The Sacramento Bee

Peter Schrag: Doctoring up the California State University

By Peter Schrag -- Bee Columnist

Published 2:15 am PDT Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Probably the last thing the civilized world needs is more people with doctorates in education. But this morning, barring unforeseen events, a legislative committee is likely to approve a bill giving CSU, the California State University, the authority to produce hundreds and maybe thousands more.

The wedge for the bill, SB 724 by Sen. Jack Scott, D-Altadena, is yet another travesty - the decision by ASHA, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, to stop certifying audiologists who don't have doctorates.

CSU trains most of the state's audiologists, the people who test for, and treat, hearing problems. It says that since ASHA won't recognize training programs that don't award the doctorate after 2007, it will need to follow suit if it's going to continue its programs. If it doesn't doctor-up, ASHA will yank its accreditation, and California will face a growing shortage of practitioners.

The University of California, which under the state's 45-year-old Master Plan has exclusive authority to award doctorates, doesn't train audiologists. The only exception is a joint CSU-UC program in San Diego.

ASHA is a private organization that, like similar groups in the past, is throwing its weight around to "upgrade" the profession, which means making entry into the club more difficult and thus driving up the pay and (maybe) the status of practitioners. If a nation of undertrained audiologists has indeed left millions of American patients with unnecessary hearing problems, that fact has been well concealed.

But the real danger is that the loose definitions of SB 724 open the door to doctorates in other fields, and does it without any systematic review of either need or costs. CSU has been straining to give doctoral degrees in "educational leadership" for some time. It claims that a 3-year-old arrangement for joint degree programs with UC has been unsatisfactory.

But does the state - indeed, does anyone - need thousands more people who have some sort of doctorate in education? Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, recently published a report concluding that many of the hundreds of programs out there now stink.

The people in school leadership jobs, says Levine - principals, superintendents - "must lead schools and school districts through the profound changes called for under state improvement plans and the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

"Yet many of the university-based programs designed to prepare the next generation of educational leaders are engaged in a counterproductive 'race to the bottom,' in which they compete for students by lowering admission standards, watering down course work and offering faster and less demanding degrees.

"This downward trend is exacerbated by state and school district policies that reward teachers for taking courses in administration whether or not the material is relevant to their work, and whether or not those courses are rigorous."

Many of the nation's 600 ed-admin programs, he says, suffer from "curricular disarray, low admission and graduation standards, weak faculty, inadequate clinical instruction, inappropriate degrees and poor research."

A properly structured master's in educational administration, in Levine's view, should be the "terminal degree" for an administrator to rise through the ranks. The Ed.D. should be eliminated for school leadership. The Ph.D. should be given only to prospective researchers.

Dave Spence, the academic vice president at CSU, believes his system, working closely with the schools, can do it better, avoiding Levine's list of pitfalls. Not surprisingly, the major school administrator group in California supports the proposal.

But given the widespread dissatisfaction with the training of administrators, and the many states that, in their frustration, have created alternative certification routes for school leaders, why open the doors so wide until there's some real showing that CSU can deliver? As a consultant's report pointed out, the bill before the Senate Education Committee is laced with flabby definitions and uncertain costs. It would allow CSU to award doctorates in "selected professional fields" without really defining what's included and what's not. Physical therapy is said to be next but the list of possibilities is endless.

CSU officials claim its doctoral programs would involve no additional costs, something that could only be achieved through high fees, inferior quality or cannibalizing existing programs, particularly those designed for CSU's prime mission, which is the education of undergraduates.

A lot of critics will charge, correctly, that SB 724 is a direct violation of the 1960 Master Plan. But its real sin is that it would surrender California education policy to pressure from a self-serving professional association - a trade monopoly - and create new programs with no independent assessment of the state's needs, either in the universities or in the schools.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has talked a lot about merit pay for teachers. If he really means it, he'll veto this bill, should it ever reach his desk. It seeks yet again to base credentials on highfalutin degrees that may have little or nothing to do with the competence of the people who are doing the job. The longer it takes to kill it, the bigger this monster will become.

About the writer:

* Peter Schrag can be reached at Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852-0779 or at