Academic Standards and Professional Demands

by Robert E. Mason - 1963

There has been much careless talk about raising standards in teacher education. No responsible discussion of this matter is possible except in direct relationship to specific and immediate considerations of teacher supply. Officials in the schools will, willy-nilly, hire good teachers if they can, poor teachers if they cannot; the one thing they cannot do is close school because of an inadequate supply. The pipe will be filled; while teacher-education institutions may influence the nature of the material siphoned into it, the schools themselves are the source of power in this relationship.

THERE HAS BEEN MUCH careless talk about raising standards in teacher education. No responsible discussion of this matter is possible except in direct relationship to specific and immediate considerations of teacher supply. Officials in the schools will, willy-nilly, hire good teachers if they can, poor teachers if they cannot; the one thing they cannot do is close school because of an inadequate supply. The pipe will be filled; while teacher-education institutions may influence the nature of the material siphoned into it, the schools themselves are the source of power in this relationship.

The responsibility of teacher-education institutions is to produce enough teachers to man the posts. This is an absolute requirement; the jobs in the schools must be filled. It is not possible to wait until the profession is upgraded, the educationists thrown out of control, the NEA destroyed, or salaries increased to $10,000 a year. This immutable fact reflects certain historical realities in the evolution of formal education in the modern world.

In ancient Athens it was the father who made arrangements for his son's schooling, and it was public opinion and custom rather than law that caused him to do so. Formal education in the twentieth-century world, on the other hand, is under the eye of the state. The nations of the world agree that the state shall finance and enforce basic education to the extent that all of the young shall have been taught reading, writing, counting and computing, the major traditions of their nation and civilization, and the basic responsibilities of citizenship. There is no nation today which does not accept this educational charge and which is not engaged in systematic effort and expenditure to implement it. The differences among nations primarily involve questions about how much education is to be provided under state auspices, and decisions are governed as much by finance as by ideology. How extensive basic education is to be is determined largely by how much money is available. Another determiner, however, is manpower needs. One reason for the lack of enthusiasm for education beyond the fourteenth year in the United States one hundred years ago was the need of farmers for the labor of their children, who, when they were 15 years old, could come close to doing a grown man's work on the farm. Now in the United States, young people are not readily welcomed in the labor market until they are 18 years of age. Many other nations are more inclined than we to admit 15- and 16-year-olds to the working force. This has a direct bearing upon the length of schooling and, thus, a direct bearing upon the demands for school facilities and personnel.


A peculiarity of the American lower schools—one which has caused no end of confusion in public debate—is that the American 12-year plan actually does not include a secondary school in the European sense. We have no leaving examinations at any point; we have legally enforced attendance through the tenth year, and national policy is to keep all young people in the school through the twelfth year. The American primary school is, in effect, a 12-year common school for all the children of all the people. "High schools" must adjust their programs to accommodate satisfactorily the entire population. It is unfortunate to think of them as secondary schools; this is not their function in the United States.

Secondary education as it has traditionally been represented in the Western world by institutions like the French Lycee, the German Gymnasium, or the English Public School is, in the United States, the function of the institution referred to as the college. These secondary schools, which Americans call colleges, accept young people who have completed the 12-year elementary school and have a diploma to show for it. They are of a wide variety of types. Some are connected with universities. Others exist as self-contained institutions. Many are located in smaller cities and villages where the buildings and grounds have the atmosphere of one of the English Public Schools. Some are maintained by states and municipalities; these are frequently much larger than the private colleges in the small towns and villages and are patronized by commuting students rather than boarders.

The government does not enforce attendance at these secondary schools. Although some scholarships are available, almost without exception, the American secondary schools (called colleges) are fee-charging. Different colleges cater to different socio-economic, cultural, and religious groups. They set their own entrance requirements, the only common standard being completion of the 12-year school. In the United States the baccalaureate, comparable to the French baccalaureat or the German Abitur, is awarded at the end of a four-year course in one of the colleges. These courses are voluntary or optional rather than required, and the government refrains from making stipulations regarding the preparation of teachers for the colleges.


