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Question & Answer: 'A Chance To Make a Difference'

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James A. Kelly, the new president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, began his education career as a high-school history teacher in suburban St. Louis in 1956.

Mr. Kelly earned a master's degree in education from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

He has served on the faculty at Teachers' College, Columbia University, and has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

As a program officer for the Ford Foundation during the 1970's, Mr. Kelly played a major role in the school-finance-reform movement.

Most recently, he has been president of the Spring Hill Center, a conference facility in Minnesota, and head of the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, a nonprofit organization designed to support education in the creative arts.

Mr. Kelly is the father of four grown children. His wife, Mariam C. Noland, is executive director of the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan.

Mr. Kelly spoke last week with Associate Editor Lynn Olson.

QWhat attracted you to the job?

A The core idea of the board--to establish new standards for the voluntary certification of teachers on a national basis and, by doing so, to raise the standards of the profession--is an historic breakthrough. The fact that we can start off on this with the support of the major elements of the education establishment gives us a real chance to make a difference.

I'm also attracted to it because it's a positive and constructive program. It is not a punitive program; it is not a compulsory program. It is intended to be a voluntary program. And, therefore, I think, it will have an impact on the career aspirations and perceptions of teachers.

QWhat incentives will there be for teachers to go for the certification?

A First of all, teachers are people who take pride in their performance and in their sense of self-worth. To the extent that teachers can demonstrate that they meet a high standard of professional performance and competence--using state-of-the-art testing technology, and not just old multiple-choice, paper-and-pencil tests--they will have confidence in the process. This will stimulate them to want to learn more and to raise their own standards. That will have an impact not only on teachers, but on their schools, their children, and the teaching profession.

Teachers also are motivated by financial and other kinds of status rewards. I'm confident that as a cadre of highly qualified, certified teachers begins to emerge, having met these new standards, districts will naturally want to employ them, and states and localities will want to become attractive to them.

They may choose to do so through various recruitment techniques. They may choose to do so by offering teachers opportunities for responsibility in various instructional and curricular leadership roles. They may do so by financial rewards.

As more and more teachers become nationally certified, it also should have a positive impact on legislatures and the business community and other outside constituencies whose support is needed to provide adequate financial support for the schools.

QThe National Education Association has been pursuing the creation of state professional-standards boards, with a majority of teachers on them. The American Federation of Teachers has claimed that this may undermine a national standards board. What is your view?

A States have always had the legal responsibility for licensing teachers. How that is handled, until now, has been a matter of state discretion and will continue to be. States will be free to move toward the national board standards or to have different standards that would be lower.

I'm pleased that both the nea and the aft have officially endorsed the creation of the national board and are participating, through membership in the board, in the creation of its work. There may be different views at different points about the particular matters the board should move forward on. Given the broad diversity of educational interests and public interests that have come together to form this board, one should expect diversity of views on some issues.

QSo, at this point, you don't have a position on state standards boards?

A I don't come to the job with a particular view that it must be this way or that way.

QWhat potential does the board have to improve the quality of teacher education?

A What the board can do, and intends to do, is to set new national standards for the voluntary professional certification of teachers, based upon the competency and knowledge that they need to have in order to perform their actual tasks as teachers.

This will, no doubt, have some ripple effect on the teacher-education community, as it performs its task of training new teachers and assisting in providing additional training opportunities for teachers now in the workforce. But the national board does not intend to go into the training business.

QBut in the fields of medicine and law, haven't professional board examinations had more than a minor effect on the shape of professional education?

A As I say, I think the national board will have a powerful effect, at least indirectly.

QShould graduation from a teacher-education program be a prerequisite for board certification?

A This is, again, one of the policy matters that the national

board will have to decide, with respect to who may sit for an assessment and whether there will be prerequisites of training or experience. My job will be to give the board my best advice and the best considered judgment of such expertise as we need to assemble.

