AFT President Randi Weingarten at the Washington Teachers Union Rally for Respect in 2009.

AFT President Randi Weingarten at the Washington Teachers Union Rally for Respect in 2009.

One of the country’s largest teachers’ unions is proposing rigorous new credentials for teachers, similar to the bar exam for lawyers. The American Federation of Teachers, or AFT, also supports the National Common Core State Standards, educational standards in English and math adopted by 46 states so far. We explore how organized labor is approaching education reform issues.


  • Randi Weingarten President, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO

Video: Inside The Studio

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, discussed the group’s proposal to require incoming teachers to pass a rigorous bar-like certification exam. The training program would include a classroom practicum as well as a paper-and-pencil subject test. States could choose to adopt the national standards and offer reciprocity to out-of-state teachers, similar to the law profession. “We are trying to do the work you have to do to make a real profession so that there are high standards, that people are really prepared to meet those standards, and they get the tools and conditions they need,” Weingarten said.


  • 12:06:44

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, it's your turn to talk about the topic that we will be discussing in the first part of the broadcast or anything else in the news or anything on your mind. But first, one of the country's largest teachers' unions is proposing rigorous new credentials for teachers similar to the bar exam for lawyers.

  • 12:07:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe American Federation of Teachers says that teaching as a profession should be on par with engineering or with law. The proposal does have some fans, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Another big change in the works has to do with what students actually learn in school. Forty-six states have adopted a set of Common Core standards, including Maryland and the District.

  • 12:07:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to talk about what's happening in education is Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers which represents 1.5 million pre-kindergarten to 12th grade teachers and other professionals. Randi Weingarten, good to see you again.

  • 12:07:57

    MS. RANDI WEINGARTENIt's always great to be with you, Kojo.

  • 12:07:59

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850, if you have questions or comments for AFT President Randi Weingarten. As we said, the AFT just put out a report proposing a bar exam for teachers. Please explain how that would work and what it would mean.

  • 12:08:18

    WEINGARTENSo right now, teachers are -- actually take a whole bunch of tests to become teachers, but it's a patchwork, and it's really different state by state. And it's all kind of paper-pencil as opposed to thinking about what is the body of knowledge that a new teacher needs to be competent and confident day one. Now, obviously, experienced matters hugely, and support matters hugely, and internships matter and things like that, but there is that body of knowledge.

  • 12:08:54

    WEINGARTENAnd so once you think about what that is, it's both content, meaning, for example, I was a social studies teacher, some -- if somebody attempted to make me into a physics teacher, my kids would fail miserably and so would I. So there's content knowledge, but equally important is the clinical knowledge so that we know how to differentiate instruction, how to manage a classroom of 25 or 30 kids.

  • 12:09:26

    WEINGARTENSo what we said is knowing full well that there is this body of knowledge, particularly now with the Common Core, let's figure out how you have a universal entry assessment of it, multidimensional entry assessment of it so that teachers will feel on day one that they are prepared to teach, kids will feel that -- or will have teachers who are prepared on day one. And then, you know, the schools of education, the alternative certification programs, they then will have to figure out how to align to this so that they prepare teachers for this.

  • 12:10:07

    WEINGARTENSo -- and the last thing I'll say is then you'll see in a few years from now, you know, if 90 percent of the kids or students who go to teachers' college routinely pass this universal bar, but only 10 percent of the students who come in through TFA pass this universal bar, then it's going to say something about those programs, instead of having the debate we have right now.

  • 12:10:34

    NNAMDIWhat is TFA?

  • 12:10:35

    WEINGARTENTFA is Teach for America.

  • 12:10:37

    NNAMDITeach for America.

  • 12:10:38

    WEINGARTENAll I'm saying is it would be -- it will be for every, you know, states would have to adopt this, but it would -- one of the things you have to do is it would be for people from ed schools, as well as anyone who is alternatively certified.

  • 12:10:54

    NNAMDIEducation Secretary Arne Duncan describes this as part of a broader push to raise the bar for teachers. Is that how you would describe it also?

  • 12:11:02

    WEINGARTENYou know, it's -- I mean it's a nice pun because we're talking about a bar-like exam, and we did call our report raising the bar. But at the end of the day, teaching is a profession, and it doesn't do anybody any good to think that the way we're going to raise standards for students or for teachers is to malign our profession or to batter the people who are in there right now. We need to do what the countries that outcompete us do, which is there's a high status and stature for the teaching profession, like there is for law and medicine and engineering, but they also prepare their teachers.

  • 12:11:42

    WEINGARTENIn Finland, they prepare their teachers like we prepare our doctors. It's really unfair to just basically say that this common right of passage that I went through and so many of my colleagues went through, which is throw us the keys, let us close the door of our classroom and then we just do our thing. That's -- if we really are aiming and ensuring that our kids are all ready for the 21st century, then we have to change teacher preparation to align it for the higher standards that we're expecting of both teachers and kids.

  • 12:12:14

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million pre-kindergarten to 12th grade teachers and other professions, and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Now, that you have heard a little about it, what do you think of the idea of a bar exam for teachers? 800-433-8850. You can send email to In the case of the bar exam for lawyers, each state has its own tests and its own standards. Will the certification for teachers work along the same lines?

  • 12:12:48

    WEINGARTENWell, right now, in terms of the bar exam, first of all, a lot of it is paper-pencil test. That's part of the reason we say a bar-like exam because a clinical component, in some ways like medicine, is an absolute essential here. It can't just be about your knowledge of content, as important as that is. It has to be about can you engage with kids in a meaningful way and differentiate instruction and manage a classroom. So that would be one difference.

  • 12:13:16

    WEINGARTENBut the second thing is the bar has a multi-state component, which virtually all of us -- I'm a lawyer and a teacher -- all of us take, as well as the particular statewide components. So what we're saying is that there would be a universal process. The National Board of Teaching Standards has already agreed to convene people to design that and so that -- and that's a really good idea because they've already done this for accomplished teaching.

  • 12:13:50

    WEINGARTENAnd then the states would have to adopt it. But think about it this way, if we had a universal process and you taught in New York but your family was moving to California and they would really be reciprocity, so you wouldn't have to go through another bureaucratic process in terms of this. And so we're -- it would mean instead of the current patchwork we have, it would be -- it would have to be adopted by states. But if, you know, 40, 50 of the states actually adopted this, it would mean that there would be real reciprocity throughout the country.

  • 12:14:25

    NNAMDIWe've just had a teachers' strike in Chicago, and we've had some criticism of teachers' unions, some of them being portrayed as being an obstacle to change, concerned mainly with protecting teachers' jobs. You have always argued that the American Federation of Teachers has always been ahead of the curve of this -- on these issues but nevertheless has come under criticism. Is this bar exam proposal a way not only of addressing that criticism but of demonstrating more clearly that you feel the AFT is ahead of the curve on this issue?

  • 12:14:58

    WEINGARTENLook, I never know how to answer a question like this because at the end of the day much of the criticism about teachers' unions is really a hidden criticism about public education. It's people who don't want to, you know, we're in tough economic times. And if you actually really care about kids, then we have to dig deep into our pockets to pay for children's instruction, and we have to really dig deep into our pockets to pay for other children's instruction because we have a growing poverty rate and we have a real inequity issue in the United States.

  • 12:15:38

    WEINGARTENSo the bottom line is it becomes a proxy for not wanting to make a real commitment to children, and so I push back on that because what a teachers' union is, is simply the voice of a collection of teachers to ensure that they have the tools and support they need, and they also get the dignity and respect they deserve. Having said that, none of us are perfect, and there's things that we have to actually do to make our profession better, and we have to do the soul-searching to do that.

  • 12:16:11

    WEINGARTENAnd our union for a long time, as many other unions, focus very much on fairness, which is what we need to do. But we are also focusing on quality. So we started with how do you make evaluations so they're about ongoing improvement, how do you also address the issue of tenure so that tenure is about just -- so tenure is about just cause. You know, if somebody, you know, it's not about a job for life, how do you also deal with the issue of if there are teachers that shouldn't be teaching, they shouldn't be -- they should be out of the profession.

  • 12:16:42

    WEINGARTENSo we're trying to do the work you have to do to make a real profession so that there are high standards that people are really prepared to meet those standards. They get the tools and conditions they need. If they can't teach, they shouldn't be there. But to also do the work we need to do to get resources so the kids get the curriculum and the materials they need to be prepared in society.

  • 12:17:07

    NNAMDINow said -- enough said. I mean a whole lot of people want to talk to you about this. Here is Alexa in Fredericksburg, Va. Alexa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:17:16

    ALEXAHello. I'm so pleased to be joining the conversation. I've enjoyed your show for quite a long time now. I joined the profession in 1976 that with my first salary of $8,200. Currently, I earn 67,000, and there are other people out there who earn quite a bit more. However, when one has an entry examination, such as the one proposed, there are people who are prevented from entering the profession because they come from nontraditional backgrounds.

  • 12:17:55

    ALEXAEducation has typically been an area where people from minorities can succeed beautifully from those who have a less advantaged preparation can climb into the middle class from a lower economic socio...

