A bar exam for teachers?

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called for a bar exam for teachers at the Aspen Ideas Festival, reports Steve Clemons in The Atlantic. Weingarten is an attorney.

She said a bar exam for teachers today should emphasize the instruction of critical thinking.  That could change in the future as needs and expectations change.

Weingarten said that we could do with teacher screening and training what we are doing today with the “common core” — establish a national board that sets a ‘national standard’ and then strongly encourage, nudge, and seduce states to adopt the standard.

How high would the bar be?  Many would-be teachers have trouble passing basic skills tests. And how would teaching ability, as opposed to subject-matter knowledge, be tested?

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Comments

  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    Surprise, surprise. The head of the guild protecting the credentials of the guild members by trying to limit training options to those approved by the guild.

    Higher standards for those entering treachers’ programs and better training is necessary. Do we trust the existing guild to build the “licensing” authority for everyone? NO!

    • Since it’s an ill wind that blows no good, consider the need, from a union leader’s point of view, of this sort of thing. It’s a defensive idea and the only time you have to bother with defense is when there’s a threat.

      There’s a threat.

      Lots of them in fact and one of them is that the cozy relationship between teacher’s unions and schools of ed may be in danger of being upset. So Weingarten fires off a pre-emptive strike in favor of her solution to the problem of teacher certification slipping out of the control of the ed schools.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Yep. The ed schools are incompetent and she’s providing them with cover. Another meaningless hurdle to reassure the confused public while the ed schools and unions keep control with zero benefit to teachers, parents, or students.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          Oh, and any board set up to design and administer such a bar exam would be peopled by union and ed school cronies. Weingarten knows they could completely co-opt any such animal.

        • I’m going to be annoyingly picky.

          It’s not so much that ed schools are incompetent as that they don’t have to be competent.

          The people the ed schools work for, the districts that hire their graduates, don’t place any emphasis on those graduated being competent. Those graduates aren’t expected to know on day one what the what Roxanne Elden in the Superteacher post complained took her several years to learn. Since the graduates aren’t expected to know those sorts of things, and indeed are never required to learn them, the ed schools aren’t on the hook to teach them.

          That situation doesn’t preclude ed schools from doing a good job it just doesn’t reward them for doing a good job by making their graduates more valuable. They’re not valuable to the hiring organization since one teacher’s as good as another.

          The indifference of the public education system to teaching skill mirrors the unimportance of the graduating institution.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    It might be useful to know that most lawyers don’t think much of the bar exam.

    As soon as someone graduates from law school in May, they usually begin a 6-week or so “bar review” course, consisting of lectures, practice questions, and course-provided outlines of various areas of law that the exam will ask about. Bar review courses are provided by companies like BARBRI and Kaplan.

    The prospective lawyer tries to cram as much knowledge as possible before the bar exam, which is given at the end of July. They then forget most of what they crammed.

  3. Cranberry says:

    What does “critical thinking” mean in this context? Does it mean a political litmus test for teachers, as with the attempts to limit access to the teaching profession to those who possess certain “dispositions?” http://thefire.org/article/11198.html

    By the time they finish college, I’m certain future teachers are just as tired of mandated tests as everyone else. Let’s take a stand against unnecessary testing. After all, most of education consists of academic assessments. By the time they graduate from college, future teachers have amassed a great deal proof of their academic ability.

    How about this? Limit access to the teaching profession to candidates whose SAT or ACT scores exceed a certain boundary (1100 or so, in M + CR, say?) and who maintain a set grade point average ( B? ) in an academic major (i.e., not an “education” major) at an accredited college.

  4. Lightly Seasoned says:

    We have a standardized test: the Praxis. This was also the idea behind the National Board Certification, which I’m told is a very worthwhile process, but states and districts have dropped funding for it.

  5. Of course, there is not a national bar exam per se. The vast majority of lawyers take state bar exams based in part upon the specifics of their state, and are licensed at that point by the state bar. The union thug in question wants to turn the process on its head for teachers.

  6. This idea only serves to further insulate the teaching profession and will have little or no impact on teacher quality. More complete thoughts over at my blog:

    http://skepticspolitics.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/a-bar-exam-for-teachers-misses-the-point/

  7. So, a test of politically correct ideas rather than of any actual knowledge. How fitting.

    Having teachers pass with a “4″ the AP subject exam in the subject they are teaching would be a better start. Let them prove they have the knowledge of a bright high school student.

