2007 March 08 Thursday
NYC Teachers Weak In English

Thomas Wagner, a former New York City public school English teacher, says grammar isn't taught very much in the NYC public school system and the teachers there are increasingly unable to teach grammar and writing.

I retired in 2002, after 29 years as a public-middle-school English teacher in Jackson Heights, Queens, a stable working-class neighborhood in New York City.


In my final year, the assistant superintendent dropped by my class with the principal and later told her that it was nice to see a teacher still teaching grammar. There was no hint that a curriculum policy might be re-examined—just a wistful comment about the winds of change. To get to the point, there is no sequential program of language development that can be assumed in the New York City public-school system. While the word “curriculum” is now in vogue, there is little awareness that this might require the actual specification of academic content to be taught in each grade.

That this near-anarchic approach to teaching English had repercussions was brought home to me in the year following my retirement, when I was hired by my union, the United Federation of Teachers, to teach two sections of a six-session course to prospective teachers. The class was designed to help them pass the essay part of the New York State Teacher Certification exam. My students—all college graduates—were generally bright, dedicated, decent people, but most of them had a lot of difficulty organizing their thoughts into the form of a short essay and a limited knowledge of the mechanics of writing.

In fact, most of my students had already failed the licensing exam.

He says the inability of the teachers to teach writing is a reflection of their own inadequate education in the schools that taught them. But my guess is these prospective teachers aren't as smart as he's making them out to be. I'd love to see IQ tests administered to teachers in various public school systems. Do their skills in writing and grammar track with their IQ scores? Or is there a real decay in the level of proficiency of English writing skills adjusted for the intelligence of those teaching?

The smartest people do not go into teaching. Before women made their way into higher paying professions like law and medicine many smarter ones became teachers and nurses. But since so many more doors are open in business, higher education, and higher paying professions the elementary and high schools have probably suffered a brain drain of teaching talent. Plus, even smarter men find more demand for their skills in industry. So teaching suffers from an IQ problem.

If students need to receive instruction from brighter and more highly educated teachers the best way to address that need is to use more video lectures either recorded or delivered live to many classrooms simultaneously. The small number of very best and brightest teachers could teach tens and hundreds of thousands of students rather than just the small number of students who can fit in a single classroom. Average quality of viewed lectures could rise substantially. Also, software can automate testing and practice exercises.

Automation of teaching and testing is the path to both higher quality and lower costs.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 March 08 09:46 PM  Education

Mensarefugee said at March 9, 2007 12:42 PM:

Theres no need to guess. Teachers ARE low-IQ. Read any of those teacher proficiency tests that various states give periodically. They are dead easy - and a substantial proportion of teachers fail.

Anon said at March 9, 2007 12:58 PM:

Hell, the teachers unions fight any profiency tests like crazy and that is the reason why. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to teach, but what public schools get is abysmal. I am going to go out on a limb here and say much of it is due to the feminization of our society. Men don't really teach anymore, at least not in public schools. Public school teaching has become a make-work program for low IQ, socialist females. It is self-perpetuating. The more feminized the schools get, the less men enter teaching, so the more feminized schools get and so on. If you have any kids, keep them out of public schools, no matter what.

Mensarefugee said at March 9, 2007 1:42 PM:

Common Knowledge but fun...

Average GRE scores for Education
Verbal 450
Quantitative 534
Total 984

Verbal 467
Quantitative 720
Total 1187

Aka.. the dregs of the college pool.

D Flinchum said at March 9, 2007 1:55 PM:

"It is self-perpetuating. The more feminized the schools get, the less men enter teaching, so the more feminized schools get and so on."

Huh? Back in the days when public schools still functioned, the vast majority of teachers below the level of college were women. I suspect that there are more men in this category now than there were in, oh, say, 1965. What happened? The "feminization of schools"? No, what happened was that more professional fields opened up to women other than nursing and teaching. Guess what - smart women took the opportunity to get out of these two fields. I graduated from high school in 1965. Every excellent teacher that I had was a woman, especially in high school. Now these women would be entering other careers. Nothing wrong with that! The simple truth is that public education was for many years one of the few fields open to bright educated women.

Agnostic said at March 9, 2007 3:44 PM:

Ah, but Mensarefugee is omitting the crucial data here on mean GRE scores for the Analytical Writing portion of the test. According to my score report that I got last December, means are:

4.3 Life Sci
4.3 Phys Sci
4.2 Engin
4.5 Soc Sci
4.7 Humanities
4.3 Ed
4.1 Bus

It's graded holistically on a 0-6 scale and is mostly a test of persuasive and logical writing -- no grammar on the test. Grad students in Ed, while lower in IQ, are no worse than most other groups of students. I tutor the SAT, which since spring 2005 has a Writing section, which mostly tests grammar and composing a standard 4-5 paragraph persuasive essay. I'd say typical improvements on the Verbal and Math sections are maybe 30 points each (~0.3 SD), but it's easy to boost the Writing score by 1 SD or more if you devote time to it. Grammar is probably as g-loaded as spelling, I'd guess.