  • 12:18:16

    NNAMDII see where you're going, Alexa, on this, and I think Randi Weingarten sees too, so allow me to have her answer the question. We know that the problem of standardized tests and minorities over the years.

  • 12:18:25

    WEINGARTENRight. So what -- one would -- so what -- one of the things that I tried to do when I was the president of the teachers' union in New York City was take a page out of what Shanker did as well, which is to really reinforce -- Al Shanker was one of my predecessors there, as well as predecessor of the AFT -- to really reinforce this career ladder concept of finding ways to have more and more and more teachers of color in our schools.

  • 12:18:54

    WEINGARTENIt's absolutely essential for our kids that have become in urban settings -- our schools have become majority-minority school systems, and we need to make sure that the diversity is there, and that kids have folks from community who are teaching our kids. And so what we tried to do is have career ladder programs for paraprofessionals from communities, have ways of ensuring that people become -- people of diverse backgrounds become teachers and take and focus in that kind of way.

  • 12:19:31

    WEINGARTENAt the end of the day, though, what we're talking about is not simply paper-and-pencil tests. We're talking about a clinical practicum so that you feel prepared on day one to teach, and we also have to keep on doing the work that has been done in the past that if a test has a disparate impact on a group of people, then that test has to get fixed.

  • 12:19:58

    NNAMDIBut we're also talking about complementing this bar exam by tightening entry requirements into teacher training programs.

  • 12:20:05

    WEINGARTENExactly right. And -- but what I think your caller said, and I think that that's right, is that we have to make sure that it's not just tightening on the entry requirements in terms of a teacher preparation school or a teacher, you know, ED program. But we also have to make sure that there's real ways of affordability and other ways to ensure that any minorities are really welcomed into the profession and have a level playing field in terms of getting into the profession.

  • 12:20:41

    NNAMDIAlexa, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:20:43

    ALEXAOK. But the one thing that I have to say as well is that people who take entry -- or those high bar exams, they're able to set their own salaries and do private practice unlike teachers who have to accept salaries given to them by systems, so...

  • 12:21:03

    WEINGARTENWell, I think it's important to raise salaries as well. What we're trying -- we're aiming for is that we have to raise the status of teachers. Teachers work incredibly hard and they're thrown so much. And, you know, it's time to raise the status of teachers to that, which we say they do. They are the most important people in our society. They teach the next generation of kids. Their status should be commensurate with that.

  • 12:21:29

    NNAMDIAlexa, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll return to our conversation with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. If you've called, stay on the line. If the lines are busy, as they seem to be, you can send us email to, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website,, and join the conversation there. What do you think of the idea of a bar exam for teachers? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:34

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. We've been talking about a proposal coming from the AFT for a bar exam for teachers in the future. But, Randi Weingarten, how do your members feel about the idea? How do teachers feel about the idea? This report coming out of the AFT had to have generated quite a bit of conversation internally in the organization among your members. Tell us a little bit about that.

  • 12:24:01

    WEINGARTENSo the report is a proposal from a task force that has been working for a year. And that task force consisted of rank-and-file members and leaders in our college community because we represent many, many, many colleges and teacher prep programs as well as rank-and-file members and leaders in our pre-K through 12 jurisdictions throughout the country. So the task of these proposals, meaning how we align everything together -- the first proposal -- the first recommendation is that we align teacher prep standards programs assessment around the well-grounded vision of effective teaching.

  • 12:24:47

    WEINGARTENThe second has been the proposal we've talked about in terms of a multidimensional bar-like exam. And the third proposal or the third recommendation was that the primary responsibility for all this should reside within the profession. These recommendations are from rank-and-file teachers. And the other thing we did was we did surveys of new teachers. And new teachers tell us, one out of three new teachers say, we're not prepared. And people in alternative certification programs, it's even a greater amount. So people are looking for this kind of preparation.

  • 12:25:21

    WEINGARTENAnd throughout the country, we've been talking about it since the summer, and I've gotten a lot of good feedback. Some people are concerned because of this test fixation that we have in America. Does this enter -- does this reiterate that? And the point is that teachers now take certification exams already. They would be -- this would be in lieu of those things. And -- but the people who are talking about the test fixation, they are right. Our schools, you know...

  • 12:25:49

    NNAMDIThe AFT opposes the current focus on high stakes testing. Why?

  • 12:25:51

    WEINGARTENExactly. Because the -- because what has happened is that testing has substituted for teaching in the United States schools, that it's -- as opposed to thinking about testing as measuring -- you know, have kids actually achieved something that we were trying to teach them -- it's now become the thing, and it has squeezed out lots of other important subjects in the curriculum. So, for example, I was in a school in Albuquerque, N.M. Fifth graders, they had never had science until fifth grade because of the testing fixation.