QPeople have also wondered whether the board can raise the $50 million or more needed to get the assessments off the ground. How much of your job will be fundraising, and whom do you view as potential contributors?

A The board will need a lot of money to conduct, sponsor, or cause to occur the research and development work that will be needed to develop the new assessments. The current estimates of how much money will be required over a period of five years is up to $50 million. We will be able to refine that number as we define the structure of the assessment process itself--which levels, which disciplines, what kinds of standards. After we have defined that, in the months ahead, we will be able to develop a plan for how these assessments will be introduced and what their content will be. And all of those decisions will drive the research and development process.

Our policy will, in general, be to keep a lean, small staff, and to have the bulk of the research and development work done on contract, where it makes sense to have it done, or to have it funded directly by funding agencies, if that makes more sense.

As to where the money will come from, it is hoped that we could secure federal funds in the form of some kind of lump sum or unrestricted financial support that would be long-term enough, stable enough, that we could plan and conduct an intelligent research strategy.

I'm hoping that we can also raise money from a number of major national private foundations, which have an historic stake and continuing programmatic interest in the quality of education. Those have to be seen as the two primary sources.

In addition, we intend to seek support from major corporations that have an interest in the quality of education, and a number do. We start with an initial good-faith pledge from the Carnegie Corporation of approximately $1 million a year for five years, and that is indeed a very good start.

QYou mentioned a 'lean' staff. Can you be specific?

A That would be premature. By small I mean small, with a few senior people, a handful.

Clearly, we need someone very strong to coordinate the task of developing the assessments. And we will need a person on the staff who can handle our relationships with a variety of constituencies and states and localities on education-reform matters--whatever the board's policy turns out to be on that. We will need adequate management to coordinate a complex organizational task: Working with a board of 63 strong people, who will play an active part in this whole process; relating to dozens of constituency organizations; explaining to the public that this indeed is going to occur.

QDo you view your role as that of manager, administrator, or intellectual leader?

A First and foremost, the president of this sort of an organization has to be able to work with the board in developing and articulating its basic mission, and in coming to a consensus on what its most important strategies are going to be for allocating its resources of people, time, and money.

This will involve the president with matters of intellectual substance and professional judgment; with fundraising; with some management of the enterprise; with a lot of outside speaking engagements, no doubt; and with maintaining a program that will lead the board toward the accomplishment of its mission in the long run.

I don't see myself primarily as a manager or as a fundraiser. It's a position of educational leadership.

I think our first task is to work effectively as a board, given the broad range of constituencies that are represented. No doubt, we will want to reach out to others who are not represented on the board.

QWhat experience have you had with teachers that you bring to this job, and how do you plan to reach out to that particularly large constituency?

A I can give you both a personal and a professional answer. I was raised by my mother, who was a teacher. And my brother and my two sisters have all either been teachers or are now in teaching. I myself was a public4school teacher. I have four children who went through public, integrated schools. And I was teaching something at the school, college, or university level most of the time during the first 24 years of my career, except when I was in graduate school. So I do not view myself as someone who has been apart from teachers.

I taught in a suburban St. Louis school district for two years when I graduated from the University of Chicago with a master's degree. I then worked as an assistant principal and assistant to the superintendent of schools in suburban St. Louis for a total of five years.

During that time, I worked for three summers as a master teacher--that was their title, not mine--teaching political philosophy in a metropolitan-wide school, called the Mark Twain Summer Institute, which had been set up for academically talented high-school students. That was my public-school teaching.

I also taught at Teachers College, Columbia University, from 1966 to 1970, when I was on the faculty full time. Then I taught a doctoral-level course each semester for 7 or 8 years at Columbia while I was working for the Ford Foundation. I taught one year at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

QWhen will the first board assessments be up and running?

A No predictions. It could be a few years, but it would be premature and speculative to make any such guess. We need to prepare our plans, get them adopted by the board, and then say when it will be.

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