Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How the education system works

A former Oceanside CA high school teacher explains how the school system has worked for the past half century:
John Corcoran graduated from college and taught high school for 17 years without being able to read, write or spell.

Corcoran's life of secrecy started at a young age. He said his teachers moved him up from grade to grade. Often placed in what he calls the "dumb row," the images of his tribulations in the classroom are still vividly clear. ....

Corcoran later attended Palo Verde High School in Blythe, Calif. He cheated his way through high school, receiving his diploma in June 1956. ....

Corcoran earned an athletic scholarship to Texas Western College.... In 1961, Corcoran graduated with a bachelor's degree in education, while still illiterate he contends. He then went on to become a teacher during a teacher shortage.

"When I graduated from the university, the school district in El Paso, where I went to school, gave almost all the college education graduates a job," said Corcoran. ....

For 17 years Corcoran taught high school for the Oceanside School District. Relying on teacher's assistants for help and oral lesson plans, he said he did a great job at teaching his students.

A recent study finds that education colleges often have far more courses on "multiculturalism" than on math which might help explain (a) how an illiterate could get an education degree, and (b) how it is that his fellow teachers didn't notice.

UPDATE: This page has been blessed with an Instapundit link and a South Dakota Politics link. Visitors, please feel free to wander over to the main page.

RELATED (2008-Dec): Education Trust has found that many public school math teachers know little about math. (Hat tip: NoGirleMen)


Radish said...

I notice it doesn't say what subject(s) he taught. You don't need a lot of reading or writing for Phys Ed...

Dave said...

Seems like an illiterate would have a harder time in multicultural classes. My dad can't read, but he can do math. I'd say he'd have a hard time with Derrida and Foucault. Especially if he had to read them in French. Further, your "study" seems to imply that UCLA only has 3 math classes. I guess they don't teach any calculus at UCLA, and I suppose differential equations is right out. Rubic's cube..yes...Hilbert's

Hey, guess what I did last year? I taught, and I can tell you that teachers, in my experience, which is definitely a larger sample than your 1, are not stupid.

The system is screwed up. If you've ever studied applied stastics, you'd know that 85% of the error is in the system.

Considering how diverse our populations are, we are doing great. We lead the world for a reason: the huddled masses come here for a better life, and we give that to them. We don't assign you a "stupid" label and make you go to ditch digger school like a lot of other countries.

I love America. I got a great education. We had an awesome gifted program at Valley View Elementary School in Cleveland, TN. It was called "the library".

You might try reading the studies you cite a bit more carefully and giving some thought as to what they mean.

Three math classes at UCLA? Really? Do I need to verify this or will you own up and admit that's a plain stupid thing to assert?

This kind of crap makes me want to vote for the politics of hope. Haha, not.

Anonymous said...

Of course UCLA has math courses. It's the ED school that was the subject of the study. Most ED schools are math adverse, and really, really don't want their institution's math departments having any influence on math ED requirements.

lpdbw said...


Sounds like you may be one of the good ones.

Don't let that stop us from changing the broken system. As an engineer, I know the following: If you can't measure it, it ain't Engineering. Test the kids, test the teachers, see whether they can at least "teach to the test". Then go beyond that. Anything else is art, not science, not engineering.

Re: 3 math classes. I went to a land-grant university and left with a Computer Science degree, field of emphasis: Math. My final year, I was curious: If I had gone instead to the "other side" of campus, Liberal Arts, could I have achieved a Math degree with my 33 Semester Hours of Math? All Engineers had to have at least 13 hours, assuming they had Trig before they came.

I was surprised to notice that I could have achieved a Math Education degree with just 11 hours of Math. 3 Courses, that was.

Dave said...

Dear anonymous (if that's your name),

According to the study cited:
"And at UCLA, a whopping 47 course titles and descriptions contain the word 'multiculturalism' or 'diversity,' while only three contain the word 'math,'..."

And yet, according to the UCLA web page, "Mathematics for Teaching", 24 math courses are required for the degree, and that is two more than is required for the straight math degree. No, I ain't much of a reader nor a mathemagician bein' one them there teachers and all, but I sez 24 is a damn sight more than 3.

Dave said...


Care to provide a link to your school? I'm not accusing you of making it up, I'd just like to see if such a crazy thing is possible. At Tennessee Tech, the teachers usually took more subject area classses than the majors did. That's why my BS meter went off.

Here's that UCLA got cut:

Dave said...

shtml on the end of course. Blah.

I'm ok with vouchers.

Three in a row sucks. I appoint myself moron of the day.

Anonymous said...

Dave says "24 math courses are required for the degree" - which is quite an overstatement. Using the link he provides, I counted the courses - but only the ones which are "math courses". I.e. courses in history of math and teaching of math don't count! Programming, physics, and statistics (other than probability) also don't count.

