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.