10.1.08

REVEALED PREFERENCES. A recent Investor's Business Daily article runs the numbers on catalog content in the colleges of education.
To determine just how unbalanced teacher preparation is at ed schools, we counted the number of course titles and descriptions that contained the words "multiculturalism," "diversity," "inclusion" and variants thereof, and then compared those with the number that used variants of the word "math." We then computed a "multiculturalism-to-math ratio" — a rough indicator of the relative importance of social goals to academic skills in ed schools. A ratio of greater than 1 indicates a greater emphasis on multiculturalism; a ratio of less than 1 means that math courses predominate.
That may not be the best way to tease out the underlying preferences, as there is no common property resource more aggressively fought over than ownership of a core course. Thus the college of education might -- by default? [Stop snarking] -- have ownership over the methods courses, many of which will have variants on "teaching in the multicultural classroom" (Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses?) or on "inclusion" (much of which is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and its ilk) and which need not necessarily be fifth-rate Paulo Freires bent on perpetuating the cycle of poverty by making ignorance strength. Meanwhile, the mathematics department might have enough allies in the curriculum committee (I am not making this up) to maintain ownership of the math methods course, and the aspiring teacher of mathematics might also do some learning by doing such as, oh, suffering with the engineers to prove the Mean Value Theorem and other great hits. (Check this out!) The article does not note whether, for example, Missouri-Columbia or Penn State's math departments lost ownership of the math courses while Pennsylvania's math department kept them.

The article also fails to recognize one reality of state-supported education.
On the demand side, prospective teachers haven't cried out for more math courses because such courses tend to be harder than those involving multiculturalism. And the teachers know that their future employers — public school districts — don't find an accent on multiculturalism troubling. Because public schools are assured of ever-increasing funding, regardless of how they do in math, they can indulge their enthusiasm for multiculturalism, and prospective teachers can, too.
I'll never lack for work. School superintendents continue to plead poverty, and school superintendents in districts that lose students often lose their jobs. (I'm not sure, at the margin, how many parents moved into the Milwaukee Hamilton district when they learned the school would have a planetarium, but I suggest that a district's performance in math matters.)

There well might be deficiencies in teacher preparation, particularly in rigorous fields including algebra (that's what "math" is in the common schools; "mathematics" properly construed comprises algebra, analysis, and logic) and the laboratory sciences. To lay it all off on faddish curricula, however, is unlikely to convince many people to revise their priors.

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