Rick Hess: "Don't Blow Up Schools of Ed"

I originally launched this blog calling it Starting An Ed School.  That's what my colleagues and I were doing at the time, trying to create one. 

Then Match began doing more things, like starting an ELL-focused school; some tutoring partnerships with large districts; a blended-learning school, etc.  And our Ed School was approved, so we were no longer starting one.

So we changed the blog name. 

But we remain quite interested in all things Ed School.  And one of my favorite provocative thinkers, Rick Hess of AEI, wrote a must-read blog

For two decades, I've attended conclaves where impassioned reformers have declared that "We've got to blow up the ed schools." Now, given that I graduated from a school of education (and have taught at a few of them), I understand the frustration. Hell, I've had more than my share of bruises from ed schools--involving everything from being boycotted to being labeled an "enemy of public education." But I also think the "blow 'em up" response has been misguided and counterproductive.

Rick continues: 

....As a rule, education school faculty display strong biases on questions like accountability, use of monetary incentives, and school choice. Those who see things differently have responded by starting nonprofits and small businesses to train principals and superintendents, relying on think tanks and advocacy groups to spread their ideas. But, importantly, I think the absence of competing voices in ed schools is less a matter of any grand conspiracy than convenience, routine, and groupthink. And that means there's a lot of opportunity to do something about it.

Rick is trying to solve an Ideas problem.  Groupthink, biases, few competing voices.  I agree this is a concern.  Rick looks to law school changes.  He describes 3 large strategies over the last 30 years to diversify the ideas exchanged there.  Then he explains how that might work in Ed Schools:

One is the Federalist Society model, which entails launching an organization to help ensure that junior faculty and graduate students in schools of education encounter different thinking and have the opportunity to take its tenets seriously. There's a ready array of relatively inexpensive complementary investments in campus chapters, including scholarships, post-doctoral fellowships, and conferences.

A second strategy is the "law and economics" model: endow new faculty chairs, create lecture series, and fund new instructional programs....Indeed, recent ventures like Harvard's Strategic Data Project and Stanford's Center for Education Policy Analysis show that it's possible to launch initiatives that remain admirably free from convention and committed to empirical rigor.

The George Mason model entails founding new institutions. One tack involves building start-ups like the Relay Graduate School of Education or the High Tech High Graduate School of Education from tightly focused teacher prep programs into something much more akin to a full-service education school.

It's a great column. 

Rick is addressing an Ideas problem.  But - you knew there was a "but"...

Most Ed Schools are 2 things, right?  Teacher Prep.  And Everything Else (including ed policy).  Teacher Prep cross-subsidizes Everything Else. 

Teacher Prep is not effective by almost anyone's reckoning.  When people discuss, to use Rick's term, blowing up Ed Schools, I think they mean overcoming an institutional defiance to any meaningful change in Teacher Prep. 

Here's my question for Rick. 

Have any of these 3 legal efforts solved a very different problem, which is law schools graduate many rookie lawyers who aren't very good at being lawyers? 

From what I've read from various legal commentators and from the recent law grads (and everyone I've spoken to personally who runs District Attorney offices or law firms), that answer is no.  Here's the NY Times take.  It's called "What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering."

Law schools may be more open to conservatives and to competing ideas than 3 decades ago.  It's not clear that they are any better at training lawyers. 

Which is one reason, ahem, some scholars argue we should Blow Up The Law Schools