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Off Course

from the magazine

Off Course

Spring 1996
Education
Economy, finance, and budgets
New York
The Social Order

Last fall my wife, an English teacher in a New York City public school, received a form letter from the Board of Education informing her that her teaching license would be terminated at year’s end unless she completed six college-level credits in special education and two in “human relations.” Never mind that she had already obtained a 36-credit master's degree from Columbia University, completed two stints as a student teacher, and passed national, state, and local licensing examinations.

Never mind, too, that she has almost no contact with special education students. She is now taking a course on special education, delving into such trendy topics as “handicapism as a social construction.” And she was particularly bemused by the “human relations” requirement: surely she had demonstrated some understanding of human relations simply by surviving three years in the public school system. Of course, what the board actually has in mind is such politically correct courses as “Race and Multicultural Education,” “Racism and Sexism,” and “Introduction to Black English.”


No one can seriously believe that any of this is relevant to the reality of the public school classroom. But such courses are a cash cow for education schools that charge up to $600 per credit, the teachers’ union that also gives courses that meet the board’s requirements, and the special education empire that continues to expand. And they are a boon to the Board of Education bureaucrats who justify their existence by dreaming up zany licensing requirements and then monitoring and enforcing them.


Little wonder, then, that while the Board of Education is notoriously forgiving of a teacher’s shortcomings in the classroom—no one ever loses his license for mere incompetence—it turns tough as nails when it comes to the arcane and often redundant teacher credentialing standards. The board's obsession with credentials turns education priorities upside down, devaluing excellence in the classroom and discouraging good teachers while rewarding mediocre timeservers as long as they satisfy irrelevant course requirements.

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