Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Raising the Bar for Teaching: A Rigorous Board Exam for Teachers Could Change Who Is Attracted to the Profession, Develop a More Consistent and Higher Level of Skills among Teachers, Improve Student Outcomes, and Greatly Increase Public Regard for Teachers and Teaching

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Raising the Bar for Teaching: A Rigorous Board Exam for Teachers Could Change Who Is Attracted to the Profession, Develop a More Consistent and Higher Level of Skills among Teachers, Improve Student Outcomes, and Greatly Increase Public Regard for Teachers and Teaching

Article excerpt

During a visit to Ontario several years ago, one of the authors asked a young math teacher if becoming a teacher in Canada was really as difficult as policy makers made it out to be. Yes, he said, adding that many of his college friends who wanted to become teachers couldn't get accepted into a teacher preparation program.

"But," he added, "there is a loophole."

What's that?

"You can go across the border. Everyone knows that anyone can become a teacher over there."

That's how the United States looks to the rest of the world.

The past year has seen the emergence of an increasingly broad consensus on raising the standards for entering the teaching profession. The nation's two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have authored reports advancing recommendations for raising the bar for entry. The state education leaders, represented by the Council of Chief State School Officers, have similarly proposed transforming entry into the profession. These high-profile calls share a common thread: the need for a rigorous, performance-based exam -- a "bar-like exam," in AFT president Randi Weingarten's memorable phrasing -- that serves as the gateway into the profession. Such an exam would be modeled after other professions with more rigorous entry requirements and would ensure that all new licensed teachers meet a consistent standard of quality.

This proposal is a potential game changer. If such an exam was sufficiently rigorous, it could change who is drawn into teaching, develop a more consistent, higher level of skill among all teachers, improve student outcomes, and greatly increase public regard for teachers and teaching. These changes could create a self-reinforcing upward spiral, as increased respect for teachers and improved results would lead to increased public confidence, potentially higher pay, and, in the long run, greater desire for talented people to join the profession.

Why an exam

The idea that teaching needs an exam equivalent to the legal bar or the medical boards is not new. There has long been talk in education circles about whether there could be an educational equivalent to the famous 1910 Flexner report in medicine that significantly raised standards, closed weak medical schools, and provided the basis for the medical profession today. Former AFT president Al Shanker argued in 1985 that creating such an exam would be an important part of professionalizing teaching. Efforts by Shanker and the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession led to the creation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in 1987, but the National Board has thus far been a mechanism for certifying advanced teachers, not raising the bar for entering the profession.

Increasing awareness of what is happening elsewhere in the world lends renewed momentum to the idea of raising standards for all new teachers. Research on PISA-leading nations suggests that other countries set a much higher bar for who can become a teacher, have many fewer institutions that prepare teachers, and give them more extensive training than their American counterparts. The oft-cited figure from a 2007 McKinsey & Co. study is that top-performing nations draw their teachers from the top-third of their high school and college graduates; in the United States, most teachers come from the bottom 60%.

The reasons for this are complicated and tied to a mixture of interconnected issues around pay, status, gender, and the low reputation of education schools. But U.S. policy choices at the federal and state levels enable this cycle. By setting very low standards for what it takes to become a teacher, our policies do little to enhance the status of the profession, persuade prospective applicants that teaching is serious work, or ensure the public that teachers have met a reasonable floor of quality. …

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