American Federation of Teachers, BTU parent union, proposes new 'bar exam' for teachers

In the next five years, teachers entering the profession would first have to pass an comprehensive licensing exam--much like the bar exam for attorneys--as part of their certification, under a new proposal announced this week by the largest U.S. teachers union.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, rolled out her vision for the exam Monday, which she said would better prepare educators not only in their content areas, but also address sociological and economic challenges in the classroom through clinical training.


"We've been fixating on evaluation, as opposed to teachers having the skills and knowledge they need," Weingarten said in the call in a conference call with reporters, including the Baltimore Sun, on Monday. "There is a body of knowledge that teachers should know and be able to do when they walk into classrooms."

The proposed exam, part of recommendations made by a task force Weingarten assembled last year, is outlined in a report released by the AFT this week titled, Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession."

"It's time to do away with a common rite of passage into the teaching profession—whereby newly minted teachers are tossed the keys to their classrooms, expected to figure things out, and left to see if they and their students sink or swim," said the report's introduction. "This is unfair to both students and their teachers, who care so much but who want and need to feel competent and confident to teach from their first day on the job."

The AFT is the parent-organization of the Baltimore Teachers Union, and longtime city educator and union leader Loretta Johnson serves as secretary-treasurer for the national union. Weingarten has advocated in Baltimore's campaign to improve teacher quality, visiting the district in 2010 to encourage teachers to vote for the controversial BTU contract that implemented a pay-for-performance structure.

Weingarten said that such a certification exam--which she would like to see come to fruition in the next five years--would build upon the national movement to strengthen the teaching profession.

She said an AFT survey found that one in three new teachers said they felt unprepared their first day on the job, and new teachers particularly struggled with non-content elements of teaching, such as classroom management.

Like the new Common Core standards, Weingarten said the standards would be developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and states would willingly adopt the exam as part of its certification requirements.

While the exam would, to some degree, streamline standards, "no one is proposing a national test," Weingarten said. She also added that the standards must be borne in k-12 and higher education institutions. "It can't be something that gets exported or contracted out to testing companies," she said.

Weingarten said that she believes such a measure could unfold in the next three to five years, with adequate funding.

Most importantly, she said, "it is very important that the profession buys into this."

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