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Professional Teaching Standards

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In another year or two, teachers may be able to earn national certification, which, in turn, may earn them higher pay, a greater say in decisionmaking, and more autonomy on the job.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was established in 1987 with the goal of raising the status of teaching to that of other professions. Toward that end, the board, the majority of whose 63 members are teachers, has defined what professional teachers should know and be able to do. Now it is hard at work developing assessments that teachers will have to pass to become certified--assessments that go well beyond pencil and paper tests.

The board plans to create assessments and offer national certification in nearly 30 fields, ranging from early childhood education to vocational education. All teachers who hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and have successfully completed three years of teaching at one or more elementary or secondary schools--public or private-- will be eligible.

Traditionally, teachers have been subject to examinations only for state licensing. A license guarantees the public that a teacher has met a minimum standard of competency set by the state. Board certification, on the other hand, would indicate that a teacher is an accomplished educator who has met high standards set by the profession. It will be voluntary and is seen as complementing, rather than replacing, state licensing.

"For once in this country, we're working out standards for measuring excellence rather than minimum competency [in teaching],'' says James Hunt Jr., former governor of North Carolina and chairman of the board. The board hopes that the prestige and other material rewards that might accompany board certification will prompt teachers to seek the certificate. And it hopes that its rigorous standards will prompt education schools to strengthen teacher education programs.

The national board set out to raise $50 million to support its research and the creation of the new assessments. It has received $19 million in private funding and nearly $10 million in federal funding and continues to seek support in both the private and public sectors.

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