  • 12:26:33

    NNAMDIMath and English.

  • 12:26:34

    WEINGARTENAnd -- exactly right. And the other thing is a lot of these tests don't really actually assess what kids need to know and be able to do. They're -- it's the no child left behind, 15 years of rote memorization as opposed to how do we actually help kids think deeply and talk very comprehensively about issues -- critical issues. How can we teach them to critically think and to be creative? And that current regimen of tests don't do that, so we're asking teachers to fixate on this current regimen of tests that are really not aligned to what kids need to know and be able to do in the 21st century. It makes no sense.

  • 12:27:16

    NNAMDIWe'll get to the phones, but, on the other hand, you're a proponent of this new concept that's gaining traction called the Common Core curriculum. We talked a little about this the last time you joined us in Charlotte, N.C., during the Democratic National Convention. But can you remind us, what's the idea behind these Common Core curriculum standards?

  • 12:27:34

    WEINGARTENFantastic. So let me just finish by saying that we have a new phase in our campaign against the testing fixation called Learning Is More Than a Test Score. That's for parents and teachers and everybody who's concerned about this, and you can see on, our website. But the Common Core is different. Think about the Common Core as project-based learning.

  • 12:27:55

    WEINGARTENThink about the Common Core as instead racing through a million topics in a curriculum to really understand some topics deeply, to really actually apply knowledge, just not knowing things. So, for example, take multiplication. Instead of memorizing -- simply memorizing a multiplication table, you start thinking conceptually about the different kinds of ways you can get to exact -- to, for example, the number 81. So instead of just thinking -- the way I learned it was, nine times nine equals 81.

  • 12:28:28

    NNAMDIThat's how I did.

  • 12:28:28

    WEINGARTENAs opposed to -- I saw a school, a classroom in Volusia, Fla., where the teacher was working with the kids so that they came up with many different ways of getting to 81. They did units of 10. They did this conceptually. They -- there was one child -- one student who did it through the numbers one and two and went through the entire board saying, one and two, one and two and one and two to get to 81. So you're -- but why is that important? Because then kids have a different kind of number sense.

  • 12:29:05

    WEINGARTENThey have conceptual sense. They can explain what the number 81 means and the component parts to it. That's the Common Core. That is more -- you're deeply thinking and then explaining your answer. And you know, in that classroom, what was more important was the way in which kids thought about and arrived at their conclusion rather than the right answer, applying knowledge just -- not just knowing things.

  • 12:29:38

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones now where Francine in Silver Spring, Md. awaits us. Francine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:29:45

    FRANCINEHi, Kojo. I love your show.

  • 12:29:47

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 12:29:47

    FRANCINEI'm really excited about this topic. I'm a nationally board certified teacher, and I'm also a lawyer.

  • 12:29:53

    NNAMDISame career track as our guest. Go ahead.

  • 12:29:55

    WEINGARTENAnd you know, we are -- asked the national board to actually try to help figure out how to design this because of what they've been able to do in terms of accomplished teaching.

  • 12:30:07

    FRANCINEAnd I agree with that. It was my question and wonder why the national board standards were never the standard for teaching, period. And my next question is, well, since there's this thought about moving towards a bar-like exam, like you said, the bar has a multi-state component, and that's the component that states typically send -- set a score. What is the score that's going to be acceptable for each state?

  • 12:30:35

    FRANCINEAnd even though there's not necessarily 100 percent reciprocity among states with your law license, you can still meet whatever requirement they require, maybe it's years, maybe it's the score on your MBE. So it is the teaching or "teaching bar" is the proposal for it to be similar? When do you foresee that this proposal will roll out, and when will more people hear about it? Because in the NEA, we haven't really heard about it. It's a AFT proposal, but I don't recall hearing about it from the NEA.

  • 12:31:14

    WEINGARTENSo we just released the task force report on Monday. I have talked to Dennis Van Roekel about the proposal, and, you know, I think, you know, we're going to our board, the AFT board with it in early February. But there's been, you know, there's actually been more public comment on this proposal than on virtually anything else that we've released in a very long time, and so I'm very, very grateful for that.

  • 12:31:46

    WEINGARTENThe next step would be -- and both the NEA and the AFT are involved in the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, but I really -- I'm very grateful to Ron Thorpe who was one of the readers of the report and someone we've reached out to because this has to be owned by the profession. I'm very grateful that the national board has said that they would take the next step to convene people to design what this process would look like.

