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Published in Print: December 1, 1999, as National Certifications Triple Since Last Year

National Certifications Triple Since Last Year

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The nation now has nearly 4,800 teachers who have met the standards for accomplished practice set by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The Southfield, Mich.-based board announced last week that an additional 2,965 teachers earned the voluntary certification during the 1998-99 school year—a threefold increase over the previous year.

"This gets us to a critical mass," said Betty Castor, the president of the organization founded in 1987 to set high standards for teaching and certify those who met them. "This really launches us on our way to my goal and the national board's goal of reaching 100,000 teachers by 2006."

Ms. Castor, who recently assumed the presidency of the privately organized board, attributed the sharp jump to state and district incentives.

Betty Castor

The states that offer teachers the handsomest rewards—such as Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, and North Carolina— produced the most certified teachers.

An additional 726 teachers were certified in North Carolina, bringing the state's total to 1,262, or about one-fourth of all board-certified teachers nationwide. The state pays the $2,000 fee for up to 1,500 teachers each year, provides three days of release time for them to complete their assessments, and gives 12 percent raises to certified teachers.

In Mississippi, where the state reimburses districts for applicants' fees and pays a $6,000 salary supplement for the 10-year life of the certificate, 292 teachers qualified for certification.

"One of the goals of our administration was to encourage teachers to excel, not just to reward mediocrity," said Robbie Wilbur, a spokesman for Gov. Kirk Fordice, a Republican who championed the salary supplements. "We want to keep them in the classroom because a lot of times, to make more money, teachers have had to go into administration."

Florida pays 90 percent of candidates' fees and gives certified teachers a 10 percent salary increase. Certified teachers who become mentors or lead teachers can earn an additional 10 percent.

For Armando Fernandez, who just earned certification as a middle school social studies teacher, the state's offer to pay his fee was a major lure. Mr. Fernandez, 35, teaches civics at the 1,500-student Ruben Dario Middle School in Miami, where he was the lone candidate for certification.

"I saw the opportunity to show what I've got—to see if I'm really as good as I think I am," Mr. Fernandez said. "It tests you, and at the same time, it teaches you."

Teacher Education Inroads

The national board now offers certificates in 16 fields covering more than 80 percent of eligible teachers. More than 6,800 candidates have applied to undergo the process this school year.

In addition to working with state and local leaders to create incentives, the national board recruits candidates for certification. The board sponsors conferences for "facilitators" in state education departments, education colleges, and teachers' unions. Those facilitators, in turn, help organize support groups for candidates going through the often arduous process.

Ms. Castor said the board's next goal was to make inroads into teacher education programs and try to infuse its standards into master's-degree programs for teachers. "We want to make them more meaningful," she said of the advanced degrees, "and give them some substance."

Now that its certification system is gathering steam, criticism about the board has picked up. A paper published in July by the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, for example, faults its standards and assessments as being focused more on the process of education than on subject-matter knowledge.

The board's standards will be updated, Ms. Castor said, noting that the committees that drafted them continue to meet. The groups are looking at infusing technology into the standards, as well as at making the examinations of teachers' content knowledge more rigorous, she said.

Vol. 19, Issue 14, Page 3

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