William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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INTRIGUING IDEA – AT 9:18 A.M. ET:  We are not fans of teachers' unions here.  I have no problem at all with well-run, honest private unions, which negotiate in good faith with private employers.  But public-service unions, like teachers' unions, bring a host of problems, as we've seen in New York and Wisconsin.

But sometimes a teachers' union comes up with a good idea, or a semi-good idea, and we give credit where it's due.  From Fox:

A powerful teachers union on Monday proposed a so-called “bar exam” that intends to raise standards for incoming teachers – a move that comes amid calls for broad-scale education union reform.

The proposal by the American Federation of Teachers calls for a nationwide, standardized test that would be administered by state-level unions, similar to the way states host bar exams for lawyers.

Okay, let's stop right there.  A "bar exam" for teachers is a fine idea.  But it should not be nationwide or standardized.  It should be like the real bar exams, for prospective lawyers, and given state by state, so the states can compete with each other for excellence.  And the tests should certainly not be administered by unions.  The opportunity for corruption is just too great.

Union President Randi Weingarten said the proposed competency test is largely in response to young public-school teachers expressing concerns about being unprepared to enter a classroom.

This has finally been discovered?

“It’s not fair to students, and it’s not fair to teachers if they are not prepared on Day One,” she said.
Teachers unions have recently faced increased criticism, particularly from Republican governors, allegedly for demanding high teacher salaries without providing their states with affordable and quality educations.

Though poor-performing tenured teachers are among the biggest concerns, because they are difficult if not impossible to fire, the union proposal does not address that issue.

New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie came down especially hard last year on the state’s teachers union, saying its refusal to negotiate on a salary freeze resulted in layoffs and larger classrooms.

"I believe the teachers in New Jersey in the main are wonderful public servants that care deeply,” he told ABC News. “But their union (is) a group of political thugs."

Christie has also suggested big changes to New Jersey’s tenure program, including yearly reviews for those teachers and the ability to remove the under-performers.

Weingarten said Monday that unions help tenured teachers improve through professional development and evaluations.

“What we’re focusing on is preparing new teachers,” she said in response to a question from FoxNews.com in a conference call.

COMMENT:  An intriguing idea that should be expanded on, studied and tried in a few states on a model basis.  There could be great benefits, like weeding out prospective teachers who simply don't know enough, and identifying truly outstanding candidates.

Also, if the tests were published, after being given, parents and citizens could learn just what prospective teachers are taught, and what they're expected to know.  Thus the sometimes secretive and, frankly, sometimes dishonest world of education could be opened up.

Many believe that the "education bubble" is about to burst – that disgusted parents, children, and employers are fed up with institutions and practices that charge vast amounts but fail to deliver, or teach our children to hate the very values that keep us a free nation.  Anything that sheds light on what's going on is welcome.  But those who want to extend the darkness are still in a majority in education, especially at the college level.

December 4, 2012