  • 12:32:15

    WEINGARTENBut we will need some funding for that design stage. And you know, if we get the funding quickly, then I think that this process can happen, you know, within a couple of years. If we get -- if it takes longer to get the funding, then it's going to be longer to do the process. I am not known for my patience, but the design of this is really, really important, just like the design of the accomplished teaching standards became really important.

  • 12:32:44

    NNAMDIFrancine, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Michael in McLean, Va. Michael, your turn.

  • 12:32:50

    MICHAELGood afternoon, Kojo and Randi. My question was actually pretty similar to Francine's. I just want to make a comment as well. I'm an engineer who practices in several different states. And I've gotten licenses in several -- actually, it depends on the state. It's very -- it can be difficult at times. It could be very easy. There's also a national organization, National Council for Engineering Exam Services, that helps out significantly with that.

  • 12:33:17

    MICHAELI'm also the parent of -- or the son, I'm sorry, of two teachers. My mom who just got nationally board certified in Philadelphia. So my question was pretty similar to Randi's -- I'm sorry, not Randi, Francine. How exactly would the AFT, you know, be any different or what would the similarities be to that particular test?

  • 12:33:41

    WEINGARTENSo the national -- the current national board standards and certification is wrapped around or is about accomplished teaching, meaning, after you've taught for a period of time and that -- and you really understand and know what you're doing, it's like the next stage of saying that this is a real credential, a real benchmark of what it means to be an accomplished teacher as opposed to an entry-level teacher.

  • 12:34:23

    WEINGARTENAs an entry-level teacher, there is still a but, so essentially, it would me to kind of map it from what it means with experience and to be accomplished versus what do you need to have as a body of knowledge on your first day of teaching. And so you still need to have real content knowledge and understanding.

  • 12:34:46

    WEINGARTENAnd you still need to have some real knowledge about how to teach, how to interact with kids, how to manage a classroom of children, which is really different than managing adults, as well as how to differentiate instruction for the needs of kids, understanding, you know, the psychology of adolescence. So there's a big difference between entry-level and when you have experience under your belt and mentoring and induction under your belt and accomplishment. And that would be the two differences. That would be the basic difference.

  • 12:35:21

    NNAMDIMichael, thank you very much for your call. Our earlier caller mentioned that she's a member of the NEA. Have you heard any responses yet from the National Education Association to this proposal?

  • 12:35:32

    WEINGARTENWell, the NEA had their own taskforce on teaching and learning and on preparation, and so when I went through it with Dennis Van Roekel, his, you know, his immediate reaction was that it aligned very nicely with what they were doing. I don't think we've actually gotten any public response but, you know, we are colleagues. And we do actually try to make sure that each of the unions know what each of us are doing.

  • 12:36:04

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million pre-kindergarten through 12th grade teachers and other professionals, and inviting your calls, 800-433-8850. How do you feel about having a Common Core curriculum for all K through 12 students? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Here is Dennis in Vienna, Va. Dennis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:36:32

    DENNISYeah. I was wondering why it's so much more important for teachers to have a national exam when doctors and engineers don't. Also, I wanted to comment that I resented her comment trying to characterize (word?) as somebody who doesn't support education when, in fact, the argument is about federalization of a republic. And the third thing is she talks about wanting to teach people how to think. But it seems to me that that has morphed into a teaching of what to think. And I think those are three very good reasons not to pursue this course.

  • 12:37:09

    NNAMDIThe federalization of education, teaching people not how to think but what to think. And what was your first objection to it, Dennis?

  • 12:37:17

    DENNISWhy is it necessary for teachers when doctors and engineers don't have to take a national test? It could still...

  • 12:37:23

    NNAMDIHow do you feel about lawyers taking the bar?

  • 12:37:27

    DENNISThat can still be a right reserved or an authority reserved to the states as is discussed in the Constitution.

  • 12:37:37

    NNAMDIWell, I think the bar exams that they're talking about would be...

  • 12:37:41


  • 12:37:41

    NNAMDI...differentiated according to state. It would not be a national test.

  • 12:37:44

    WEINGARTENRight. So I'm obviously not being a very good teacher with you, sir. I'm not advocating a national test. We're advocating -- we know that there is a body of knowledge that every school teacher needs to have when they walk into the classroom the first day. And that's about what they're teaching and also how to teach. And what we're saying is that if we create this universal assessment, we would ask states -- just like they adopted the Common Core, we'd ask states to adopt it.

  • 12:38:14

    WEINGARTENAnd the more states that adopted it, the more you'd have this kind of universal expectation and non-bureaucratic reciprocity throughout the states so that the aim is not to replace the state discretion and the state responsibility for education with a national one. I would agree with you on that.

