Carnegie Unveils Makeup of National Teacher Board

By Lynn Olson — April 24, 2008 9 min read
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In what most observers see as a major step toward making teaching a full-fledged profession, the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy last week announced the establishment of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Inc., a majority of whose members will be teachers.

According to its by-laws and certificate of incorporation, the new nonprofit organization will issue certificates to teachers who demonstrate that they meet prescribed standards measuring knowledge and ability.

Marc S. Tucker, executive director of the forum, emphasized, however, that it will probably be three to five years before any teacher will be tested and receive a certificate.

The creation of such a board was a cornerstone of the forum’s May 1986 report on restructuring American schools, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century.

The announcement here, at the forum’s second annual meeting, is the culmination of eight months of work by a 33-member planning group.

Also at the meeting, officials of the forum announced the creation of a compact between California and Connecticut to develop assessments for teacher licensure, and the establishment of a coalition of university presidents to press for school reforms and improvements in the teaching profession.

Although observers last week hailed the creation of the national board as a substantial accomplishment, they also noted that its long-term future is uncertain.

The board must now resolve such tough issues as who can apply for certification, the kinds of assessments they must face, and the standards they will have to meet.

In a working paper presented to the planning group by the National Education Association, for instance, the union stated that the board should certify primarily beginning teachers, not those with experience.

“You have to control the gate,” Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the N. E.A. and a planning-group member, said last week. “You have to govern who comes [into the profession] as opposed to saying it is just for people who are already in.’”

But others have said that the board should identify and certify seasoned “master” teachers.

In addition, the crucial question of whether school districts and states will recognize and reward board-certified teachers—so that teachers will be willing to undergo and pay for the voluntary certification process—has yet to be answered.

“We have defined what the board should look like and who should be on it,” Ms. Futrell said. But, she added, “the tough issues are still to come.”

Said Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a planning-group member: “This is the beginning of a very, very long-term process of creating procedures and resolving substantive issues.”

“It’s a major step forward,” he said, “but the work is ahead of us. Now there’s a group that will be able to do it.”

Lewis M. Branscomb, chairman of the forum’s Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, which produced A Nation Prepared, called the board’s creation “a great step toward recognition of professionalism in teaching.”

“Once the board is in place,” the forum’s report states, “the profession will find itself, for the first time, in control of the definition of what it means to be a professional teacher.”

If the board becomes firmly established and respected, it may eventually determine who can enter the teaching profession, how teachers should be trained, and what their code of ethical behavior should be, as well as how the public views their status.

Because there are more than 2 million teachers in the United States, the new board potentially could have responsibility for certifying more individuals than any other professional-standards board in the nation.

For now, the 33 members of the planning group—made up of teachers, teacher-educators, political and business leaders, and other representatives from the education community—have agreed to serve as an “interim board of directors.”

James B. Hunt Jr., former Governor of North Carolina and chairman of the planning group, has appointed a nominating committee, which will recommend individuals to fill the remaining board seats this summer. The board, which has also launched a search for a president, will elect the new members.

In addition to the president, the board will consist of from 33 to 63 members—with the total likely to be 50 or so, according to Mr. Tucker.

The full board is expected to be in operation by the end of the summer. Some planning-group members will continue to serve on the board for at least three years.

According to by-laws for the new organization, the board’s composition should ensure that “the teaching profession itself has a dominant voice in determining the high standards for what teachers should know and be able to do.”

Board members are divided into two categories: “teaching professional” members and “public and other educator” members.

Two-thirds of the board will be composed of teaching professionals “who have the kind of skills, knowledge, and competence valued by the national board, and who regularly draw on that skill, knowledge, and competence in the conduct of their professional activities.”

At least three-quarters plus one of these teaching professionals—or a majority of board members—must be people who are regularly engaged in teaching elementary- and secondary-school students.

The remaining teaching professionals could be either teachers or teacher-educators.

Interim Arrangement

Eventually, all teaching professionals will be elected to the board by teachers who have been board-certified. Until then, board members will elect teaching professionals using the following criteria:

One-third must have held local, state, or national offices within one of the two national teachers' unions. Of these, equal numbers must come from the N.E.A. and the A.F.T. One-third must have held local, state, or national offices in one of the teachers' disciplinary or specialty associations. One-third must be teachers and other educators who "have been identified as having outstanding records of accomplishment,"' but who may not have held offices within either a union or a specialty group within the past 10 years.

Ms. Futrell said the initial 50-50 split between the two unions “bothers” the N.E.A.

