AFT calls for Bar Exam for Teacher Candidates

The American Federation of Teachers, led by President Randi Weingarten, has recently published a report entitled “Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession.”

This report calls for a more rigorous process by which teacher candidates would be certified. The process would consist of the following steps:

  1. Teachers demonstrating subject area knowledge through evaluation of college level course load and a test to evaluate this knowledge
  2. Teachers demonstrating an understanding of social and emotional aspects of learning through evaluation of education related course work and a test to evaluate this knowledge
  3. One full year of “clinical practice” as a student teacher
  4. A “rigorous professional exam for K-12 teachers”
  5. More selectivity from teacher preparation programs including a minimum GPA of 3.0 for entrance and graduation and other measures

The last of these steps is part of a larger effort to have teacher certification programs, which vary widely in format and requirements across states and even within states, align themselves with the system created by the AFT.

Many states already require similar standards for teacher certification. For example, many states require candidates to pass two Praxis exams—one general teaching test and one in the candidate’s subject area. Most states also require student teaching, although often not one full year.

The AFT is at least in part responding to contentious policy issues and complaints in recent years about poor teachers and low standards for teacher certification. For example, NCLB of 2001 set up a new demand of putting “highly qualified” teachers in classrooms. Another example would be the Education Department’s negotiated rulemaking on Title II of the Higher Education Act. One highly publicized example of the highly debated issue of the role of teachers in failing schools and a lack of improvement in student test scores is that of the Washington DC public schools under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Rhee attempted to clear out underperforming teachers, and Randi Weingarten of the AFT was one of the chief opponents of these efforts.

The irony of the situation is that there are already other efforts in place on the national and state levels as well as from professional organizations such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). The NBPTS has had, for 25 years, a strict certification process for teachers who would like to become nationally certified.  These requirements are optional for teachers, however, and usually teachers seek to achieve NBPTS certification in order to receive pay raises or have greater chances to teach in other states.

The NBPTS would actually be the organization in charge of creating the new “bar exam”, which they suggest they could prepare within five years.

Another example of an effort already underway to make teacher certification more rigorous is that of Teacher Performance Assessment, a performance-based licensing test that about 200 teacher preparation programs across 25 states are now piloting. One state which is moving toward using the TPA is Wisconsin, and their hope is that the requirements of submitting lesson plans, reflections of their work, and a video of their classroom interactions with students as part of the Web-based program will greatly improve teaching standards.

At the same time, the fact that a prominent teachers union such as the AFT is making an independent effort to create a more stringent process by which teachers are certified marks a shift in the debate about teacher certification.  There now appears to be a growing consensus among federal and state education officials, those in professional organizations, teachers unions, and others that an increase in the rigor of the teacher certification process which includes more alignment across teacher certification programs would be a desirable change that would help both students and teachers. For example, Weingarten stressed that one of the key reasons for this new process would be to more fully prepare new teachers for their first years in the classroom, rather than trusting that these new teachers would “figure things out, and [be] left to see if they and their students sink or swim.”

Following is the link to the brief on the AFT website and report: