Raising the Bar on Teacher Accreditation

No one needs to be reminded that we have an education system in crisis. While there are many reasons for the education dilemna at hand, one widely held belief is that our teachers are not prepared for the changing educational climate.

In an effort to address this issue, the American Federation of Teachers has proposed a universal test which teachers would have to pass before being let loose on a classroom of their own. This “Raising The Bar” initiative also requires that teachers have a certain grade-point-average and score on entrance exams before entering a teacher training program.  “It’s time to do away with a common rite of passage into the teaching profession—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. This is unfair to both students and their teachers.” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

The president and CEO of NBPTS, Ronald Thorpe, said he’s going to move to create a commission within the next 90 days to create this set of standards. “It’s an opportunity for the profession to step back and say these are our expectations based on what the profession sees as important to have when you step foot in the classroom on the first day,” Thorpe said. “We’ll put our stamp behind this person who has all the credentials that a first-year teacher needs and has the greatest chance for succeeding.”

A significant issue with the test is that it doesn’t address current teachers who are failing. The public has expressed concerns with teachers’ unions over the fact that it is difficult or impossible to fire poorly performing teachers. It would take too long for the teachers already in the system to retire and be replaced by those who had passed on these more rigorous standards. This would have to be paired with stricter evaluation criteria, rather than just entrance, in order to make a difference to kids in school today. 

The other stumbling block is determining and communicating the purpose of the test. Some have questioned teacher salaries, saying that they are too high. The rigorous testing was suggested as a way to justify this rate of pay. However, teachers see it the other way around- if there is a test which is being compared to the bar exam, they should be paid even higher wages more in line with what lawyers make. Education major Lisa Waterman said  “When you think of a bar exam for a doctor or a lawyer, you think of those wages, those salaries, and it’s not exactly the same… personally would be fine (with an additional test). But if they’re going to raise the bar for professional teachers, so to speak, it would be nice if the respect for the profession and the salaries could go up as well.”

If these issues were to be worked out, there’s the final hurdle of getting each state to adopt the new standards.  Is testing new teachers part of the answer to improving our struggling education system?  We may find out here in the near future.