One of my favorite commentors – an experienced Utah teacher – sent me a link to a Washington Post article entitled “Union proposes ‘bar exam’ for teachers.” His email made it very clear that he thinks this is a terrible idea.
I’m not quite so sure, though I AM sure that it could and probably would be implemented terribly – and in a way that unnecessarily protects the status quo. But for that I have a proposed tweak.
Here’s how the article describes the proposal:
Under the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) plan, prospective teachers who have undergone training at an education school would have to demonstrate knowledge of their subject areas, an understanding of the social and emotional elements of learning, and spend a year in “clinical practice” as a student teacher before passing a rigorous exam.
The plan also calls for universities to grow more selective in accepting students into teacher preparation programs, requiring a minimum of a 3.0 grade point average to enroll and to graduate, among other things.
I like the last part a lot, especially if teaching candidates had to earn a 3.0 before being admitted to ANY education courses. (Education majors have the lowest test scores and highest GPAs of any undergraduate majors. Go figure.) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-37245744/heres-the-nations-easiest-college-major/
Here’s my very important tweak. Why limit the test to ed school graduates? Some states allow perspective lawyers to take the bar without attending law school. If they know their stuff, why does it matter how and where prospective teachers learned it? Similarly, let states publish clear guidelines about what teachers are expected to know, and then pen the competition – and the required one-year clinical practice, which I also like – to non-education majors. Several cities and states have already approved non ed-school approaches to teacher training (here’s a link to an earlier blog posting I wrote about a program in New York City.)
One serious and very likely danger, of course, is that the test would be chock full of questions about ideologically-charged and dubious educational theory. I say, live with it. Smart students could get a couple of books and figure this stuff out. With luck they’d also test the theories against the reality of the classroom. (Not all of it is foolish, and some works for some kids some of the time.)
If the subject matter and critical thinking elements of the test were truly rigorous, these students would probably still do very well, and we could get an influx of talented candidates who otherwise balked at the thought of spending their precious college years in education courses. Meanwhile, education majors would know that they had to take rigorous courses and prepare themselves to pass a tough exam, and education schools would face more pressure to improve their curriculum and recruit better students. Sounds like a win-win to me.