This week, Good Education asked, “Do We Need a 'Bar Exam' For Teachers?”
Of course this is completely absurd. While exams are very good at determining whether one remembers a bunch of arcane regulations, rules and laws, teachers do not need to know this kind of stuff. On the other hand, teachers already have to pass relatively challenging comprehensive high stakes exams in most states to demonstrate their content knowledge. More importantly, the things that matter most in education (e.g., ability to build a positive rapport with students, design and implement creative and engaging lesson plans, create a safe and supportive learning environment) are difficult or impossible to assess by means of a pen and paper exam.
According to Good Education, American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingharten, recently suggested that implementing a “bar exam” for prospective teachers might improve the quality and status of American teachers. To her credit, when challenged on her proposal, Weingarten clarified that she meant more than a multiple choice exam and suggested some sort of “clinical” test, which presumably could include observations of student and or probationary teachers.
While such an exam could conceivably be designed and implemented in such a way that prospective teachers were objectively assessed for their skill in front of students, the likelihood of this occurring is very slim in the current climate of punitive education reform and general defunding of public education. There just simply isn’t the money to train and hire sufficient objective 3rd-party evaluators to make these classroom observations.
Leaving it to site administrators is certainly possible—it would merely be an extension of their existing evaluation responsibilities. The problem here is that most administrators already lack the time and training to do this well and, as the executives of their respective schools, they have an inherent bias that could undermine prospective teachers’ chances of earning their credentials or compels some to substitute what they think their administrators want for good teaching methods.
Perhaps most significant in this debate is not the way such an exam would be designed or implemented, but the presumption that making it harder to become a teacher will somehow get the Ed Deformers to back off and take us more seriously.
The attacks on teachers have virtually no basis in any factual or real deficit in the profession. Rather, they are exaggerations and fabrications designed to muster public support for preconceived profit-making schemes. For example, “tenure and seniority protect bad teachers,” is a popularly-believed but inaccurate statement designed to rally support for abolishing tenure and seniority, which itself is intended to weaken union protections and the unions themselves. Weakening or destroying the teachers unions indirectly weakens the union movement as the public sector is one of the few remaining sectors of the economy that still has many unionized workers.
Making it tougher to become a teacher will not change this. The corporate education profiteers will continue to find new ways to make a buck off of public education and they will continue to see the teachers and their unions as the biggest obstacle, using whatever propaganda necessary to achieve their aims. This will almost certainly continue to include the denigration of teachers and the profession.