“We felt that was not the appropriate way to define it since we do represent 75 percent of the teachers in the country,” Ms. Futrell said. But, she added, “realizing that this was a transition component and that it would eventually come out, we were able to indicate support overall for the document.”

Other Board Members

The remaining third of the board will be made up of “public and other educators.”

Such members could include governors, state legislators, chief state school officers, state and local school-board members, principals, superintendents, university presidents, college deans and faculty members, parents, advocates for minority-student rights, and business and industrial leaders.

According to the by-laws, a majority of these members must be elected or appointed public officials with responsibility for education.

Unlike teaching professionals, members of the “public and other educator” category will always be elected by the board. The selections, based on the recommendations of a nominating committee, will occur at the board’s annual meeting.

All individuals who sit on the board will represent themselves, and not any particular interest group or organization, according to Mr. Tucker. There will not, for example, be official representatives from either of the teachers’ unions, or from the national organizations that represent school superintendents and principals.

Said Mr. Shanker: “I think that people ought to serve on this [board] on the basis of their commitment to the profession and their abilities. ... The purpose of this board is not to show how many members one organization has or another.”

“You need a board that the whole world knows is not taken over or dominated by any single group,” he added.

Ms. Futrell speculated that the union affiliation of the teaching professionals on the board will eventually reflect the union affiliation of teachers nationally.

“Assuming that those who become members of the board and those who hold certificates will reflect the membership of the profession, then we would project that down the road ... we will be the [union] that has the majority representation.”

Under the new organization’s by-laws, there is no legal guarantee that members of the teacher-education community will be represented on the board.

David Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, praised the creation of the board, but said the lack of guaranteed representation for teacher-educators is “one of a series of things I will continue to say that I’m concerned about ... particularly because of the unique relationship between schools of education and schools that is proposed elsewhere by the Carnegie forum.”

A Nation Prepared recommended major changes within schools of education and advocated that they become more involved in the school-reform movement.

The forum’s Mr. Tucker said many teacher-educators will be able to qualify for board membership as either “teaching professionals” or “public and other educator” members. The planning group, he added, consciously designed the board so that teacher-educators would likely compose a substantial number of its members.

Board Nominees

To be elected to the board, individuals will first have to be nominated by a nominating committee, consisting of six or more board members.

The committee will solicit nomination suggestions from a variety of sources, in accordance with yet-to-be-developed guidelines, but it will not be bound by those suggestions.

According to the by-laws, the overall slate of nominees must be “reasonably balanced” with respect to race and ethnicity; gender; region of the country; and concern for and experience with urban, suburban, and rural schools.

In addition, the nominees for teaching-professional seats must be balanced among those with concern for and experience in elementary and secondary schools, instruction in the various disciplinary and specialty areas, and organizational affiliation.

After at least 5,000 people have been board-certified, a process will begin for phasing in the election of teaching-professional members by certified teachers, using a mail ballot.

Members elected in this manner will not have to fall into the “one-third, one-third, one-third” configuration required of teaching-professional members in the first few years of the board’s existence.

Board members will be elected for three-year terms, and cannot serve for more than two consecutive full terms. Members who have served two consecutive terms cannot be elected again until two years have elapsed since the end of their prior service.


Eventually, the board will be financed by applicant fees. Millions of dollars, however, will be required in the first few years before that revenue is available.

David A. Hamburg, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York—which created and supports the work of the Carnegie forum—said that no single institution could or should pay for the board.

But, he added, the “Carnegie Corporation stands ready to play its part in assuring that this enterprise succeeds.”

According to Avery Russell, director of publications for the corporation, Carnegie’s board of directors next month will consider a one-year, $ 1-million grant for development of the board. Mr. Hamburg will also recommend that the corporation consider making annual $1-million contributions to the board for up to five years.

At its June meeting, the Carnegie board will also consider a follow-up, two-year grant of $1.3 million to Lee S. Shulman, the professor of education at Stanford University who has been working to develop a prototype of the kinds of assessments a national board might use to certify teachers.

Mr. Shanker said he was concerned about maintaining momentum in the years between the board’s creation and the award of the first certificates. “I hope there are some things that we can do that will be faster than that,” he said.

“When the board meets, I’m sure there will be some discussions about how to get these things on the road as fast as possible, but with integrity,” he stated. “I wouldn’t want to rush it so fast that it falls on its face.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 20, 1987 edition of Education Week as Carnegie Unveils Makeup of National Teacher Board


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