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A Bar Exam for Teachers?

Ohanian Comment: It's no surprise to see Randi Weingarten jump on the Aspen Institute bandwagon. I've written many times before about how the Aspen Institute pushes corporatism as education policy. Sadly, The Atlantic has cheerfully adopted the same attitude toward teachers and public education.

FYI: This Institute is sponsored by:
DLA Piper
Thomson Reuters
Ernst & Young
Souther Company
ESA (Entertain Software Association)
US Trust
General Electric

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given Aspen a ton of money. Grants specifically aimed at influencing education policy total nearly $12 million.

Click on Aspen Ideas in Education and you can watch videos featuring:

  • Thomas Friedman You'd be much better off reading The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, which nicely fillets "the silliest man on the planet" (Alexander Cockburn)

  • Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles

  • NBC Education Nation

  • Arne Duncan, speaking on the Race to the Top Revolution

  • Salman Khan of Khan Academy
  • KIPP Schools CEO and President Richard Barth

  • Aspen's Ross Weiner who, among other things, is tasked with leading networks supporting implementation of Common Core State Standards

  • Wendy Kopp and Diane Ravitch were featured in a debate

  • Melody Barnes, former Obama policy advisor, who, when she left that post, told Jon Stewart, We are turning schools around and we have set a course on education reform like no other. The president has called everyone to the table and he's done very courageous things.

  • And so on and so on.

    What's this gating teachers crap? And who the hell does Walter Isaacson think he is, king of the universe?

    And what does Steve Clemons know that he can talk about teaching being an easy hop over the bar? For starters, in addition to his job at The Atlantic, he's former executive director of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom and current Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. In the "just a coincidence" category, since 2006, New America has received $3,100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    Certainly these people have a right to their opinions. But dues-paying members of the AFT should certainly ask what Randi Weingarten is up to.

    By Steve Clemons

    American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in an interview with Walter Isaacson, President of the Institute, just launched an interesting, "big idea." She said that we should establish a "bar exam for teachers."

    Part of the challenge that the AFT, the mother ship for about 3400 teacher labor unions, is that it is perceived by many to be concerned primarily with protecting the jobs of teachers, some of whom are poor performers, rather than with promoting higher quality outcomes for students.

    AFT's Weingarten has been trying to turn that impression around, just recently announcing the launching of a free, new, digitally-based resource platform for teachers called Share My Lesson.

    But the bar exam idea shoots at the doubt many have about the quality of teachers in the American educational system. Isaacson started the discussion this morning at the Aspen Ideas Festival, presented by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, by asking about what more could be done in "training and gating teachers."

    Weingarten said that it took her longer to get her certification as New York City school teacher than preparing for the bar and taking the exam to become a lawyer in the State of New York. She said that the bar exam is made for the times -- and that ten years from now the bar exam would be different.

    She said a bar exam for teachers today should emphasize the instruction of critical thinking. That could change in the future as needs and expectations change.

    Weingarten said that we could do with teacher screening and training what we are doing today with the "common core" -- establish a national board that sets a 'national standard' and then strongly encourage, nudge, and seduce states to adopt the standard.

    I look forward to hearing the views of others in the education reform debate about whether this bar exam idea has merit.

    My sense is that such a bar exam could be promising, but all depends on how high that bar is set. If low tier graduates from our universities continue to turn to teaching as their default profession and get an easy hop over the bar -- then this bar exam big idea will flop.

    Weingarten may be on to something that helps change the impression that many have of the quality of today's teachers and teacher unions, but hopefully she will not only suggest the "bar exam" but rather a "bar exam with high standards".

    Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs.

    — Steve Clemons
    Atlantic online





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