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December 5, 2012 at 7:00 AM

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Teachers union wants to raise quality of the profession with a bar exam


The premise that it ought to be more difficult to become a teacher is at the heart of the American Federation of Teachers' proposal for a stringent teacher entrance exam, much like the bar exam for lawyers or the medical boards for doctors.

Teachers would have to score high for entrance into the profession. The nation's second-largest teachers union also thinks it should be tougher to get into teacher training programs. Entry requirements, such as a minimum grade point average, are suggested.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan quickly embraced the idea. Despite the tensions between the Obama Administration and teachers unions over education reforms, AFT leader Randi Weingarten has worked with the White House on a number of them.

Obviously, the problem such solutions are meant to address is uneven teacher quality in public education. Susan Fuhrman, head of the Teachers College at Columbia points to states' lack of scrutiny of teacher ed programs, in this Washington Post story. Fuhrman notes that very few teacher prep programs have been closed despite some having been found seriously wanting.

At the same time efforts are going into making it more difficult for just anyone to teach, alternative teacher training programs, such as Teach for America, are streamlining the path to teacher certification. Weingarten has a response: require all training program graduates to pass the same exam.

A bar exam would “just level the playing field,” she told the Washington Post. "Maybe all the alternative certified teachers will pass with flying colors. But if only 10 percent of TFA passed it and 90 percent of the students from Teachers College passed it, that would say something.” It would indeed.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

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