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Want a 3.8 GPA? Major in Education

There are perennial concerns about the rigor and quality of teacher preparation. These have become so familiar that education programs have taken to shrugging off the critiques as uninformed or anecdotal. Well, University of Missouri economist Cory Koedel has provided some new, clear, and pretty troubling evidence.

In a new study, he compares grade distribution in education departments to that in 12 other university departments. Turns out that education faculty are much more generous when it comes to grading.

Koedel compares the distribution of course grades at two state flagship universities, Indiana University and the University of Missouri. At both, the average GPAs for the other 12 majors were roughly similar, while education stood as a stark outlier. The average education GPA was 3.66 at Indiana University and 3.8 at Missouri.

At Missouri, he reports that “every single student received an A (that is, 4.0) in one out of every five undergraduate education classes.” One possible explanation is that all of the most accomplished students are majoring in education. However, rendering that explanation somewhat less likely, Koedel notes that education majors “score considerably lower than students in other academic departments on college-entrance exams.”

How much does all this matter? Koedel suggests the answer is “a lot.”

He argues that grade inflation leads to reduced effort in college, and that education departments are contributing to the culture of low standards for educators.

For all the fanciful talk about clinical preparation, it’d be nice to see the nation’s teacher-prep programs finally decide to get serious about insisting on some minimal rigor. A half-century of tolerating mediocrity really should be enough.

—Rick Hess


Fighting Obesity When Schools Are Strapped for Cash

It’s no secret that this country is facing an obesity epidemic of epic proportions. It’s also no secret that schools have been forced to cut back on spending, and that many of those cuts target athletics and after-school programs.

At the recent Childhood Obesity Prevention Summit in Washington, sponsored by Leadership for Healthy Communities, experts talked a lot about keeping students active—and learning at the same time.

Physical activity is a “wonder drug,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Kids who get physical activity learn better. Their brains work better.”

Extra physical activity doesn’t necessarily need to be physical education classes held at the expense of other subjects, noted Dr. Jim Sallis, the director of Active Living Research. Dr. Sallis suggested that schools work more intently on integrating physical activity into day-to-day classroom activities.

There’s data to back up his suggestion: A Charleston, S.C., elementary school boosted test scores by 13 percentage points after combining physical activity with traditional classroom instruction, according to a study from earlier this year.

Susan Cooper, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, also had a suggestion for persuading lawmakers to take action on childhood obesity. Make the data “visual,” she said: Don’t just tell policymakers statistics like “one in three students will get diabetes”—pull three students out and demonstrate it. Giving statistics a “face” has an impact.

—Bryan Toporek

Vol. 31, Issue 04, Page 14

Published in Print: September 21, 2011, as Blogs of the Week
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