I don't worry much about students learning proper grammar -- logic is more important than grammar or rhetoric, yet students only learn logic in Geometry class. Ridiculous. Who cares if what the student says is crap, as long as they're polished and persuasive in their bullshitting?

Bob Badour said at March 10, 2007 7:00 AM:


I am not sure I fully understand your point. Are you pointing out that while educators fall short on many measures they are as adept at sophistry as anyone else--with the exception of humanities and social science students who excel at sophistry?

Mensarefugee said at March 10, 2007 8:15 AM:

When I was taking a High School Level Introductory Calculus course a year back here in Canada they had a MANDATORY section where I had to write about how I FEEL about it. What parts I ENJOYED and WHY. How this course would help me COMMUNICATE.

Schools have definitely been taken over by retard-feminists. And thats not an exaggeration.

D Flinchum said at March 11, 2007 4:54 PM:

"Schools have definitely been taken over by retard-feminists. And thats not an exaggeration."

I repeat myself: "SMART women took the opportunity to get out of these two fields".

tommy said at March 11, 2007 10:21 PM:

A few subjects they should be teaching in schools but generally aren't: formal and informal logic, pre-calc probability theory, and pre-calc statistics. A good deal of statistics and probability theory can be approached without reference to calculus and none of it is any more difficult than high school algebra. Hopefully, it would result in students who can think more rigorously than today's batch.

tommy said at March 11, 2007 10:24 PM:

Oh, and bring back civics too.

Dan Morgan said at March 17, 2007 12:01 AM:

"If students need to receive instruction from brighter and more highly educated teachers the best way to address that need is to use more video lectures either recorded or delivered live to many classrooms simultaneously."

I like Randall's ideas here and I could see this concept catching on.

When I was in college I took some classes in large auditoriums with hundreds of people. I actually liked these classes because they happened to have some really talented teachers. In school, I seldom raised my hand to ask questions so if the class had 10 people or 1000, it didn't matter to me. I would much rather have a great teacher in a huge class than a lousy or even mediocre teacher in a small class.

So if the large class idea caught on (including the videos and PC leaning support tools Randall mentions), I wonder how these "best teachers" would get picked. Sounds like a job for the private sector to sort out, not government officials and teacher's unions.

If making teaching videos was open to all via audition regardless of credentials, ironically some of the "best teachers" on the videos may not even be teachers at all.

Grandma said at November 14, 2007 12:35 AM:

Regarding low IQ teachers. I received 400 on Verbal and 300 on Math GRE back in 1976. Because of my mostly A's and B's in college grades in graduate school I joyously received my masters degree in English and taught part time in community college in the past before retiring. There's such a thing as very high creative in spite of being rather low to average IQ, say around 95-97(G) on these online IQ tests that probably vary. Yet I still received a 3.45 average in college and 3.5 in high school. I could never pass my 5th grade math and so could never pass the C-Best to be a teacher because I can't learn algebra and geometry--discalcula, perhaps? I had to repeat my 5th grade math book in 6th grade and still can't add fractions with different denominators. But it hasn't kept me from reading lots of books, now that I'm pushing age 70. Does it matter? No.

I've been a free lance journalist all my life when I'm not being a stay-at-home granny and painting in acrylics as a hobby. Does it mean anything now? No. But I still hold lifetime community college teaching credentials in language arts and literature and have taught creative writing part time in the past when I felt like working. I have freelanced full time writing articles on a wide variety of subjects. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get high test scores on the GRE, never more than that 400 verbal and 300 math. My 'talent' hasn't kept my grandchildren from medical school and success. I still write novels for middle school readers and am having lots of fun with the joy of learning. I read several books each month. Now that I'm retirement age, no body asks me what I do for a living or what my husband does for a living.

Retirement is the great equalizer. I'm happy with my low I.Q/high creativity...because I don't have to think. I can just have healthy, clean fun reading or photographing nature's wonders--sea, mountains, clouds, trees, and watch my precious travel videos. I'm a published novelist, and I'm enjoying nature around me. I love writing short stories, poems, plays, novels, and how-to books. It's fun, and it's a joy. That's all that matters is being in tune with nature. And my dog enjoys my companionship. What else is there in life that has such meaning? Interestingly, when I worked as a teacher in the distant past, I found it stressful.

What was relaxing was sitting at home writing novels, painting in acrylics, knitting, and reading nutrition books. The low IQ, highly creative woman over age 70 more or less can find serenity in family life and the contented look of a companion Labrador retriever sitting close by. You see, the answers are found right in front of you and are simple. No need to search in exotic places for the complex--unless you're reading one of my hobby books I love to read on science made understandable for the masses. So what am I doing today? Reading books on genetics, migrations, and life in the ice age.

Granny Sunshine and Smiles

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