School House Wonk

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine." Benjamin Franklin

Raising the Bar

This past weekend at the Aspen Ideas Festival, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten offered a new idea for the teaching profession — a bar exam. Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuck reports that Weingarten proposed a bar exam as a way to determine whether new teachers are ready to teach. Weingarten envisions a test that emphasizes critical thinking skills more than rote ones; it would also include a clinical piece to provide hands-on experience.

Weingarten then moved the conversation to Twitter (@rweingarten), where she spent much time clarifying and otherwise explaining her bar exam trial balloon. One explanation of particular note was a recent Gallup poll that, according to Weingarten, showed confidence in public education is at an all-time low.  Another was the need she sees for teachers to become proactive in finding solutions to the problems faced in public education by leading, not just reacting.

According to Sawchuck, while a bar exam for teachers has common-sense appeal, only a test that is both rigorous in content and requires a high score to pass stands a chance of working. And even then, other political obstacles stand in the way. While teachers unions might seem the most obvious roadblock, Sawchuck points to colleges of education and state licensing boards as groups that have opposed past efforts on raising the bar to becoming a teacher.

My take: A bar exam would help align the teaching profession with others, such as law and medicine. Raising entry-level requirements in a thoughtful and substantive way (i.e., not with more paperwork or seat time in continuing education classes) so that education colleges are producing teachers who are ready to teach seems like something we can all agree on.

The AFT plans to release a report sometime this year, again according to Sawchuck, on how to improve the quality of teacher preparation. Perhaps Weingarten’s announcement is paving the way for some big ideas, such as a minimum-entry 3.0 GPA requirement, or a “national, rigorous entry test measuring college-level subject knowledge, rather than the basic-skills tests states currently administer.” Sawchuck writes that only one state – Texas – requires an entry test for new teachers normed to the college-aged population.

Beth T. Sigall

July 2, 2012

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2 thoughts on “Raising the Bar

  1. Very interesting idea. I love the public message of importance a “bar exam” would bring to the profession, as it does with the fields of law and medicine. But it seems to me that the follow up to this conversation needs to be compensation. If we raise the bar in the beginning, we need to be consistent throughout.

  2. Yes, Kim, exactly. If we raise the entry requirements, we need to reward that, particularly for teachers who teach in high demand and/or high need areas (science, math, special ed, low income). And I’m thinking that is where Weingarten is headed – and to me that’s why this is such an interesting development.

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