    If principals had to pass three AP subject exams, I think it might revolutionize schooling. Union presidents should also have to pass three.

    “Critical thinking” is the most often used buzz phrase among those who rarely do any. It usually means nothing more than a propensity for questioning anything traditional along with an eagerness to be up-to-date on the latest ideological trends. “Critical thinking” is the last refuge of an ideologue.

  8. Problems with this idea:

    1) Did she say that you have to graduate from law school (3 years) to take the bar exam? That’s part of the deal. We gonna have three years of ed school?

    2) Did she talk about the need to take an extra “review” course (thousands of dollars, many weeks, lots of cramming) to pass the bar exam? Yes, it’s quite crammable?

    3) Did she say that lawyers widely consider the bar exam to have little to nothing to do with the practice of law?

    4) Did she point out that the states each have their own bar exams, with widely differing reputations as to difficulty?

  9. Having teachers pass with a “4? the AP subject exam in the subject they are teaching would be a better start. Let them prove they have the knowledge of a bright high school student.

    As usual, people like you seem unaware that this would cover exactly three high school subjects: English, history, and science. It doesn’t really cover math, since it would only test competency in calculus, which is taught by maybe 5% of all high school math teachers.

    This is a pointless standard for elementary school, of course.

    Higher standards for those entering treachers’ programs and better training is necessary

    As to the first, you’re wrong. The credentialing tests are perfectly fine for what they do. Better training is probably impossible.

    Really, people are astonishingly uninformed about the state of teacher intelligence and the existing cognitive barriers to entering the profession.

    • They are not “uninformed”, they are brainwashed.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      The credentialing tests are perfectly fine for what they do.

      Cal-

      No doubt, like me, you were able to pass the CSET for your subject in one shot — maybe taking it cold, as I did. You’re a smart person.

      But the passing rates are quite low — 60-ish percent for English and Social Science, between 30 and 55 percent for math (depending on whether you are looking at foundational or full fledged mathematics), and slightly higher for science (as you might expect).

      You might think this means that forty percent of would-be teachers never make it to their programs. But that’s not the case.

      But here’s the truth about California’s “credentialing tests” — a huge portion of the people who gain admission to a credentialing program do it through the waiver requirements, often because they’ve failed the CSET multiple times.

      All you need is a mediocre grade point average (astonishingly easy to get) in the appropriate subject, and you don’t even have to take the test.

      THAT’S the real flaw in (at least California’s) credentialing system, and that’s why I can’t accept your statement that the credentialing tests are perfectly fine. They are, actually. They’re quite stringent. But they are also entirely optional at most schools.

      It would be one thing if people HAD to pass the CSET. But they don’t. Have to.

      And they don’t. Pass, that is.

  10. “As usual, people like you seem unaware that this would cover exactly three high school subjects: English, history, and science. ”

    There are dozens of different AP tests, including quite a number outside English, history and science, and they’re adding new ones.

    http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/subjects.html

  11. Cranberry says:

    AP Stats. Languages: French, Spanish, Chinese, Latin, German, Japanese, Italian.
    Psychology. US Gov’t & Politics, Art History, Music Theory, Macroeconomics, Human Geography, Computer Science, Studio Art.

  12. Oh, lord. You people can’t be serious. Yes, we will improve our school system by making Korean language teachers pass the AP. Whoohoo!

    That’s far more important than the elementary school gap in your little plan, of course.

    . . . All evidence shows that teachers are smart enough, even given that we can’t prove that smarter teachers get better results.

    Michael, you’re wrong. The cumulative pass rate for math, history, and English tests is 80%. The cumulative full math credential pass rate is 60%. The foundational math pass rate is 50%, which makes sense because of all the middle school math teachers who had to pass it retroactively.

    It is not ridiculously easy to get a waiver for the CSET, and it’s impossible to do for elementary school teachers. Anyone who can’t pass the foundational math test is unlikely to be able to pass a college math course sequence.

