WASHINGTON - Schoolteachers should have to pass a stringent exam - much like the bar exam for lawyers - before being allowed to enter the profession, one of the nation's largest teachers unions said Monday.
The American Federation of Teachers called for a tough new written test to be complimented by stricter entrance requirements for teacher training programs, 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, and left to see if they and their students sink or swim," said AFT President Randi Weingarten, calling that system unfair to students and teachers alike.
The proposal, released Monday as part of a broader report on elevating the teaching profession, calls for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to take the lead in developing a new test. The nonprofit group currently administers the National Board Certification program, an advanced, voluntary teaching credential that goes beyond state standards.
There is no single, national standard for teacher certification, although the federal government does ask states to meet certain criteria to be eligible for federal funding.
The proposal by a major teachers union to impose tougher requirements on its own members may signal a shift in tone for a profession facing heightened scrutiny. In recent years, unions such as AFT have resisted calls to end tenure and to tie teachers' evaluations to their students' test scores.
But by embracing more rigorous certification standards, the union hopes to raise the status of the teaching profession, which could reap future rewards when it comes to compensation and other benefits. In its report, AFT drew comparisons between teaching and other professions that require advanced professional training, such as medicine and law.
The proposal also calls for making entrance into teacher education programs more competitive. Candidates should be required to have a minimum 3.0 cumulative grade point average, the AFT said, in addition to formal interviews and 10 hours of field experience.
"If you impose that kind of restriction, that means you're signaling to society at large that not everybody can be a teacher. You're saying it's hard to get in. It's hard to be good," said Arthur McKee of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which supports the proposal.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, too, commended the proposal, describing it as part of a broader push to raise the bar for teachers and enable schools to predict a teacher's potential for success in the classroom.
"Too many new teachers enter our schools feeling unprepared. We shouldn't tolerate that in a profession so important to our country's future," he said in a statement.
The union's executive council will consider whether to approve the report at a February meeting. Other teachers unions including the National Education Association have yet to weigh in on the proposal.