It follows, then, that the demands placed upon teacher-education authorities are to staff an institution which relieves all parents of their children for six or seven hours a day for nine or ten months a year from the time when the children are five or six years of age. The institution keeps these youngsters out from under the feet of their parents and also out of the labor market until they are about 18 years of age. The not insignificant political power of American mothers assures the maintenance of the lower age barrier; the power of organized labor supports the upper one. A fundamental task of the schools is to keep this entire segment of the population in a compound for 12 years. A primary purpose of school curricula is to keep these young people busy, draining off enough energy so that peace may be maintained within the compound. That it has not been necessary to use tear gas and machine guns to enforce school attendance is an indication of the efficiency of the common schools. That school riots are rare can give pride to those who have been involved in the training of teachers. For the drive for liberty, especially among 12- to 18-year-olds, is very high. Yet American teachers manage to keep them inside the compound although forbidden to carry side-arms. Understandably, the custodial duties necessarily imposed upon adults who maintain the compound involve difficult, dirty, spirit-breaking work. Some time ago a good friend of mine who has spent his life in education discussed the desire of a vigorous, alert, competent young woman of whom he is very fond to enter high school teaching. His remark was, "I don't want her to do it. It's—it's butchery!"

As in instances of other types of extremely gruelling work, teaching in the common schools sometimes produces personalities of strength and beauty. But many simply cannot take it, and emotional and spiritual collapse ensue.

During the decades of the nineteenth century, when six or eight rather than 12 years of compulsory school attendance was the rule in this country, the individual states and the larger city school systems maintained their own training institutions for teachers. These were the normal schools, and they did not pretend to be colleges or universities. Their work was in the nature of a scheme of formalized apprenticeship lasting for one or two years. Prior to the early 1900s, persons who had completed not more than eight years in the American primary schools were admitted to these teacher-training institutes. By 1920, however, it had become customary to require completion of the 12-year school for admission, and the decline of the normal schools closely paralleled the effective upward extension of the American primary school to provide a 12-year program for all boys and girls.

Upon the disappearance of the normal schools and teacher-training institutes, it became necessary for those concerned with teacher education to operate within the established framework of higher education. In the struggle for acceptance, the prestige of the established academic disciplines carried power with it. Professors in the teachers colleges had to be doctors of something or other, and those who completed courses of study with them had to be masters—if not of letters or arts, of education. And, of course, all teachers in all schools had to be college graduates.


Thus, today, the teachers in the schools for the masses must be prepared in institutions of higher education, the traditions of which are more aristocratic than equalitarian, while those engaged professionally in teacher education are marked as peculiar members of the academic community. Indeed, they are prime examples of academic schizophrenia. They hold rank in the ancient fraternity; they participate in the ceremonies which demonstrate the centuries-old origins of higher education. Yet they fraternize with members of a lowlier union,". . . the abominable schoolmasters . . . abhorred alike by boys and girls," who have been the butt of ridicule ever since Martial thus characterized them. Historians, mathematicians, scientists, and literary scholars do not meet regularly with the teachers in the common schools. It is not that they are inhumane nor illiberal. They are simply more interested in refinement and the perfection of their arts, surrounded by young disciples, than in the broad dissemination of the utilitarian and more immediately significant applications of them throughout the populace.

Those who profess education in the colleges and universities are, then, heirs of a dual tradition. So long as teachers for the public schools are trained in colleges and universities, this situation will continue. A complete reconciliation is not possible. Nor can the professor of education be all things to all men. As a representative of higher learning, he is obligated to uphold standards of rigor in research and scholarly mastery. His high loyalty is to the truth. But as a representative of the lower schools, he is obligated to produce teachers to man the posts.

