By Joe A. Silverman
It’s that time of the year again—high school seniors about to graduate and kiss their parents goodbye in the fall to head for college.
Given how some kids are today, and given how expensive college education is becoming, and amidst the deluge of worrying news in national and regional newspapers about college debt weighing on students and their parents, invariably some parents are starting to think about their kids’ prospects of actually graduating in four, five, or six years time. I can understand these parents’ concerns—graduating with a college degree under a mountain of debt is bad enough, not graduating with a degree under a mountain of debt is even more crushing. With the Obama economy being what it is, I feel you, parents–you want your kid to at least be able to graduate in four to six years.
So you worry that your child has low SAT scores, is not very motivated to do much work, doesn’t want to push himself hard in much of anything serious that he is supposed to do, is not known for his high school grades? What kind of major can your child choose so that given all these bad characteristics that he possesses, he will still have a reasonable chance of graduating with a degree four to six years from now?
Stop worrying. Because I have found a perfect solution for you. I not only have found your child a college major where your child can, given low SAT scores, have a reasonable chance of graduating, he will be graduating with about one full grade higher GPA than his more hardworking and smarter (higher SAT score) peers four to six years from now!
Said major is Education.
In other words, through this special magic tunnel called the “education department” found on most college campuses, you input low-quality students at one end of the tunnel, and four to six years later out walk high-GPA graduates at the other end of the tunnel.
According to the College Board’s ranking of the SAT scores of college-bound students grouped under their intended college majors, out of the 38 majors, education majors ranked – you guessed it – below average! More specifically, they ranked 26th. In other words, they ranked safely inside the bottom 32% of the college-bound students in terms of the aggregate SAT scores! (College Board’s 2010 College-Bound Seniors Report)
Now, if these low-caliber students with such low-SAT scores enter the education department and are required to study equally hard as their peers in other departments, and get an equally demanding education as their peers in other departments, then when they graduate you can be reasonably assured that they will (still) be at the bottom 32% among college graduates. But the real picture is much worse than that already dire situation! Because the education departments are below average in their demands of their students!
In his paper, “Grading Standards in Education Departments at Universities,” published in Education Policy Analysis Archives (2011) University of Missouri economist Cory Koedel found that at the three universities in his study, education majors are awarded “significantly higher” grades than students in every other department he studied (he compared education majors’ grades to those of students in twelve other departments), with 0.5 to 0.8 GPA differences. At his own University of Missouri, for example, the typical education major has a GPA of 3.80, compared to a 2.99 GPA for science, math and economics majors, 3.12 GPA for social science majors, and 3.16 GPA for humanities majors. In his study, Dr. Koedel found that the significant differential in grades cannot be explained by differences in student quality or differences in class size, leaving the only remaining explanation being “lower grading standards” or “grade inflation” at education departments (words and phrases inside the last three sets of quotation marks are the Missouri researcher’s own). The three universities the researcher studied were Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana), the University of Missouri (Columbia, Missouri) and our very own Miami University (Oxford, Ohio).
Dr. Koedel felt that the significant grade inflation in education departments has major implications because “the vast majority of education majors go on to work as classroom teachers.” He suggested the alarming possibilities that “the low grading standards (1) reduce human-capital accumulation during college for prospective teachers, (2) result in inaccurate performance signals being sent to students in education classes, and (3) affect evaluation standards for teachers in the workforce.”
The sadder thing is, such “grade inflation” in education departments in the nation’s colleges is not a phenomenon of recent years. As Dr. Keodel points out, as early as 1960, two researchers found that undergraduate students enrolled in classes taught in education departments were twice as likely to be granted an “A” when compared to their peers enrolled in classes taught in business or liberal arts departments (“Grading Practices in Undergraduate Education Courses: Are the Standards Too Low?” by Robert Weiss and Glen Rasmussen in The Journal of Higher Education, 1960). Apparently what was true in 1960 is still true today, and more likely than not, during the fifty years in between as well.