February 2013 Issue
January 30, 2013

Unions support initiative to elevate teaching profession

Author: DarrylMcGrath
Source: NYSUT United

A proposal by the American Federation of Teachers, and supported by NYSUT, seeks to raise the overall quality of teacher preparation by creating a universal, rigorous assessment for new teachers.

NYSUT and AFT leaders call the assessment a "bar-like exam," similar in concept to the bar exam law school graduates must pass in order to practice.

But such an exam for prospective teachers would include a demonstration of practical teaching ability, a peer review process and a rigorous exam of subject and pedagogical knowledge.

The proposal for a professional assessment for new teachers was one of three significant changes recommended by the AFT's Teacher Preparation Task Force in its recently released report: "Raising the Bar — Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession."

"School systems are raising the bar for students through the widespread adoption of the internationally benchmarked Common Core Standards; we must do the same for teachers," AFT President Randi Weingarten said.

In addition to calling for a universal assessment process — or "bar exam" for prospective new teachers entering the profession — the task force also recommends:

  • All stakeholders collaborate to ensure that teacher preparation standards, programs and assessments are aligned with a well-grounded vision of effective teaching, and
  • Primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the standards of the profession and ensuring the quality and coherence of teacher preparation programs must reside with members of the profession — practicing professionals in K-12 and higher education.

Experts from among the unions' memberships would have a say in developing strong standards for entry into the teaching profession to "replace the hodgepodge of state licensure tests that now exist," the report said.

The proposal acknowledges that state tests for certification of prospective teachers can vary widely, and many might not be rigorous enough.

"New teachers tell us [the tests] are not relevant to being prepared to enter the classroom," the report said.

The task force does not recommend creating a national assessment, rather the crafting of universal standards states could adopt.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has agreed to convene conversations among stakeholders to create the framework.

"The NBPTS is an appropriate group to be part of this initiative," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira.

"The national board has been at the forefront of rigorous oversight of the teaching profession with its National Board Certification program for experienced teachers; this would be a logical extension of the national board's high standards and expertise," she said. Neira oversees higher education policy for NYSUT and is a member of the NBPTS Board of Directors.

William Buxton, a professor of literacy at SUNY Cortland, is a member of the AFT task force and NYSUT's Teacher and School Leader Preparation Workgroup, which is addressing curricula changes for teacher training programs in New York state schools of education.

He said the "bar exam" the AFT task force envisions is a much richer demonstration of a new teacher's readiness for the classroom than the term implies.

"For me, perhaps the most pertinent point of the ‘Raising the Bar' report was the idea that it has to be heavily guided by people working in the field," Buxton said.

The AFT proposal was endorsed by the New NY Education Reform Commission, which called for "model admissions requirements for teacher and principal preparation programs to raise the bar for new educators." AFT President Randi Weingarten is a commission member.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed support for the proposal in his State of the State address last month and incorporated it into his executive budget proposal.