Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where do ed majors come from? 

While reading this post by Mark Perry (and drawing on a graphic from Ironman at Political Calculations) I remembered we had a paper presented to us last month by David Lang at Sacramento State looking at similar information. Here's the paper in .doc form that David presented. Two points I'd make:
  1. The choice of major isn't just driven by ability. There seems to be a correlation that has students from lower income families more likely to choose education as their major. If income and SAT scores are correlated, the correlation between education majors and SAT scores might be a mask for some other causal pattern.
  2. Those lower income students also tend to take more math and science in their college curricula. In short, students from lower income families who have the math skills tend to go into science and technology -- it offers a fast turnaround to a good-paying job. The humanities majors tend to get students from higher-income families because these are in some sense superior goods. If Mom and Dad will keep Assistant Professor Buffy in a nice apartment and without car payments, she's more likely to be willing to major in Victorian literature.
So before making claims that our students stink because our teachers aren't very good, we should think harder about what data supports that claim. If we know ed majors come from these backgrounds perhaps more can be done to prepare them to teach.

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