AFT Paper Calls for New Teacher Bar Exam

For many years, prior to being allowed to enter the courtroom, aspiring lawyers in America have been required to take a comprehensive multi-day test to assess their knowledge of law and procedure. Known as the bar exam, it is a rite of passage for anyone with the ambition to study and practice law.

Now comes a proposal from the American Federation of Teachers that calls on creating a similar exam for aspiring teachers so that only the most prepared can go on to teach in American schools.

The report – titled Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession – calls not only for the creation of a teacher bar exam, but also for a complete overhaul of the process to train aspiring and novice teachers. As the report’s authors point out, the system to train teachers in the U.S. is fragmented and there’s no standardization in place to ensure that all aspirants have at least some minimum level of knowledge.

To fix the issue, the report makes three recommendations:

• All stakeholders must collaborate to ensure that teacher preparation standards, programs and assessments are aligned with a well-grounded vision of effective teaching.

• Teaching, like other respected professions, must have a universal assessment process for entry that includes rigorous preparation centered on clinical practice as well as theory, an in-depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge, and a comprehensive teacher performance assessment.

• Primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the standards of the profession and ensuring the quality and coherence of teacher preparation programs must reside with members of the profession—practicing professionals in K-12 and higher education.

Under the category of “stakeholders,” the report lists not only teachers and school administrators, but also district officials, lawmakers, those designing and overseeing teacher training programs, the states and the federal government. By calling on them to work together to design a rigorous training program for K-12 instructors, authors hope to raise the overall quality of candidates as they enter the classroom for the first time.

The minimum standard would also be enforced by a new exam that would serve to limit the number of people admitted to the teaching profession to only those who have fulfilled the rigorous training requirements. The report calls on a process that would be similar to the bar exam for lawyers and the board process for candidate doctors, which would require those aspiring to teach to demonstrate that they have fully absorbed the material required to become a successful teacher.

A singular oversight organization is necessary to establishing a widely agreed-upon set of standards, coherent programs and a common set of professionally rigorous assessments to ensure only well-qualified teachers enter the classroom, as is the case in other professions. That organization should be composed of predominately teachers and teacher educators.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement praising the report and its conclusions and commended AFT leadership for taking ownership of the issue of inadequate teacher preparation.