And manning the posts is the primary responsibility of teacher-education institutions in the national system of 12-year schools. The only method for providing quality control while fulfilling this primary responsibility lies in the adoption by various State Departments of Education of production quotas for training institutions. The contract, standing as a part of the document which certifies the approval of an institution by the state as a teacher-training center, should be formalized by the principals—that is, the state on the one side, the institution on the other. Production of teachers by an institution should be limited according to the terms of its contract with the state. Quotas can be computed on the basis of statistical projections of teacher needs. An institution failing to meet its contractual obligation should, of course, be removed from the list of teacher-training centers recognized by the state. A system of teacher-education scholarships might well support such a quota system, but would not be a necessary condition of its operation.


Some such arrangement would force institutions to commit themselves regarding policies of admission and in-process evaluation of candidates for teacher certification. Institutions would remain completely free to set academic standards as they wished. In the light of their standards, however, they would commit themselves to produce a certain number of qualified teachers to fill jobs in the schools. Individual college scholarship programs, admissions requirements, and requirements for graduation would certainly be heavily influenced by considerations surrounding the contract with the state. In instances where a rise in college costs or application of more stringent entrance requirements resulted in failure of the institution to meet its contract, local institutional policy would have to involve realistic weighing of alternatives: "Shall we notify the state that we wish to take a smaller part in the production of teachers for its schools, or shall we alter our standards to make it possible for us to meet our quota?" It would be necessary for institutions to stand up and be counted, to announce their intentions so far as preparation of teachers for the common schools is concerned. If institutional academic standards make it impossible for a college to meet its contract with the state, it may either adjust its academic standards—letting down the bars to fill its quota—or it may move the other way, announcing its intention to modify its contract in the name of academic respectability or financial solvency. Such publicity and a clearer focusing of alternatives are much needed. One possibility, usually of interest to the administrative staffs of independent colleges, looms as a calm threat. If the existing colleges in a given area fail to fulfill contracts to man the classrooms of the region's common schools, state or municipal authorities may set up teacher-training centers to do the job.

A first step, then, in adjusting academic standards to professional demands in the preparation of teachers would be to see to it that approved teacher-training colleges sign firm contracts with the state, stipulating the number of certified teachers to be produced annually. The state should move to set up its own training centers wherever existing institutions fail in their quotas. This device would insure that rising academic standards and rising college costs do not jeopardize an adequate supply of teachers for the common schools.

Under such an arrangement, individual colleges would, of course, set their own standards for admission and graduation. Moreover, they would decide whether they wish to prepare teachers at the state minimum (e.g., the bachelor's degree) or at a higher academic level (e.g., the master's degree). Moreover, whether courses taken by non-degree professional enrollees are to count toward degrees, in what order, and under what circumstances, is entirely up to the college. To the extent that the state stipulates degree requirements for certification, the state must honor the autonomy of the institutions granting the degrees. Serious questions may be raised, of course, whether there is sufficient common ground between the drive for excellence, which characterizes good college and university education, and the professional demands of the common schools to make it wise for the state to stipulate degree requirements for advanced certificates.

However that may be, public opinion now apparently supports the notion that every teacher should hold the baccalaureate or first degree. Whether this reflects the deep conviction of the public that college graduates are in possession of a substantial intellectual and social equipment which makes them better teachers is questionable. It may be little more than a convention. As such, however, it has strength. Probably there is no point at this late date in posing the issue of whether the college graduates now teaching are actually doing a better job than the old normal school graduates. In any case, there is very strong professional support for the notion that a career teacher should earn the master's degree sometime within the first decade of his professional service, although there is little evidence that the public is concerned about this attainment.


If teachers in the common schools are to pursue advanced study, what policy should good colleges and universities follow in formulating standards for the master's degree for teachers? There is some evidence that excellent colleges and universities have allowed the master's degree in the humanities and social sciences to become a relatively easy degree. Theses are frequently not required. Comprehensive examinations are not always a condition of the granting of the degree. Should these policies be adopted in education? If a teacher has earned a bachelor's degree, has been licensed by the state, and has satisfied a local board of education to the extent that he has held a job for a period of years, should he be looked upon favorably as a candidate for a master's degree in a good university?

Education faculties must, of course, observe general institutional policy affecting master's degree programs in their respective universities. But it may be seriously questioned whether it should be more difficult to secure a master's degree in education than in economics, or whether such onerous tasks as writing a thesis or taking a comprehensive examination should be required in education if sociology and English are not also making such requirements. In sum, standards for the master's degree for teachers should parallel those in related academic departments, but this first degree beyond the baccalaureate need not be highly selective.

As for graduate work in education not applied toward a master's degree, or engaged in by teachers subsequent to the master's degree, admissions standards and quality standards in course should be the same as those applying to master's degree candidates. If the distinction between academic standards as prerogatives of colleges and universities, and certification standards as involving the interests of the state is to be preserved, however, there is serious question whether college and university officials should become involved in the certification of individuals for the wide range of professional specialties (e.g., guidance director, supervisor, principal, superintendent). A college or university training center can offer stipulated course work relevant to such specialties to people maintaining good standing at the first graduate level. But certainly completion of course work is only a minor element in producing the competencies necessary for the educational specialist. An educational specialist should be a licensed teacher, and the state may stipulate course work as a necessary condition for appointment to a specialist position. But beyond this, it may well be that the licensing of specialists as such should either be done away with entirely or left in the hands of practitioners. The quota system will guarantee a supply of live bodies, bearing licenses, to man the teaching posts. The specialists can be drawn from this corps of persons and evaluated on the job by those most familiar with their functions.


The doctorate should remain for the truly learned. There ought to be scholarship of the old-fashioned elite sort somewhere in every profession. Let us find our very best scholars, do our level best to discipline them, and upon these and only these confer the doctorate. This way, obviously, doctoral programs must remain completely separated from certification by the state and professional demands stemming from boards of education. Professors of education need ask of their professional confreres only that the subject matter of education be accepted as worthy of doctoral study. This much granted, academic colleagues will be invited to apply to candidates for the doctorate in education standards that are fully as rigorous as those current in any other field. Moreover, members of graduate faculties in education should participate wholeheartedly in the development and application of highly selective standards for the doctorate in education.

The content of doctoral programs in education is for graduate faculties at the universities to work out. If doctoral products of different universities are possessed of markedly different qualities of intellectual discipline, that is all to the good. Earning the doctorate, however, may well be an exercise of great cost in time, money, and spirit. The primary focus should, of course, be upon scholarship. The doctor in education should be a truly learned student of education. Whether this sort of traditional scholarship is directly relevant to professional performance—as a school superintendent, principal, guidance director, or master teacher—is beside the point. If it is not, then the profession should not allow a premium to be placed upon the doctorate in determining appointment to such positions.

In summary, policies have been proposed here for adjusting academic standards to professional demands on the basis of an analysis of institutionalized schooling as it is established in the United States. It has been maintained that a primary obligation of institutions for the preparation of teachers in the United States is to produce personnel to man the teaching posts in the common schools. No selection is possible or appropriate in the 12-year program of the lower schools; standards must be adjusted to the universal clientele.

To insure a constant supply of teachers of the highest possible calibre, institutions preparing teachers should operate on a quota system, and meeting the prescribed quota should be a condition for continued approval as a teacher-training center. It has been proposed, similarly, that certification or licensing should be separated from candidacy for or possession of academic degrees, with the exception of the initial certification, where the quota system will guarantee a supply of teachers while allowing individual teacher-training colleges to set their own standards of quality.

Academic standards for the doctorate, on the other hand, should be very high and should be completely separated from professional demands. The academic profession should exert its influence to discourage any tendency to make the doctorate a stated condition of employment for any position in the common schools.

