Opinion

MIT should create an education degree

For MIT to lead the way in education, it should use its graduates

MIT has been leading the way in education longer than many of us might realize. TEAL, implemented about a decade ago, lowered the fail rate of 8.01 and 8.02, the freshman physics classes, by embracing a much more engaging style of learning. This is consistent with research that finds that, of all possible teaching styles, students retain the least when lectured to. More recently, MIT decided to take charge of the movement towards online education by creating MITx, which soon became EdX. Although MIT has focused on college-level education, much of what it’s done is still applicable to K-12 education.

However, MIT has yet to take the final step towards cementing its commitment to education. Although there is a little-known undergraduate program at MIT that results in teacher certification upon completion, MIT offers neither a major nor minor in education. By not empowering its graduates to teach, pursue education reform, or otherwise work to improve and develop methods of instruction, the Institute limits its influence in education purely to what it does on campus. This is ironic, as one of the major goals of EdX was to make an MIT education widely available throughout the world. Yet would not one of the best ways to do this be to give graduates the tools they need to go out and improve access to and quality of education?

As aforementioned, MIT currently has a program called STEP, consisting of five classes in Course 11, which results in MA teaching certification. The courses 11.124 (Introduction to Education: Looking Forward and Looking Back on Education) and 11.125 (Introduction to Education: Understanding and Evaluating Education) give students an introduction and some background on the history of education, current reform efforts, and some aspects of teaching and the difficulties it entails. The remaining three courses, 11.129 (Educational Theory and Practice I), 11.130 (Educational Theory and Practice II), and 11.131 (Education Theory and Practice III), form a yearlong sequence (11.130 is over IAP) during which students focus on what happens in the classroom and the problems one will encounter as a teacher. This includes 180-200 hours of classroom observations and teaching at a local high school. As minors at MIT generally consist of five or six classes, it would be easy and efficient to simply award a minor in education to anyone who completes this sequence.

While cementing STEP as a minor in education would be an excellent start, MIT should go one step further. The Institute should create a dynamic, cutting-edge education major which will prepare students to teach, reform, or improve instruction.

Currently, the bar to which teachers are held is low, and recruiting smart teachers is extremely difficult. According to the National Science Foundation, graduates whose college entrance examination scores were in the top quartile were half as likely as those in the bottom quartile to prepare to teach (9 versus 18 percent) and graduates in the top quartile of scores who did teach were twice as likely as those in the bottom quartile to leave the profession within four years (32 versus 16 percent).

MIT has a resource that few other schools have access to: a group of the most intelligent, motivated, visionary people in the world. It’s no secret that teachers in the United States are often looked down upon, disrespected, and underpaid; the number one response I get when I tell someone I plan on teaching is, “What? Why are you throwing away your MIT degree like that?”

My vision for an MIT education major would be a rigorous program at the level of any other MIT program. Education graduates from MIT would raise the level of teaching in the schools they go to. Furthermore, it would not surprise me in the least if other big-name schools created or revamped their education programs to match the quality of MIT’s. The creation of a major here could snowball into the raising of the bar for teachers across America, and provide MIT students with the option of doing something that has a powerful, immediate impact on people and the future.

As such, I implore the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) and the Committee on Curricula (CoC) to seriously undertake an effort to create an education degree at MIT. I also hope that administrators as far up as the new President Reif will see the long-term and short-term value in such a degree, and will support these committees with anything they need.

4 Comments
1
Nur\'10 over 5 years ago

Quite frankly, I feel the fact that they don't offer a degree in education shows MIT's dedication to education.

2
Adam Rodriguez \'15 over 5 years ago

I agree with Nur here; the idea of sending out MIT students as math and science teachers is wonderful on the surface, but it only really works if we're sending out trained scientists/engineers/economists and so on who also have the skills necessary to get through a demanding curriculum and hold together a classroom.

I'm completely fine with formally arranging for the existing five-step program to become a minor in education leading to certification in teaching and publicizing its existence more; given that we're all required to do a HASS concentration and eight classes overall, an 11 minor would dovetail quite nicely with the existing requirements and could possibly serve as an additional enticement for students who are already engaged in activities like Splash or Delve to take the next step.

The problem I see with the creation of an education major within MIT is that it subverts a large chunk of the purpose of sending MIT students in particular to teach. Students who would go into an education major upon getting here would then become students who aren't going into math or science or engineering, and that's a problem considering the lack of qualified STEM teachers in a lot of schools.

Finally, I'm not completely sure that there's enough about teaching that can be taught to merit the design of a full major; it seems like a large component of becoming a proficient teacher is simply field experience and support from a strong mentor in the field. Perhaps something interdisciplinary along the lines of Course 9E (Brain and Cognitive Science with Education) could be arranged through the development of more courses on infant, child, and adolescent cognition and the current sequence serving as a capstone. That could potentially go places, but I just don't see a straight education major working, for MIT students or for high school kids.

3
Ryan Normandin over 5 years ago

Agreed! An important point of clarification that was left out of the article is my belief that the degree, should it be a major, hold a similar status to the STS major in that it can only be attained through a double or joint major.

4
Zandra Vinegar over 5 years ago

I think it's narrow minded to think of education only as a potential 'parasitic' major. Just as physics doesn't need to be 'parasitic' to mathematics, neither does education need to be parasitic to any other field. In other words, while an excellent physicist needs to be, in many ways 'fluent' in the mathematics that they use to do physics, the Physics major stands alone because mathematics is only a slim core of a very large tree. So too in education, is content-knowledge only a very small though necessary part of the big picture. If I were designing an education Major, I'd create a core set of education classes and then require majors to choose an area of focus, kind of like the flexible physics major does.

However, to now jump the fence and argue in the other direction entirely: I don't think it makes sense to push for an Education degree and a full-sized department before understanding 'why the STEP concentration is "little-known?"' That I can't answer -- I'm in it, and I've told dozens of ESP teachers about it... search me why it's not a popular choice of concentration.