Randi Weingarten proposed a national bar exam for future teachers, and it stirred quite a reaction. Most worrisome is that the idea appeals to certain figures in the public eye who are known for making negative comments about teachers.

Some on this blog complained that Randi was echoing the corporate reformers’ complaint that teachers are the problem and must be blamed for the achievement gap, low scores, and every other issue.

But I’m inclined to agree with Randi that the profession needs higher entry standards or it will never get the respect it deserves.

One of the admirable aspects of Finnish education is that there are high standards for entry into teaching. Only 1 in 10 applicants is accepted into teacher education programs. Teachers have high prestige, as high as other professions. There is no Teach for Finland.

By contrast, many US states have low standards for entry into teaching and welcome teschers with little or no professional preparation. Growing numbers of teachers acquire their masters degree through dubious online “universities.”

I don’t think that a bar exam, by itself, will make much difference, although in the long run it may raise the prestige of the profession.

The question that must be faced is that any such exam is likely to have a disparate impact on minorities. The courts might even strike down an exam that excluded disproportionate numbers of black, Hispanic and Asian applicants. And there are unintended consequences; I am thinking of a story I read a year or two ago about a great music teacher, beloved by his students, who had to leave teaching because he could not pass the math section of the state test.

It’s always wise to look before you leap.