A nation ignorant and free, that never was and never shall be. Thomas Jefferson
As long argued here, education is one of the four necessary elements of a solution to our ongoing national catastrophe of debt and dumbth. The other three being a new tax code, massive regulatory rollback, and significant entitlements reductions. Here we’ll focus on education and the new proposal put forth by Ms Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s two large teachers’ unions (AFT press release).
For background, Weingarten is an experienced union lawyer, leftwing political activist, self-declared lesbian and “deeply religious Jew”, and has been tagged as a “kingmaker” in New York politics. Ms Weingarten proposes that K-12 teachers pass a ‘teachers’ bar exam’ before being allowed to teach in the nation’s classrooms. In recent days the AFT initiative has been covered by leading newspapers like the Washington Post and WSJ for which she wrote an article on the proposal.
The report recommends three changes to truly improve teacher preparation and, by extension, teaching and learning:
• All stakeholders—teacher education institutions, K-12 schools, teacher accrediting agencies, state education boards, the federal government, education associations and unions—must collaborate to ensure that teacher preparation standards, programs and assessments are aligned around a well-grounded vision of effective teaching.
• Teaching, like the medical, legal and other professions, must have a universal, rigorous entry assessment that is multidimensional. Its components include subject and pedagogical knowledge and demonstration of teaching performance—in other words, the ingredients to be a caring, competent and confident new teacher. This assessment would be required of all future teachers, whether they enter the profession through the traditional or an alternative route.
• Primary responsibility for setting and enforcing the standards of the profession and for ensuring quality and coherence of teacher preparation programs must reside with K-12 teachers and teacher educators.
In and of itself this appears like a laudable and long-overdue advance of the teaching profession and consequently, of our educational system. But upon closer examination, adoption of the proposed teacher ‘bar exam’ appears more like a Trojan horse to nail down some long sought objectives of organized labor in our nation’s classrooms. Specifically –
1. Establish a national control of education administered by the AFT and possibly the United Federation of Teachers unions. States’ standards would be abrogated by imposing this new federal mandate as a “level playing field” in the teaching profession.
2. There is no commensurate program of improving teacher education that is part of the proposal. No doubt one will eventually emerge (perhaps through private industry like the courses teachers can take to pass California’s Cbest test). When such instruction becomes available, it will be of strictly ‘teaching to the test’ type that the unions have long vilified.
3. Charter schools would have to run a tougher gauntlet than they already do with regard to where they can be established and what they can teach, along with whether their teachers would have to become union members.
4. The unions would gain even greater control of what constitutes a proper knowledge base to be transmitted in each subject area – i.e. if you thought they were dumb now when coming out of our schools … . The states, as competing laboratories of experimentation in learning, would be taken out of the loop. Federal funding prerequisites would then entail teachers passing the new bar exam. The unions would become the unquestioned gatekeepers to our entire K-12 educational system.
[11dec12 update] Here are the latest results from the international achievement tests as reported in the 11dec12 WSJ.