Bottom Line - 15 courses.

John said...

Radish: According to this site, he taught social studies, bookkeeping, and PE. So you were at least one third right.

Dave: (a) I know that there are good teachers and that they work very hard and are not stupid. (b) The University of Arkansas study specifically about education schools as opposed to, say, undergrad math majors. After a quick search, I found the curriculum for the UCLA Teacher Education Program here. See how many math courses, as opposed to multiculturalism courses, that you can find.

P.S. Dave, you do sound like you would be a good and very entertaining teacher.

Dave said...

Thank you. There should be 0 math courses in any math education program. Good educators know that expertise in education is not expertise in math. That's why teachers must fulfill a subject area component to achieve a degree and licensure in the states I know of. If you read carefully the link you provide, you will note that the degree is incomplete without either taking 80% of the math major courses or passing two exams that show competencies in those areas.

Schools of education such as Peabody at Vanderbilt, do not teach math. They let their colleagues in the math department teach math to the Math Ed majors.

That's how it's done.

Thanks again for your comments. Please don't hesitate to say more nice things about me. Or argue. But I prefer the former.

Finally, as to "The Jackal" (anon), you sure got me. No way does physics or computer science have anything to do with math. Might as well be learning that multiculturalism as opposed to converting octal, hexadecimal, decimal, and binary back and forth. Nor are the decision structures in any way related to Godel, Hilbert, or Russell. And math in Physics? Insane. It's all interprative Physics these days. Postmodern gravitational quanta enforcing a white male's Kekule-like dream.

Anyway, 15 classes still proves me right. That's almost a major.

Good day.

Anonymous said...

Gosh. You folks are being silly.

This story is about tricking the system in 1961. I had some of these non-teachers in elementary school. It was pretty shocking, but bear in mind that the standard teacher education through the 1930's (covering many mid-career ElEd's of the early 60's) was a two-year Normal College; school boards didn't see much difference between that and completion of the second year of a four-year program. So the crisis depicted was in bloom over 40 years ago. Some of you are complaining about your parents' education, during the New Frontier and Great Society.

A lot of teachers are stupid, and venal to boot--much like bankers, pundits and the kid at McDonald's--but they do not set education policy. That's done by professional administrators, an over-mathed and buzz-bespoken lot who can't back a tax levy without regression to statistical analysis. A few functional illiterates in that field wouldn't hurt us a bit.

John said...

Dave, I got as far as investigating one of those tests: the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET). Their subject matter requirements are found here. The math requirements, in particular details here (PDF), range from algebra to geometry to calculus. In other words, the requirement is purely a high school level of knowledge. Nothing in the test appeared to require any college level knowledge, let alone 80% of a major. This is consistent with my observations in school that a number of teachers (not all, and certainly not you!) knew no more about the subject they taught than the students in their class.

In my humble opinion, they would have been better teachers if they had taken more courses in their subject even if it meant that they had to give up some "multiculturalism" studies.

Anon: The CSET requirements above are today's requirements, not the New Deal's.

Anonymous said...

"athletic scholarship"

That says it all.

lpdbw said...


University of Illinois, mid 1970's.

I just spent a little while on their website, and today it looks like you need about 2 "quantitive reasoning" courses for a Liberal Arts degree in education. Meteorology counts.

Math education may, in fact, require more math now than I recall. Certainly, their website suggests you should have more.

Dave said...

It says you have to pass 80% of the course work or two of the three tests in order to student teach.

However, you cite the "study" to show how it's possible for an illiterate person to teach public school.

But this study uses an invalid methodology.

Do you really think that an illiterate person could pass that cset exam? I mean normally, say 95%of the illiterate people who try it?

But, are you REALLY REALLY saying that the reason we have such poor teachers is because of our colleges? The entire reason we use exams to allow teachers into the field is because so few apply. If you have a math degree, you're pursuing a Ph.D, or else making the big bucks in industry. Also, if you have a math degree, you aren't qualified to teach math in the states I'm aware of. That's not the fault of higher education, though I don't know why I'm defending those bastards.

Surely, you'd want to think that privatizing the school system and offering choices to parents would rapidly bring market forces to bear on the problem and solve it?


And let me ask you this, to back up radish, and dispense with some of this credentialism. What if the illiterate teacher knows history and geography like I know the layout of the local Chinese buffet? Suppose he can credit your bills and debit your cash with the best of them? And if he can totally kick your ass on the flag football field, why can't he teach?

You're not caught in the grips of the PhD Octopus are you?

Hey, this is fun btw. Thanks for hosting it. I'll check out the rest of your blog, but try to be more like the wise old owl.

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