These proposals have been advanced in the perspective of the conflicting traditions and currently competing values of collegiate and higher education and of primary education. It seems inevitable that academic standards in the preparation of teachers must be constantly subject to adjustment in the recognition (1) that meeting the demand for teachers in the common schools is an absolute, unqualified, and immediate obligation, (2) that respect for academic freedom entails institutional autonomy in setting standards of scholarship, and (3) that demands for specialized personnel should not be allowed to modify scholarly standards held for the doctorate.


The question o£ how teachers may most profitably be educated is stubbornly recurrent. Perhaps it is one of those issues which, although we cannot finally resolve them, we must continue to think about seriously in order to preserve our civilization. For Mortimer Smith, the executive officer of the Council for Basic Education, the matter is straightforward: Like all other educated men, teachers should be trained in the liberal arts and then apprenticed in their pedagogical craft. On the other hand, William Wattenberg, a well-known psychologist at Wayne State University, reminds us that we know very little about the characteristics of teachers that facilitate learning in children. On what basis, then, can we make pronouncements about teacher education until we have at least begun the research, too long neglected, on which wise suggestions could be soundly based? And Robert E. Mason, once a college registrar and now a philosopher of education at the University of Pittsburgh, calls attention to the hard fact that teacher-educating institutions have a kind of social contract to keep the schools open by supplying men and women to run the nation's classrooms. This obligation, an integral part of the American faith in education, has implications of a subtle but profound sort for policy, and Dr. Mason demands that we give them due attention.

If teacher education is a recurrent problem, an issue of fervid immediacy is that of religion in the schools. To gain some perspective on it, we present this month two constitutional readings by two eminent attorneys, Bernard Schwartz, a member of the Faculty of Law at New York University, and William B. Ball of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who practices in both Pennsylvania and New York and serves as legal counsel to the National Catholic Educational Association. Between them, they challenge most of our easy stereotypes, a process which defines a significant part of education itself.

Whether we deal with teacher education or religion in the schools, our ultimate focus is on students. Lionel Trilling, the distinguished Columbia University critic of modern culture and its literature, offers some reflections this month on the cult of modernity among contemporary college students. In bringing his ideas to you, we warmly acknowledge a debt to Professor Trilling and to the Harvard Alumni Bulletin (7 July, 1962. Copyright 1962 by the Bulletin) from which his piece is reprinted.

Both in its direct bearing on students and in its illustration of a kind of "cult of modernity," the matter of "creativity" is of considerable importance to us. Robert L. Thorndike, the prominent specialist in educational measurement from Teachers College, Columbia University, finds much of promise in our new concern. But he also bids us with quiet wisdom to gear our enthusiasm to the limitations of our accomplishments. Careful thought remains the best protective against educational faddism.

Careful thought is often dependent on an appreciation of history, and Robert Grinder and Charles E. Strickland, the first a psychologist and the second an historian at the University of Wisconsin, fruitfully collaborate for our benefit on a study of G. Stanley Hall’s conceptions of adolescence. Having inherited many of our notions of adolescent Sturm und Drang from Hall, it is high time that we knew more of their context in his total thinking. The article will appear this spring in Dr. Grinder's Studies in Adolescence., published by Macmillan.

Finally, T. R. Repplier, president of the Advertising Council and one of America's leading advertisers, uses the Record to beard the educational lion in its den. Gently but firmly, he raises the possibility that, in making advertising a favorite whipping boy, intellectuals and educationists may know less than is becoming about the topic, especially in its international relevance. As usual, important issues defy simple resolutions!

We hope this number of the Record will jar domestic convictions and stimulate some reconsiderations of basic problems. For our friends abroad, we offer it proudly as both an evidence of American pluralism and a source of provocative and, hopefully, helpful educational ideas.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 64 Number 5, 1963, p. 381-381 ID Number: 2881, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 9:33:09 PM

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