Tell us your view: Should teachers take a 'bar' exam to work?


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Originally Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2012, 11:13 am
Last Updated: Jan. 03, 2013, 2:57 pm
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Chicago Tribune

Editor's note: The notion of a bar exam of sorts for teachers has been gaining traction. Last month, for example, columnist Esther J. Cepeda suggeted on these pages that it was the best education reform idea of 2012. This week, the Chicago Tribune weighed in with the following editorial. It's a debate worth fostering and we'd like to know what you think. Comment at QCOnline.com, email us at letters@qconlinecom, or write to us at 1720 5th Ave., Moline, IL 61265.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is promoting a terrific idea -- a rigorous national exam that teachers must pass before they are fully qualified to lead a class.

"We must do away with the common rite of passage whereby new teachers are thrown into classrooms, expected to figure things out, and left to see if they (and their students) sink or swim," she wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. "Such a haphazard approach to the complex and crucial enterprise of educating children is wholly inadequate. It's unfair to both students and teachers, who want and need to be well-prepared to teach from their first day on the job."

Teachers and students across the country would benefit from a tough exam that tested a teacher's mastery of subjects and his or her ability to teach those subjects. Such an exam could require would-be teachers, before they are licensed, to demonstrate skills and understanding they need to be effective.

As Weingarten suggests, the process could be modeled after the bar exam for lawyers or the board certification of doctors.

Passing a nationally recognized teachers' exam would become a badge of honor and a sign of competence that would reassure parents, students and other teachers. That is vital. "Unless the teaching profession limits entry to those who are fully equipped to succeed in the classroom, it will never be held in the same high esteem as medicine or law," says Arthur McKee of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Weingarten should find plenty of allies in this effort.

"I like the direction Randi is going in," Illinois schools Superintendent Christopher Koch told us. He and other education leaders should play a vital role in developing such an exam. Outside of the parent, there's nothing more critical to a child's development than a good teacher.

Illinois has hiked standards for students who enter teaching programs in college, something the AFT recommends in its report, "Raising the Bar." Illinois and other states are developing a battery of new tests, including a demonstration of classroom teaching skills, that people would have to pass before they could be licensed to teach. The program is in the pilot stage now and is due to be rolled out in Illinois by 2015. Some of the standards for those tests are still under construction, so it is hard to know how stringent the test ultimately will be.

Everyone agrees, however, that there's plenty of room for improvement. In too many states, teacher certification tests are so easy that, "There is virtually no reason to administer them because almost everyone passes,'' McKee of the National Council on Teacher Quality told us.

High standards here are especially vital because Illinois exports many of its new teachers to schools across the country. A bar exam would "help everyone know what they're getting," Koch says.

The best teachers are magicians. They have the capacity to inspire, to keep a young person focused, to develop the mind, perhaps above all, to motivate. Many people have neither the talent nor the drive to provide that leadership in the classroom -- and fortunately they follow other pursuits.

But too many ill-equipped people do enter the teaching profession. That doesn't help anyone.

Good idea, Ms. Weingarten: A national bar exam for teachers.












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