Mike Kueber's Blog

December 6, 2012

Great news for education reform – a bar exam for teachers

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 5:50 pm

A few days ago one of America’s largest teachers’ unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), came out with the following shocking recommendation in a press release:   

  • 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.

The recommendation is shocking because teachers’ unions have historically served as an obstacle to reformers who believe improved teachers are key to improving the American educations system.  Although the recommendation does not get at the core issue of whether a teacher’s students are learning, it does seem a small step in the right direction by ensuring that teachings have a solid foundation in the teaching subjects and in teaching in general. 

Upon closer inspection, however, the step is even smaller because the new competence will be required only of teachers entering the field, not of those who already occupy the field.  The plan to grandfather all existing teachers, as a practical matter, is to be expected.  I can imagine the outrage amongst lawyers if we had to periodically pass a bar exam.

Today’s San Antonio Express-News contained a column from Esther Cepeda discussing the AFT’s recommendation.    Cepeda applauds the recommendation as necessary and overdue because studies that reveal the teaching profession is overflowing with incompetent teachers.  Unfortunately, despite the relatively narrow focus of the recommendation, Cepeda treats it almost like a cure-all:

  • The AFT’s proposed high standards aim at the heart of what’s required for good teachers: Top students coming out of college with documented expertise in specific subject areas, uncompromising teacher training, exacting exams that demonstrate knowledge, and stringent methods of training and evaluating classroom performance.

The last item on Cepeda’s list – “evaluating classroom performance” – is not addressed by the AFT, probably because it is inherently inconsistent with the AFT’s mission to protect all current teachers, regardless of performance. 

Ultimately, we will need to get their against union opposition.



  1. I think all attorneys should have to pass the Bar Exam every four or five years. Then, the exam would become relevant to the actual practice of law. So, too, might Law School.

    Comment by Bob Bevard — December 6, 2012 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

    • Bob, now that I’m retired, I agree. Actually, as a libertarian, I question whether government should have control over who can practice law. Or medicine. Caveat emptor.

      Comment by Mike Kueber — December 6, 2012 @ 9:01 pm | Reply

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