Editorial: Teacher bar exam; your view

Posted Online: Jan. 06, 2013, 6:00 am
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
On Wednesday, we invited readers to weigh in on an education reform idea that has been gaining traction: A bar exam of sorts for new teachers.

We received a number of thoughtful responses to further a debate that was kick-started by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in the AFT report entitled "Raising the Bar."

In it, she wrote, "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."

Among those who agree are the Washington Post's Esther J. Cepeda, a former teacher, who wrote in a commentary that appeared here last month, "This suggestion is fundamental, necessary and overdue. One other word comes to mind to describe my answer to education policy observers who are asking whether we should hold teachers to rigorous national standards: Duh."

Last week, the Chicago Tribune endorsed the broad strokes of the plan, which prompted us to ask your view. Among those who responded were parents and a retired educator. We didn't hear from any identifying themselves as current or future teachers. (If you wish to comment, we welcome your response and would be happy to share it. To do so comment on this editorial at QCOnline.com, email them to letters@qconline.com or send them via snail mail to 1720 5th Ave., Moline IL 61265.)

A retired Q-C teacher, principal and student teacher supervisor, said the AFT president "seems totally unaware of the excellent teacher preparation programs presently in our colleges and universities, especially in the Midwest." Many of those programs, he writes, contain the components Ms. Weingarten and other backers of a teacher bar exam are advocating.

He also wondered what such an exam would look like. Would it be "an 'interactive' type of examination with observers and others trained to critique? Would it be simply a written test with multiple choice, essay, and other types of questions? Would the candidates taking the exam be with actual classroom students? Would candidates be aware of the test content? Would there be a follow-up critique or just a 'You passed' or 'You failed' response? Would those who 'failed' be given another chance after some remediation or would four years or more of higher learning including two years of teacher preparation be down the drain?"

Good questions all.

A mom told us a bar exam for teachers should be required, but the exam should test more than knowledge. It should test the budding teacher's tolerance for stress. "I want assurance and trust that my daughter will be taught at the highest quality and within state guidelines. Mandating that incoming teachers take a bar exam would be a major step toward improving the quality of our educational system."

A dad said teachers should be held to the same standard of excellence as lawyers and doctors. "Many other professions must pass standardized test's and be licensed to work in their career area, why not teachers? ... Our nation's children and parents are depending on teachers to provide not only the foundation for learning, but a passion for learning as well." He added, "There also needs to be a collaborative effort with school districts and teachers to work with parents on developing skills to grow the children's educational foundation and passion.

A Rock Island reader wonders, "If teachers are getting out of college are not smart enough to teach, perhaps the people who are actually in charge of the way things are run are not so qualified either?"

Another agreed, suggesting superintendents, principals and other faces of the school district "make the rules, hand them off and want some poor teacher who just wants to teach the children, run with their rules. As far as I know you need two things to have a school: teachers and students -- now go make up that bar exam and take it yourself!"

That commenter isn't the only one who wanted to test more than teachers. "The people in charge of hiring them should be given the exam.....as well as the teacher prospects," a commenter said.

Another liked the idea in principle, but worried about the practical application. "Fixing the problem is not going to be easy," he concludes.

In that, we suspect, he's absolutely right.

Thank you all for your input.



Local events heading

  Today is Thursday, April 17, the 107th day of 2014. There are 258 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: Journeymen shoemakers of Rock Island struck for higher wages yesterday morning, asking 25 percent increases. Employers have acceded to their demand.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Lighting struck wires of the Merchants Electric Light Co. during a furious storm, and many Rock Island business houses were compelled to resort to gas as a means of illumination.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Members of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, decided to erect a new edifice at a cost of about $60,000.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Willard Anderson, junior forward for the Augustana College basketball team, which won 17 out of 22 contests, was elected captain of the quintet.
1964 -- 50 years ago: John Hoffman, Moline, president of the Sac-Fox Council of Boy Scouts, will be honored for his 50 years in scouting by members of the council at a dinner Thursday evening.
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Quad-Cities has what is believed to be the area's first elite-class gymnast. It's the stuff upon which Olympic competitors are made. Tiffany Chapman, of Rock Island, not only has earned the highest possible gymnast ranking, she won the honor at age 11.

(More History)