When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Marc Eisen:

Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Minnesota town are “above average.” Well, in the School of Education they’re all A students.
The 1,400 or so kids in the teacher-training department soared to a dizzying 3.91 grade point average on a four-point scale in the spring 2009 semester.
This was par for the course, so to speak. The eight departments in Education (see below) had an aggregate 3.69 grade point average, next to Pharmacy the highest among the UW’s schools. Scrolling through the Registrar’s online grade records is a discombobulating experience, if you hold to an old-school belief that average kids get C’s and only the really high performers score A’s.
Much like a modern-day middle school honors assembly, everybody’s a winner at the UW School of Education. In its Department of Curriculum and Instruction (that’s the teacher-training program), 96% of the undergraduates who received letter grades collected A’s and a handful of A/B’s. No fluke, another survey taken 12 years ago found almost exactly the same percentage.
A host of questions are prompted by the appearance of such brilliance. Can all these apprentice teachers really be that smart? Is there no difference in their abilities? Why do the grades of education majors far outstrip the grades of students in the physical sciences and mathematics? (Take a look at the chart below.)

The UW-Madison School of Education has no small amount of influence on the Madison School District.

  • Larry Winkler

    It might be interesting to balance this article on grade inflation with comments on other topics discussing the contentlessness of educational courses and how it might relate to how poor our schools are.
    There may not be any grade inflation; it may simply be an accurate reflection that what is being taught is so obvious that almost everyone already knows the material. There have been comments on this site consistent with this interpretation.
    More importantly, this being the case, it supports states’ efforts to take people from industry, give them a quick summer course on teaching and then send them into the classroom. It also supports efforts such as Teach for America which takes college graduates, mix in a little training and support and place them into schools for two years.
    Maybe we’re on to solutions that will be simple and effective.

  • Valerie Mellerop

    The UW accepts only 4-point students — those who are good at two-dimensional reading & writing. This excludes many brilliant thinkers who learn better by hearing or doing and think in other than 2-dimensional ways. (It also excludes most kids who come home from school to take care of their siblings or who have to work.)
    In turn this perpetuates teachers who cannot teach in any manner than 2-dimensional reading & writing, who do not understand – on any level – different ways of learning and thinking. How can we expect to find teachers who can teach to all children if the UW only accepts people who are capable of teaching in one way to one type of learner?

  • Larry Winkler

    I have to plead ignorance. What is “two-dimensional reading & writing?” I googled the terms and found nothing.
    Please compare and contrast with other learning styles “by hearing or doing and thinking.

  • Larry Winkler

    Marc Eisen’s criticism of the School of Education starts with what he believes to be the clear absurdity of Keillor’s Lake Wobegon where all children are “above average”. However, as much as this sounds silly, the idea that everyone is above average is not.
    Though, I have found no evidence that Garrison Keillor or his residents of Lake Wobegon understand the significance, it is a fact, not an absurdity, that all children can be “above average” — just not measuring the same skills or over the same set of people.
    I think it obvious, in fact, that almost all people are above average in something — I would be surprised if this were not the case.
    Below average in math, above average in music; below average in reading, above average in reading other people; above average in playing the guitar, below average in golf; weaving, painting, knitting, telling stories, humor, cooking, baking pies, woodworking, plumbing, skiing, …. The list can be added to infinitum.
    The conclusion whether someone is below or above average also requires a set of people to compare one to. Above average in Lake Wobegon really is above average there, regardless of the comparison to the whole state of Minnesota.
    Years ago, there were some papers written about incompetence by David Dunning at Cornell. In one paper, if my memory serves me, he asked other psychology professors how they rated themselves as psychology professors — something like 75% rated themselves above average — a seeming logical absurdity. The conundrum can be solved by suggesting that each evaluated themselves on some of the varied facets of psychology.
    The fictional town of Lake Wobegon is not so absurd. A view of Keillor’s Lake Wobegon may perhaps show what a society would be like if all recognized each other as being above average at something.