The American Federation of Teachers (the other teachers’ union) recently came out with a proposal to have the National Board develop a pre-service evaluation for teachers. They believe that by testing prospective teachers before they enter the classroom, we can elevate the level of our nation’s teachers and thus improve student learning. For obvious reasons, the National Board (and by proxy, Pearson, Inc.) would be more than happy to develop – and sell – another pre-service evaluation. And they would probably do a pretty good job of it. For their part, the AFT wants this new test to “raise the bar,” giving induction into education the same status and complexity as induction into law. I disagree.
First of all, a pre-service assessment would be as redundant as the sign on my classroom door. (See figure A, above) Virtually every college in the country already has teaching candidates take the Praxis I test before they enter the teaching program, which focuses on basic reading and math skills. After they complete the teaching program, candidates take the Praxis II, which focuses on content and pedagogical knowledge. And as if that’s not enough, Pearson is currently rolling out their own pre-service evaluation, known as the Teacher Performance Assessment, which involves a combination of teacher videos and written narrative. I wouldn’t say another pre-service evaluation is the last thing we need, but it certainly isn’t the first thing we need.
Let’s now turn to the logic of this proposal, which goes something like this: Our legal system is efficient and effective, due in part to the Bar Exam, which insures that no one enters the legal profession without the requisite knowledge, skills and dispositions. Hmm. If twenty seasons of Law and Order have taught us anything, it’s that the criminal justice system is perhaps the only institution in America more dysfunctional than the education system. Besides that, when you talk to lawyers (or read their blogs) they seem to have the same disconnection that we have between theory and practice. Lawyers learn content in law school; they learn how to practice law by being lawyers, much like educators. Having a really hard test between school and practice doesn’t necessarily create better lawyers; it just puts them deeper into debt. Likewise, a really hard test won’t necessarily create a smarter and more effective teaching corps.
I’ll tell you what would, though: two to five years of rigorous, scaffolded support for new teachers, with a gradual release of responsibility, including and followed by high-quality, job-imbedded, site-specific professional development for the rest of their careers. No teacher, in my opinion, should be given the full responsibility of a classroom fresh out of college. It’s insane, but it’s the way we do things; mostly because effective teacher induction would cost way too much money. Speaking of money, this proposal would cost lots of it. I’m not sure where the AFT thinks this money will come from, but I can tell you where it’ll go. The graviest train in education right now is assessment. Pearson and ETS are making a fortune, testing everyone on everything, while school districts are cutting back on professional development and teachers are paid less to teach more students.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the National Board. The National Board is great at what they do. But that doesn’t mean they should have to do more than what they already do. Frankly, they probably already have their hands full. When I talk to teachers – young and old – about what they think would help them do their jobs better, none of them wish we had another test for new teachers. The clear and consistent answer is more time; more time to plan, more time to collaborate, and more to time to learn on their own.