  • 12:38:37

    WEINGARTENBut it is -- there is a common body of knowledge that all teachers need to know and be able to do before -- when they go into their classroom the first day. And that's fair in terms of kids and that's fair in terms of teachers. On the second piece, I do actually think that we don't spend enough money and we don't give teachers the support that they need to actually do the job that we're asking them to do. And we -- and they get demonized and demagogued too much, and I do think that that's wrong.

  • 12:39:09

    NNAMDIDennis, when Randi Weingarten speaks, what do you hear? Do you hear a socialist or communist agenda?

  • 12:39:16

    DENNISI'm not going into that trap, Kojo. Don't even try. What I'm talking about is she's more of my argument from how to teach. Earlier, she was saying rather than teach multiplication tables, I'm going to teach them how to think. OK. I don't mind you teaching people how to think, but what I'm saying is that it's much easier to teach people what to think and then they satisfy all the requirements of the people who like them thinking that way. The people in...

  • 12:39:39

    WEINGARTENRight. But I'm not...

  • 12:39:41

    DENNISLet me finish. The people in Maine and the people in California might differ significantly about what they want their kids to think. So the states should have the primary right to decide what to teach and how to teach it. It should not be a federalized program. You can -- we can argue back and forth about financial support for education, and I think -- I happen to think it's adequate in this country. You may think differently. We could argue about that, but that's not my -- that was not my intent to bring that up, and the thing about...

  • 12:40:15

    NNAMDIOK. Allow me to have Randi Weingarten respond because we've got to go to a break.

  • 12:40:19

    WEINGARTENSo, Dennis, I agree with you that we should not be teaching kids what to think. There, you know, there may be some things like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, hoping that kids actually believe in these kind of things. You know, that -- but when I talk about mathematics and the multiplication tables, I learned it by memorization, but people who really understand math deeply -- and I do not -- they learn conceptually how to arrive at an answer as opposed to just memorizing the answer. And that's the big difference between Common Core and the way in which I was taught.

  • 12:41:01

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation with Randi Weingarten. If you've called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If the lines are busy, shoot us an email to, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:42:58

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million pre-kindergarten through 12th grade teachers and other professionals. We talked earlier about the Common Core Standards. A number of states -- 46, to be exact -- have adopted the Common Core. Maryland and D.C. have. Virginia has not. But it has not yet been implemented. At what stage is this initiative now?

  • 12:43:21

    WEINGARTENIt's really at the very beginning. And I'm -- as someone who's a big, big believer in it, I'm actually very worried about it because this is a -- this requires a real instructional shift in teaching because you're not just asking kids to memorize information. You really want to apply knowledge. And so it means that teachers actually have to have a lot more support to do this. And whether it's working with each other to learn the new instructional shifts, whether it's getting curriculum, all the wherewithal to do the job, that hasn't happened.

  • 12:44:01

    WEINGARTENAnd so what happens in education, unfortunately, is we announce something even as really, really good, and we think that the announcement equals the implementation. And the austerity budgets where we're cutting art, we're cutting music, we're cutting teacher -- time for teachers to prepare, we're cutting the amount of curriculum and supports we give people, all those things have been cut, and that will be very problematic in terms of implementing this.

  • 12:44:29

    NNAMDIBack to the telephones. We go to Lydia in Washington, D.C. Lydia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:44:34

    LYDIAHi. Good afternoon. This is a great topic, Kojo. I'm a teacher. I teach arts, and I became a teacher through the alternative methods. I taught for three years while I was taking -- I call them how-to-be-a-teacher classes. And my father was also an art teacher, so, you know, I have it in my bones. There's something that I want to make a comment about, and then I have a question. My comment is that I'm frustrated because two things.

  • 12:45:00

    LYDIAWhen we have these how-to-be-a-teacher classes, they never use the creative arts as an example. So I'm sitting in a class, learning how to teach reading, but it's -- you know, the basic concept is the same. But I'm an artist, and I want it taught to me in my language. And so that's something that's frustrating. I would love to have the certification that you're talking about. The second thing is that a lot of the students -- and sometimes even parents -- don't take the arts seriously.

  • 12:45:39

    LYDIASo here we are, expected to live up to the same standards as the classroom and the core teachers, and they don't take it seriously because they don't get a grade for it or their grade doesn't count. And my last question is how can the teachers, the American Federation of Teachers, support teachers with classroom management?

  • 12:45:58

    LYDIAI mean, not just classroom size, but things like, you know, children fighting in the classroom and the children can't be removed, or somebody comes, like, 20 minutes later to remove the child, or all these -- the ways that are our hands are tied with discipline. I think that really is just as important as having some really highly qualified teachers.

