Educators open to stricter standards

If making teachers take a rigorous exam to get their license, similar to the way lawyers take the bar exam in order to practice law, is a way to enhance the image of the teaching profession, then some educators are all for it.

“It all depends on who’s going to write the exam, whether it would be a national test or a state-by-state test,” said Chris Maraschiello, history teacher at Garfield Middle School in Hamilton.

“The perception of a lot of people is that teachers don’t have as rigorous a background as other professions,” he said. “So if you’re trying to raise the prestige of the teaching profession, then I don’t think many teachers would have a problem with it.”

The American Federation of Teachers released a report earlier this week suggesting that teachers of the future should be required to meet a universal and rigorous bar that gauges mastery of subject-matter knowledge and demonstrates competency in how to teach.

“Raising the Bar—Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession,” issued by the AFT Teacher Preparation Task Force, urged a move toward a systemic approach to preparing teachers and a more rigorous threshold to ensure that every teacher is ready to teach.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said that such a practice would end the “sink or swim” approach that the profession now takes, which she called unfair to teachers and students.

The AFT, one of the largest teachers’ unions, said this exam would be paired with stricter entrance requirements for potential teachers, such as a minimum grade-point average.

“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,” she said. “This is unfair to both students and their teachers, who care so much but who want and need to feel competent and confident to teach from their first day on the job.”

“School systems are raising the bar for students through the widespread adoption of the internationally benchmarked Common Core State Standards; we must do the same for teachers,” she said.

Maraschiello said that he had two degrees in history before seeking his teaching degree, and would hope that all teachers would be similarly immersed in their content area, but that’s hardly the case.

“A lot of times people can get teaching degrees and take very few classes in their subject area,” he said. “Some of the tests that we take now really aren’t that rigorous. If (this proposal) is going to screen out people who shouldn’t be teaching, then I’m all for it.”

The nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future reported last year that nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report in January, the

Two years ago, Ohio implemented a four-year residency program for teachers that is based on a model that medical schools follow. The new process, still in its infancy, is more comprehensive than the previous protocol and includes multiple evaluations and mentorships.

Prior to this change, Ohio teachers would obtain a two-year professional license before becoming eligible for a permanent license.

Michele Prater of the Ohio Education Association said, due to the fact that Ohio has a more stringent licensure process than many states, that she’s not sure if firming up requirements for new teachers with this proposed exam would be necessary.

“Basically, a test alone cannot prepare the individuals for the intellectual and social rigors of teaching,” Prater said. “Continuous coached practice, in the classroom prior to and during the initial years, build effective teachers.”

Rich Packert, former president of the Middletown Teachers Association and a Middletown Middle School teacher, declined comment Wednesday, saying the union might have an official statement later.

Leslie Nettling, co-president of the Carlisle Teachers Association in Warren County, also had not comment since her union is an affiliate of the Ohio Education Association and not the American Federation of Teachers.

Hamilton City School District spokesperson Joni Copas said that there are already programs in place to enhance the image of the teacher as they become more accountable for student performance.

“The state of Ohio is certainly moving in this direction with the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES), which requires that evaluators be trained and calibrated to the new state model,” she said. “This model has a strong data driven evidence based component to the documentation.”

Copas agrees, however, that much of the value of a “bar exam” type of test would depend on who’s writing it and administering it.

“There would need to be a great deal of planning and direction to develop a national based assessment to be given prior to a license to teach,” she said. “But accountability is important in all professions.”

“It’s interesting that it’s a teachers union that is recommending this,” Maraschiello said. “It would be interesting to see what the Ohio Education Association and the National Education Association feel about it.”

There are some, however, who feel that some of the best qualifications to enter the teaching profession are intangible.

“I don’t think such a test should be as hard as a bar exam,” said Hamilton resident Stephanie Chambers, who has a law degree from University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. “That requires at least seven years of higher-education, but it should be in-depth to show competency.

“However, that said, the best teachers are also those with compassion for children and an ability to make learning fun.”

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