    And again–although why I repeat this is a mystery, given everyone’s complete inability to grasp this basic fact–your entire premise is unfounded. First, no evidence shows that higher test scores create better teachers. Second, high school teachers are drawn from the top half of college grads in their major, and elementary schools just below the 50% mark. It’s utterly moronic to think we need smarter teachers.

    • Doesn’t seem all that tough to get a waiver:

      From the CSULB web site:

      If you completed an approved subject matter preparation program at an accredited college or university or completed a degree in your subject area you may qualify for a subject matter waiver. Students must fill out a Subject Waiver Evaluation Request to have their transcripts evaluated for Subject Matter Competency.

      http://www.ced.csulb.edu/faqs/844

      And the reason you have to repeat “this” is pretty obvious.

      The notion that a teacher’s going to be any good if they have a tenuous grasp of the subject matter is inherently a tough sell. But that’s the product you’ve got to peddle and while the premise has always floated in the background the public education system could largely ignore subject matter ignorance on the part of teachers since the teaching credential was held up as a sheild against all criticism.

      Trouble is, that sheild’s been eroding for some time and no amount of juvenile name-calling on your part is going to change that.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      Michael, you’re wrong. The cumulative pass rate for math, history, and English tests is 80%. The cumulative full math credential pass rate is 60%. The foundational math pass rate is 50%, which makes sense because of all the middle school math teachers who had to pass it retroactively.

      Do you ever get tired of just saying that people are “wrong”? As an academic, I take the charge that I’m “wrong” quite seriously. So let me defend myself.

      First off, I was just talking about the most recent year’s data. If you want to use cumulatives, we can do that. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong — it just means I’m talking about something different. Would it be more advisable to use cumulatives? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe we’re more concerned with where we are than where we’ve been, or maybe 2010 was an outlier… but that’s a whole separate conversation.

      But maybe I’m wrong about even the thing I’m talking about…

      I admit it. I was ball-parking, using hyper-technical, precision language like “60-ish”. As it turns out, the 2010 overall rate for English, Math, and Social Science is around 54% with foundational mathematics, and 62% without.

      I know… 6% or 2% off for something that wasn’t even my main point. Mea maxima culpa. Suis desole. I AM SORRY.

      Now let’s look at your figures.

      Obviously what the “cumulative” rate is is going to depend on what years you are accumulating. You didn’t specify, but I’m assuming that you’re using the same data set that I am, so the cumulative rates for 2003-2010 are:

      English: 78.5% (19K attempts)
      Math (non-foundational): 60% (7.3K attempts)
      Social Science: 79.2% (12.3K attempts)

      I’ll accept that 78.5 and 79.2 are close to 80%. So I could see why one might reasonably assert that the English and Social Science cumulative pass rates are “80-ish”. Maybe even a flat-out 80%. That wouldn’t be terribly misleading.

      But that, of course, isn’t what you said at all. You said that “(t)he cumulative pass rate for math, history, and English tests is 80%.”

      If you do a weighted average of the three subjects, it’s 75.22%. Calling that 80% is a bit of a stretch — and certainly further off target than saying “60-ish” for 62%. But maybe not as much a stretch as saying “60-ish” for “54%”.

      Of course, if you add in foundational, that drops even more, to a 71% cumulative pass rate, which couldn’t be rounded to 80% unless you were rounding to the nearest multiple of twenty — which would be damn weird.

      So my “60-ish” is off by 6% or 2%, and your “80%” is off by 9% or 4%.

      But the data are what the data are, and we can see where you got your views, what you’re actually saying, and whether you’re right or not. Are you “wrong” to say that 71% is, essentially, 80% ? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on context and purpose.

      So… am I “wrong”? Eh, maybe. Certainly I’m wrong about something, somewhere. But at least I take the time to understand what my opponents are saying before I make sweeping attacks on their positions.

      The joke here, though, is that you and I agree about the rigor of the CSETs (and thus the lack of a need for a “bar exam”). I’m on your side here. Indeed, to the extent that I was “wrong”, I apparently made them seem harder than they actually are!

      I just think people should have to take and pass them to teach high school. You are apparently happy to have the tests be optional — which is sort of odd given that, historically, you’ve repeatedly talked about how difficult the exams are as a way of defending the academic ability of teachers. But that’s our only real disagreement here.