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Education Dept. Supports Union Plan for Teacher Preparation Reform

by Michael Higham, published
AFT President Randi Weingarten (left), Education Secretary Arne Duncan (right). Photos:,

Weingarten and Duncan on teacher preparation reform

The latest discussion in school reform revolves around setting a new standard for potential teachers. On Dec. 2, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) released a report titled Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession. The report outlines a plan to implement a readiness exam for incoming teachers with the purpose of determining competency.

In AFT's report, the goal is to establish a quantifiable and rigorous method of ensuring prospective teachers are ready for classroom challenges. The Department of Education echoed these sentiments the day after the report's release. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan agreed with the concerns of the AFT, "Too many new teachers enter our schools feeling unprepared. We shouldn't tolerate that in a profession so important to our country's future."

AFT describes the current preparation system as fragmented. The proposal also has the intention of streamlining the certification process for teachers. Within the report, AFT's data shows that nearly one-fifth of certified teachers found the process overly-bureaucratic and inefficient.

An assessment, comparable to the bar exam for lawyers or a board evaluation for medical professionals, is intended to make sure all educators meet the same standard across the nation. This creates a multi-dimensional process:

"[The process] must include rigorous preparation centered on clinical practice as well as theory, an in-depth examination of subject and pedagogical knowledge, and a demonstration of teaching ability through performance assessment."

AFT's perspective on teacher preparation reform is based on the notion that a significant number of new teachers are not competent or under-served by their training process. A survey within the report covered several aspects of job requirements and whether or not responders' training was adequate:


The survey was given to K-12 teachers with three years of experience maximum. The survey also concludes roughly one-third of teachers are not ready for their first day of instruction.

Development of an assessment would be in the hands of those within the education community. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) would direct and gather stakeholders and qualified teachers to design a test relevant to its requirements.

President of AFT, Randi Weingarten, stated her reason for the change in educator requirements:

"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. This is unfair to both students and their teachers, who care so much but who want and need to feel competent and confident to teach from their first day on the job."

The report was written by AFT's Teacher Preparation Task Force. President Weingarten recognizes that, "some education schools do a great job, and some do not." Not many details of a test were given in the report, as the concept is still in its infancy. The report is instead a pitch to create a centralized teaching assessment taking into account preparation disparity.

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