of campus instructors?

Consider the case of Theodore Mitchell--the former dean and vaunted wunderkind of UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies who acknowledged ruefully in a Times profile a few years back that he had never been a public-school teacher.

Although his K-12 pedagogic virginity deprived the popular education reformer of first-hand knowledge about public-school realities, it hardly impeded his career as a teacher-training guru at UCLA, from whence he eventually ascended to the presidency of Occidental College.

Similarly, education professors supervising the teacher credential courses I once suffered through at CSUN fit into two categories: A) psychologists, sociologists and educators who had never worked in a public school and B) psychologists, sociologists and educators who had once worked in a public school and hated it.

That's akin to future doctors learning brain surgery from med school professors who have left their practices because they get squeamish around patients. No wonder 90% of the information disseminated by education schools is either irrelevant or just plain silly to those of us who actually work with kids.

Teachers tempted to spend their precious free time and hard-earned cash pursuing education doctorates know better than anyone that dissertation flatulence on syllabically distended topics like "theories of negative adolescent socialization" or the "demographics of social promotion" won't help teach kids how to read or write.

Indeed, the syntactically fractured title of Chancellor Reed's own EdD thesis says it all: "Doctoral Graduates in Education of the George Washington University."

An education doctorate is little more than an "E-ticket" to escape the classroom and ascend the ladder to the Ivory Tower, where children exist as mere statistical abstractions for manipulation by academic blowhards, bureaucrats and politicians.

With CSU certifying about 60% of state schoolteachers, struggling California schools would be better served by K-12 credential programs that focused on subject mastery and basic skills than by legions of Cal State EdD holders schmoozing and babbling their way to fame and fortune.

William Chitwood, a former junior high school teacher, is a, private-sector language arts instructor who lives in La Canada Flintridge