That’s the big subtext of a new study by the University of Missouri’s Cory Koedel, which finds that students in schools of education in public universities receive significantly higher grades than students in other academic disciplines at those universities.
For the study, Koedel, an assistant professor of economics, looked at administrative grade reports from the 2007-08 school year from three undergraduate education programs, at Indiana University, Bloomington; Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio; and the University of Missouri, in Columbia. He compared the distributions of classroom-level grades awarded by the department of education to the distributions in 12 other academic disciplines, including math and science departments, social science departments, and humanities departments.
Across the three universities, he found that the classroom-level average GPA of students in the education departments was 0.5 to 0.8 grade points higher than students in the other departments—from half to nearly a full letter-grade higher, in other words.
To show that these patterns aren’t due to some kind of selection fluke, he also looked at a sample of grade distributions from 10 other unidentified public universities. They had a similar spike at the high end of the grading scale, for a total course average of 3.6, solidly in “A-" territory. And he ran a few other checks to make sure other factors, such as smaller class sizes, weren’t biasing the results.
“The GPA gaps do not appear to be explained by differences in student quality across departments, nor are they driven by the fact that classes in education departments are typically smaller,” Koedel writes. “The remaining explanation is that the higher GPAs in education classes are the result of low grading standards in education departments.”
He acknowledged, though, that some education professors may have teaching philosophies that helped lead to the higher grades (i.e., a competency-based approach that seeks to get all teacher candidates to a certain level of skill.) Also, some practice-based courses are graded pass/fail, though that didn’t really affect the findings in the case of the University of Missouri.
If this grade inflation is indeed legit, does it matter? Possibly, he theorizes. If anyone can get good grades, then the discipline’s prestige is lower. And it also sends potentially inaccurate information to the teacher candidates, and to districts who hire them.
Do you agree with Koedel’s conclusions, or can you think of alternative explanations for the findings? Comments section is open, as always.
Hat tip to the National Council on Teacher Quality, which featured the study on its new blog.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.