  • 12:46:18

    NNAMDIFirst, the arts.

  • 12:46:19

    LYDIAAnd -- I'm sorry. One last other thing.

  • 12:46:20

    NNAMDIWell, please, please, you've already asked a great deal, and we're running out of time. First the arts and then discipline.

  • 12:46:26

    WEINGARTENSo, you know, there's -- and I said this to somebody on Twitter who actually asked some -- the very same questions as you did, my friend. There's so much -- education is really complicated and complex, and not any of these ideas -- this may be a great idea, but it is not going to solve all the problems in education, even if this got fully 150 percent implemented. The -- so it is about preparation. It's also about the climate in schools and what we're doing in schools.

  • 12:46:58

    WEINGARTENAnd so I often say we need schools where every single -- schools where every single parent want to send their kids and every single teacher want to teach in, and that would be a real sense of a school that really works. But that means a school that has art as a center of it, or has music as a center of it. And those kind of things are really respected because those are the kinds of things that really engages kids. And if they were really respected, you would be respected as a teacher.

  • 12:47:26

    WEINGARTENAnd the climate issue, in terms of discipline, is really important. We have to have a climate in a school where all people feel supported. And so it means some strategies in terms of how to deal with student conduct and, if someone is violating that kind of conduct, how to have some consequences to it that help turn a child's life around so that they engage in school as opposed to opt out of school.

  • 12:47:52

    NNAMDIBut that's not something that unions can negotiate in contracts. How can you have an influence on that?

  • 12:47:56

    WEINGARTENWe can actually -- there are places where we can negotiate that. There are places where we can't negotiate it. But we also -- we never -- teachers never lose their advocacy voice. And so what we've tried to do is say, let's work together with communities, with parents, to have the -- to push and press on strategies that actually will help create better climates in schools.

  • 12:48:21

    WEINGARTENHave peer counseling. Have student councils. Have behavior programs that actually, you know, that kids really relate to because they see it as their own. So there's a bunch of different strategies that we can use instead of simply saying, you know, no tolerance for any kind of infractions in order to really change the climate in schools.

  • 12:48:49

    NNAMDILydia, thank you very much for your call. And there are those people who would probably like this idea, but wondering what happens in the short term. We got an email from Christopher, who says, "As a teacher in D.C., I see some poorly qualified teachers that have full union protection, but are not working for the benefit of their students. Will teachers now be grandfathered in and not have to take this test?

  • 12:49:09

    NNAMDI"If so, what can we, as a profession, do to improve ourselves and get rid of these limits? What can be done, besides a test, to encourage all teachers to perform at a level that shows society that we are worthy of respect equal to that of a lawyer or a doctor?" And we got a tweet from Felicity, who says, "I like the idea of an exam for teachers. Being a lawyer, I appreciate a baseline everyone must meet, but what about existing teachers?"

  • 12:49:33

    WEINGARTENSo, look, this would be for prospective teachers. There's lots of other things that we have to do in terms of on-the-job training and different kind of evaluation systems and things like that. But let me just press, push back on some of this right now to say, look, teachers want to do a good job. And, you know, if somebody can't, they shouldn't be in the profession. But we need to also provide a lot of support to current teachers to try to help them and to do the job that they're being asked to do.

  • 12:50:04

    WEINGARTENAll too often, people are thrown the keys and basically just told to do it. And so we've actually proposed a bunch of things -- and some districts are doing it and some districts are not -- to have like new evaluation systems that are about continuous learning, about giving teachers the tools they need to do their jobs. And so we will keep on trying to do those things. Somebody shouldn't teach after they've been helped. They should be out of the profession. And it's not union protections. What the union tries to do is we try to just make sure the teachers are treated fairly.

  • 12:50:39

    NNAMDIOn now to Austin in Washington, D.C. Austin, your turn.

  • 12:50:45

    AUSTINHello. Thanks for addressing this topic. I was an educator for about 15 years in Massachusetts and California. I moved to Washington, D.C. last year and have not even considered going back into public education for the reason you're discussing. It's because just for me being transient, it doesn't make sense to have to jump through all the hoops. So I am just curious around how these type movement could apply to people like us who might even move to another state and wants to...

  • 12:51:13

    NNAMDIIf Austin passed the bar exam in Massachusetts or California, would he be able to get a job in the District of Columbia?

  • 12:51:19

    WEINGARTENWell, we would -- look, if, say, for example, the District of Columbia and Massachusetts had the, you know, adapted this universal assessment then there would have -- there would be a really easy way to have reciprocity. And so that's part of what we envision. Again, because there is -- there are things that are unique -- you know, again, I want to go back to Dennis' question from before.

