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AFT report proposes bar-like exam for new teachers

All future teachers should be required to meet a universal and rigorous bar that gauges mastery of subject-matter knowledge, much like the bar exam lawyers must take before they can enter the legal profession, and demonstrates competency in how to teach, the AFT says in a new report on boosting the standards for teacher preparation.

"Raising the Bar—Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession," issued by the AFT Teacher Preparation Task Force, urges a move toward a systemic approach to preparing teachers and a more rigorous threshold to ensure that every teacher is ready to teach.

"School systems are raising the bar for students through the widespread adoption of the internationally benchmarked Common Core State Standards; we must do the same for teachers," says AFT president Randi Weingarten.

"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. 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," she says.

In an April 2012 Peter D. Hart Research Associates survey of 500 novice K-12 public school teachers, 1 in 3 reported feeling unprepared on their first day. Teachers said the top problem in their training program was a failure to prepare them for the challenges of teaching in the "real world." And new teachers were more likely to feel unprepared if they taught large numbers of special needs students or taught in a low-income or low-performing district.

The report recommends three changes to truly improve teacher preparation and, by extension, teaching and learning:

  • All stakeholders—teacher education institutions, K-12 schools, teacher accrediting agencies, state education boards, the federal government, education associations and unions—must collaborate to ensure that teacher preparation standards, programs and assessments are aligned around a well-grounded vision of effective teaching.
  • Teaching, like the medical, legal and other professions, must have a universal, rigorous entry assessment that is multidimensional. Its components include subject and pedagogical knowledge and demonstration of teaching performance—in other words, the ingredients to be a caring, competent and confident new teacher. This assessment would be required of all future teachers, whether they enter the profession through the traditional or an alternative route.
  • Primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the standards of the profession and for ensuring quality and coherence of teacher preparation programs must reside with K-12 teachers and teacher educators.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which established the standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do, has agreed to convene the group of stakeholders to begin designing the standards and entry assessment.

"The time is right for moving teaching into the ranks of the premier professions, such as law and medicine," says NBPTS president and CEO Ronald Thorpe. "The AFT has laid out a wise and bold vision for transforming the profession, and we are pleased to help ensure a coherent career trajectory that builds on professional knowledge and skills from pre-service through board certification and teacher leadership roles."

AFT executive vice president Francine Lawrence, who chaired the AFT Teacher Preparation Task Force, says that top-ranked countries put substantial resources and time into preparing teachers, while the United States has taken a haphazard, inconsistent approach, including a patchwork of state-driven entry exams.

"The time is long overdue for the United States to commit to a consistent approach that will lift the teaching profession by making the training and preparation of our educators more effective, efficient and rigorous," Lawrence says.

Derryn Moten, an Alabama State University professor and task force member, says: "If U.S. success is measured partly by the education of its children, the success of America's public schools is determined largely by the education of teachers. This report lays out a blueprint that will help colleges of education better align teacher preparation to the real world of teaching, and will help develop student educators into teachers of excellence."

The report reflects the AFT's continuing efforts to improve the teaching profession, teaching and learning. It complements the work the AFT has been doing to develop and promote comprehensive teacher development and evaluation systems, end the testing fixation, and ensure that educators have the resources, tools, time and trust they need to be successful.

The report now goes to the AFT executive council for approval at its February meeting.