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Prof. Sam Wineburg: University Schools of Education Should Serve Two Masters

In a lecture at the Mandel Leadership Institute, Prof. Wineburg called on education researchers to address several neglected issues

In a lecture at the Mandel Leadership Institute, Prof. Sam Wineburg of Stanford University — and recently chair of the Council for Higher Education’s review committee on Israeli schools of education — called on education researchers in Israel to address several neglected issues: the bagrut matriculation examinations and the existence in practice of four separate education systems in Israel.

The review committee set up by the Council for Higher Education visited all eight universities that have schools of education or science teaching, met with their directors, teachers, and students, and prepared a report that raised the following issues:

  1. The purpose of research: “Do we ask ourselves if the research has practical application? Is our chosen sample sufficiently representative to allow generalizations for the entirety of our field?” Wineburg asked. “It seems that, instead, the real question that researchers ask themselves is whether they are publishing enough articles, and whether the journals in which they are published are sufficiently prestigious.”
  2. The relation between research and the field. “If researchers get funding for their research from tax payers, and think that what happens in schools of education is even somewhat useful,” said Wineburg, “then they shouldn’t hide in irrelevant academic journals. That is professional negligence of the highest order.”

“To divide between the where education is researched and taught at the highest academic levels, and the place where teachers are trained, would be a huge mistake… the role of the university school of education must be to serve two masters: research, because otherwise it has no place in a university; but in addition, anyone working in education has to be committed to society.”

“Everyone knows,” said Wineburg, “that the bagrut matriculation exams dictate the character of education in Israel, determining both what is studied and how. The bagrut exams and their effects give both teachers and students many sleepless nights. But no-one in academia appears to be interested in the issue, and researchers view it as neither prestigious enough nor sufficiently interesting for research journals.”

In their report, the review committee members recommended setting up a committee, comprising representatives from both education research and teacher training, which would look into several issues mentioned above.

“There is no lack of talent in Israel,” the report concludes, “but the system is flawed: the policy of the Ministry of Education; the priorities; how things are budgeted. As a result, many faculties end up pursuing short-term goals and neglecting more fundamental problems in education.”