Bruno: The Case Against A Bar Exam For Teachers
The idea of a nationwide "bar exam" for would-be teachers is garnering support from everybody from Randi Weingarten to Joel Klein. The idea seems to be that only the "best and brightest" should go into teaching, and a rigorous exam would be a way of weeding out weaker applicants and raising the status of those that pass it.
This makes at least some sense. If nothing else, standardizing the credentialing process between states is a good idea, since transferring a credential to a new state is currently often a pain. Beyond that, though, there are at least two reasons to be skeptical that a "bar exam" for teachers is a good idea.
First, there isn't (as far as I can tell) much evidence that being among the "best and brightest" is all that important to being a good teacher. There are probably some intelligence or subject knowledge thresholds below which one is unlikely to be able to teach well, but most teachers already have to pass tests and other hurdles that screen for those criteria. This is especially true at the secondary level, where most teachers have (at a minimum) bachelor's degrees in their subjects.
Second, a bar-type exam is probably not a way of encouraging the strongest candidates to apply. On the contrary, its purpose is precisely to be the sort of daunting hurdle that will discourage almost all categories of applicant to one degree or another. A more rigorous exam might therefore increase the proportion of applicants coming from the "best and brightest", but it is unlikely to increase their absolute number.
Bar exam advocates respond, here, by conceding that we would obviously need to compensate for higher standards with higher salaries. This is a fair enough response, but only works to the extent that we have a concrete plan for increasing salaries. We probably should have such a plan, but as far as I can tell we do not.
Teacher quality in the United States probably can be improved, but a "bar exam" is unlikely to be the way to do it in the current political and economic environment. It would be better, in my view, to focus on improving - and streamlining - teacher training, though that is itself a daunting challenge. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)