Raising the bar, raising the profession

See all posts
We must do away with a common rite of passage, 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.
--Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

We could not agree more with these opening words to today's important report from the AFT, Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Profession. For far too long, key aspects of teacher training have been left to chance. No wonder, then, that only 30 percent of the teachers the AFT surveyed for the report said that their stints in teacher prep -- which generally take two years and cost thousands of dollars in tuition -- were the most helpful factor in readying them to teach.

Weingarten has made headlines of late calling for new teachers to pass the equivalent of a bar exam to enter the profession. But Raising the Bar places just as much emphasis (if not more) on entry into teacher preparation itself. Aspiring teachers would have to earn a 3.0 college GPA and either an 1100 on the SAT or a 24 on the ACT to get in. If this recommendation were implemented, it would put the US on a par with high-performing countries that draw their teachers from the top-third of the college-going population. Just to put this goal in perspective: our research for the Review has shown that only 20 percent of teacher preparation programs ensure that they are drawing candidates from the top half of the college-going population.

While definitely a significant step forward, the report's recommended exit requirements for teacher candidates don't quite seem to add up to a bar exam. We completely concur that candidates should demonstrate they can plan lessons for diverse classrooms, establish a positive learning environment and use assessment data to drive instruction before they become teachers of record (all areas covered in our Teacher Prep Review ). But why should developing a "professional philosophy" be considered a prerequisite to becoming a successful teacher? And the report does not go into enough detail about its recommended performance assessment -- videotapes of three successful teaching experiences and formal observation by a practitioner-mentor -- for us to determine whether it would be truly rigorous.

That said, Raising the Bar shows that the AFT really does "get it": unless the teaching profession limits entry to those who are fully equipped to succeed in the classroom, it will never be held in the same high esteem as medicine or law. If the AFT's leadership can mobilize its membership and substantial political influence simply to push for higher admissions requirements to teacher preparation programs, it could have a huge impact. Bravo to Weingarten for kicking off what could be her biggest initiative yet.