Each state currently decides how to accredit, license and certify new teachers, but an initiative from the American Federation of Teachers could change that.
Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, said in a conference call with reporters that all teachers should meet universal requirements and show mastery of subject-matter knowledge, similar to the bar exam new lawyers must pass, and demonstrate competence in how to teach. A report from the AFT, "Raising the Bar – Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession" urged a move toward a more systematic approach to preparing teachers.
Weingarten said the teaching profession has made strides over the past few decades in regard to teacher preparation. The AFT released a report about 10 years ago, and several recommendations were accepted, but some were ignored.
"What we realized and recognized is a lot of the alignment we called for 10 years ago never happened," Weingarten said. "If you look at the report, you'll see why."
According to Weingarten, all 50 states go about licensing and certifying teachers differently. Rather than aligning certification requirements, many school systems tend to focus largely on teacher evaluation, mostly tied to test scores.
"What has happened is, instead of doing what countries that out-compete us do, which is focusing on preparation, what we do in the U.S. is focus on evaluation instead of the knowledge teachers need when they walk into the classroom," Weingarten said.
The proposals outlined in the report show more than one-third of teachers don't feel prepared when they graduate college and begin their careers in the classroom. The report makes three recommendations:
"It can't be something that gets exported or contracted out to the testing companies," Weingarten said of the assessment. "It has to be something the profession owns and operates and implements."
Ron Thorpe, president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, said the lack of cohesion among state licensing requirements means teachers get less of a say in how their profession is operated.
"What has happened in all the other professions is the professions get together and they decide … what excellence should be, what accomplishments should be," he said. "This is what's happened in medicine, for example, and in law, and that's become so persuasive over time that municipalities, states and even the federal government have come to understand that what the professions have created makes a lot of sense."
Once the professions establish their own requirements, they are often adopted as policy.
"Without the profession coming together and standing up… the government and legal bodies have nothing to go on," Thorpe said.
Francine Lawrence, AFT executive vice president and chairwoman of the AFT Teacher Preparation Task Force, which drafted the report, said the U.S. approach to teacher certification is "a haphazard, inconsistent approach, including a patchwork of state-drive entry exams."
"The time is long overdue for the United States to commit to a consistent approach that will life the teaching profession by making the training and preparation of educators more effective, efficient and rigorous," Lawrence said.
The report will go to the AFT executive council for approval at its February meeting. The report can be viewed at http://www.aft.org/pdfs/highered/raisingthebar2012.pdf.