Get smart fast vol. 10

Historian David Labaree explains the roots of a strange paradox in education: Progressive pedagogy finds refuge America’s colleges of education. But those same teacher colleges train educators to inhabit a system dominated by an industrial model of schooling progressive pedagogues despise.

How did that come to be?

It was not a marriage of the strong but a wedding of the weak. Both were losers in their respective arenas: child-centered progressivism lost out in the struggle for control of American schools, and the education school lost out in the struggle for respect in American higher education. They needed each other, with one looking for a safe haven and the other looking for a righteous mission. As a result, education schools came to have a rhetorical commitment to progressivism that is so wide that, within these institutions, it is largely beyond challenge. At the same time, however, this progressive vision never came to dominate the practice of teaching and learning in schools—or even to reach deeply into the practice of teacher educators and researchers within education schools themselves.

Why it matters: Two common critiques of education schools might seem incompatible: Education reformers’ complaint that they train educators to tend to the status quo rather than change it, and conservatives’ critique that education schools are enthralled by progressive pedagogy. Both can be true at once.

Why are teachers unhappy?

An illuminating new study of teacher dissatisfaction:

We then looked at how dissatisfied each teacher was with their jobs using a standard measure of teacher job dissatisfaction (Lee, Dedrick, & Smith, 1991). We noticed that highly dissatisfied teachers were the ones who gained the most satisfaction from making a difference in students’ lives, having aha moments, and seeing their students’ growth (Figure 3). While these differences were not large, they do suggest that teacher dissatisfaction is not always about being disconnected from students. Instead, it comes from the conflict of wanting to do more for them.

Why it matters: The unhappiest teachers are the ones who want to do more for their students but feel the system is holding them back. Who will help them break free from that system?

Numbers to Know

67: Percentage of Gen Z survey respondents who feel like they have a bright future ahead of them.

44: Percentage who feel prepared for that future.

18.9: Percent increase that a student will graduate college if they attend both a middle and a high school operated by the KIPP charter school network.

News of note

A bipartisan coalition is out with a call for a new reform agenda in public education.

Published within a month of each other: A new edition of a peer-reviewed paper arguing money matters in education, and a dissection and critique of that work by conservative researchers.

Earlier headlines suggested test scores weren’t great at LeBron James’s highly touted iPromise Academy. Data on student learning growth aren’t much more encouraging.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)