Last week, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and its Teacher Preparation Task Force released “Raising the Bar,” a comprehensive report—and loud call to action—on teacher preparation and the teaching profession itself. The report told education stakeholders that, “We need a systemic approach to preparing teachers for a successful career in the classroom and a more rigorous threshold to ensure that every teacher is actually ready to teach.” The forty-page document outlines several recommendations to improve teacher preparation and the teaching profession.
Calling for more rigorous training standards that are aligned with the goal of effective teaching and learning, the AFT certainly aims to raise the bar—and not just figuratively. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday, AFT President Randi Weingarten—quite literally—raised the bar, proposing, “all prospective teachers in the United States [just like prospective lawyers] take a rigorous bar exam that gauges mastery of subject-matter knowledge and demonstrates competency in how to teach it.” According to the report, a universal bar exam will ensure that all teachers—whether entering the classroom through a school of education or through an alternative program like Teach for America—“will meet the same standards of competence.”
As a former Teach for America corps member, I appreciate the AFT’s effort to elevate the teaching profession. But I don’t think a bar exam will determine whether a teacher “sinks or swims” in the classroom. In fact, I passed the currently required-for-certification “bar exam,” known as the Praxis, with flying colors. And I sank my first day, week, month, and semester in the classroom. Excelling on an exam doesn’t arm a teacher with classroom discipline experience, extreme remedial teaching practice, and tips for parent-teacher politicking. All of that comes with time and experience in the classroom.
The AFT is on the right track. But if we want educators “ready on day one to help children achieve at high levels,” then I suggest education stakeholders—specifically teacher preparation outfits—put more emphasis on student-teaching and clinical practice, rather than on a “bar exam.” For more on this score, check out AEI’s Teacher Quality 2.0 series, which is geared toward anticipating the next generation of human capital research and policy making.