In my school's case it varies greatly from instructor to instructor, but as an example my current American Regional Cuisine instructor is also currently an Executive Chef for one of our reasonably prestigious local winery restaurants (in Temecula, CA) and only teaches two days a week (the days we have class) because of this. In the case of this instructor the real value lies in the individual attention that gets paid as he walks the class (over 5 hours of cooking per day, typically 6 or so dishes per table, focusing on a different region each week at 2 days a week, ie 12 dishes per region), but the critical point is the end of each class when we get a fairly intense critique/heads up on each thing that is prepared as Chef evaluates each dish created at each table.
In the case of other Instructors it might be more about the discipline required to be successful in a given class. Some instructors will definitely be more about qualitative detail where others are more about requiring a serious work ethic (and I certainly get that as I'm almost more concerned about the latter than the former).
But to continue the example of my ARC class, each table will plate 6 dishes on average (each table being four people, and in some cases classes will be plating different styles, eg Classic European will be plating in a French style but Latin Cuisine will be plating family style) and Chef will break down each dish by all of it's observable components (flavor, consistency, texture, appearance, plating, etc) but usually will also incorporate observations made throughout the course of the class. So if your method was spot on, but your seasoning was totally wrong you will hear clearly about both, and if you want to ask Chef for more detail you will get it to whatever reasonable extent required.
In addition we'll have (occasional) essays, (weekly) tests on details pertaining to the area of study, a midterm practical/written, as well as a final written/practical (practical meaning a physical test, usually in the form of a menu of items that need to be completed solo or in small teams) and are required to complete quite a bit of paperwork that reflects the work of each week: requisition sheets, vocabulary associated with the region or techniques/equipment involved (eg in garde manger), methods of preparation, and in some cases even visual/plate diagrams. We also always need to have hand-written index cards that require us to write out each recipe, just to make sure that we're actually reading through everything.
Of course, not everyone does all this, but that's their problem/loss/waste of their education, and also really makes it clear to those who do it all how much being in the kitchen is about preparation as much as all the other factors involved, eg when a classmate walks up to you and asks, "Where's the BBQ sauce?" because they never read through the recipe and saw the requirement for the BBQ sauce recipe on a different page - indeed almost every week little landmines like this are hidden in the curriculum to catch people off guard and make clear the point that you need to be on it if you want to get it 100% right. While you won't fail the class if you miss this kind of thing once or twice, you will definitely pay for that lack of attention/effort come the practicals.
Not all of our instructors have amazing resumes but all have at least 15+ years in the business, or some equivalent qualification, eg extensive training in Europe + all the educational requirements to even hold the post.
Having said that, a lot of our non-kitchen instructors are highly questionable and it's just plain obvious that regardless of their training they have little-no ability to teach the classes they are.
I'm going to Art Institutes and yes we are at best considered comparable to LCB, but mostly considered a joke/for-profit school that isn't comparable to the likes of JW or CIA (in America, nvermind European schools), although I've met a lot of folks from those higher-brow schools who will hold the opinion I have which is that each campus' quality entirely dependent on the standards dictated by each individual campus, ie the school affiliation doesn't guarantee anything.
I call this out because I do highly question the value of our non-kitchen classes (not in general education so much, but in things like some of our F&B classes that are a joke because of the lack of discipline/care/respect involved - not because of the subject), but I seriously value the quality of our in-kitchen classes as well as what is related to that participation (working with active Chefs in the area puts you immediately in the loop of the Culinary community of the area which any program will tell you is small and who all know each other, so many opportunities exist beyond school by being involved in the program).
Sorry for the novel but you caught me on my "night off" and I would have loved to hear this detailed answer before I started this program.
Edited by Culinuthiast - 8/12/10 at 5:23am