Bar Exams for Teachers Don’t Go Far Enough

Dec 13, 2012

Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers has recently proposed the creation of a bar exam for teachers with the intention of elevating the quality of the teaching profession. As a licensed teacher and lawyer who has passed the bar, this is an interesting idea worth exploring. However, there are many factors that should be considered before fully supporting this concept. For one, we need to go beyond just the rigor of the actual exam and make admission to teacher preparation programs more competitive.

The reason bar exams work for the legal profession and boards work for the medical profession is because the candidate has already gone through a vetting process when applying to the professional school. If the teaching profession is going to move to include a bar exam, then this same intense process should be required of an applicant to get into teacher preparation programs. Theoretically, this should already be happening, but research tells us otherwise.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Education, “studies of teachers’ academic qualifications reveal that college graduates with the lowest college entrance examination (i.e., SAT or ACT) scores are more inclined to become K–12 teachers than those with the highest scores (NCES 2001–030).” We need to reverse this trend.

In addition, just because a lawyer passes the bar exam does not mean that he or she is immediately prepared to walk into a courtroom and practice law. However, there were lessons buried in those long hours of studying that helped prepare them for the challenges ahead. So, although a bar exam for teachers may not automatically make them better teachers, it should help to elevate the requirements for admission into teacher preparation programs.

I would propose that this so called bar exam be initially treated more like the LSAT for law school, or the MCAT for medical school. Let’s be honest, we need to start by raising the bar for those seeking to enter a teacher preparation program in the first place. 

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