  • 12:51:44

    WEINGARTENNo one is remotely suggesting that we would nationalize education in this country. I wouldn't be for that. Many other people wouldn't be for that either. But there -- so there are things that are unique to states that states still would want to do, but there is this universal body of knowledge. As I said before, that if I was a social studies teacher in New York City, as I was, if I was then also a social studies teacher in California or in Alabama, there are certain things I need to know about American history, about European history, about American government.

  • 12:52:29

    WEINGARTENThat's the same whether I'm in Alabama or New York City. There are certain pedagogical things I need to know about teaching. That's the same whether I'm in Alabama or New York City. And so those are the kinds of sayings that can be universally assessed.

  • 12:52:44

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Austin. Here is Allen in Fairfax, Va. Allen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:52:51

    ALLENHi. I love the show. I am in a graduate program. And I am excited to hear what's being said, but I'm a little worried because right now, there are so many hoops to jump through. I had to take the practice one, which is three tests, practice two, which is content knowledge. Then there's another Virginia test that I have to take. And I'm worried that if this is, you know, implemented...

  • 12:53:18

    NNAMDIAnd the bar exam is simply added to these tests.

  • 12:53:19

    WEINGARTENThis would be -- right. This would have to be in lieu of those things because it's where -- if you look right now, we have this page in our report where you see just the web of everything that you have to go through. I used to tease that it took me longer to actually get my provisional certification in New York state -- my provisional teaching certification in New York state than it took me to go to law school, passed the bar and be accredited as a New York -- in New York state as a lawyer.

  • 12:53:53

    WEINGARTENAnd so this would have to be in lieu of, in substitution for some of the things. If it was viewed as additive, it wouldn't work. And, you know, so we think about this universal assessment as something that would substitute for practice one and practice two, but we'd also have a clinical component as well.

  • 12:54:14

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Allen. And speaking of the future, people often point out that the top jobs 10 years from now probably don't exist yet. So creating a set of standards like Common Core is not how we should prepare students for job in the future. What do you say?

  • 12:54:31

    WEINGARTENYou know, when -- again, when somebody says that, then you say, OK, then what -- how do we prepare? We -- what Common Core should be about is, again, not just knowing things, but it's a process by which you understand how to apply knowledge, which means that kids need to understand how to think and then be able to explain it both in writing and orally.

  • 12:54:58

    WEINGARTENThey need to know how to process information. They need to know how to work together. Those are the skills that are discussed. Regardless of where the knowledge is, in five or 10 years from now, those skills are really important in terms of ascertaining that knowledge.

  • 12:55:14

    NNAMDIHow then would students be evaluated in the Common Core?

  • 12:55:17

    WEINGARTENSee, so that's really -- so you have to have a different assessment and measurement system than we have right now. It can't simply be a paper and pencil bubble test that recites whether or not, you know, you know the multiplication table. And what we're concerned about about the Common Core is that there's a group that are working on the assessments -- there's a group of people that worked on standards, including some of our own members.

  • 12:55:47

    WEINGARTENBut the, you know, all the things in between haven't gotten done. But the assessments for the Common Core, if they are going to -- if they've done well, have to be very different than the paper-pencil tests that people know about, the multiple choice tests, from No Child Left Behind.

  • 12:56:05

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Connor, who says, "As a Teach For America alum who taught first grade in Crown Heights, I would welcome a teaching bar exam. During my tenure as a teacher, I knew zero TFA teachers who struggled with N.Y. state's certification exams while many of my traditionally trained colleagues had to take them multiple times."

  • 12:56:27

    WEINGARTENLook, you know, I think that there's -- we're talking about not just, you know, let me take a step back and say, the best thing that we could do is not have people who are alternatively certified being pit against people who go to traditional teacher institutions. I know I was alternatively certified. And my mom, who taught for 30 years in Nyack, N.Y., was a traditionally certified teacher, who happened to go to Teachers College and who would tell you, to her dying day, she had a fantastic education at Teachers College.

  • 12:57:08

    WEINGARTENSo what -- but what we're talking about is not simply being able to pass a written tests. We're talking about also having a clinical component so that people really are prepared before they get into or you can demonstrate preparation before one gets into a classroom in terms of how to deal with young people, how to differentiate instruction, how to manage classrooms, how to do some of the things that our colleague earlier, the art teacher, talked about really needing to do.

  • 12:57:43

    NNAMDIAfraid that's all the time we have. Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union representing 1.5 million pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers and other professionals. Randi Weingarten, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:57:57

    WEINGARTENThank you.

  • 12:57:58

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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