Education Opinion

Building the All-Star Team

By David B. Cohen — July 15, 2009 3 min read
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Late Tuesday night in the hotel restaurant, when I finally had a chance to eat dinner, I watched parts of the Major League Baseball All-Star game. I was sitting with some teacher leaders from North, South, East and West, and try as we might, we couldn’t avoid talking about education policy for very long. But with the game on in the background, I started thinking about the notion of being an All-Star.

Players in the MLB All-Star game were selected by fans, peers, and the All-Star team managers, in a process that admits plenty of bias and relies greatly on popularity. Still, if the league left the voting to someone less biased, or if they forbid hometown voting somehow, would the results be any more certain? How does one define an All-Star? Sports reporters and impassioned fans love to debate who deserved or didn’t deserve those honors.

And here’s the thing – baseball may be the most thoroughly recorded and analyzed sport in the world. Is there any statistic they don’t keep? So how is it that they can gather all of that data and not know for sure who the All-Stars are? I mean, you can be watching a crucial at-bat and hear the announcer inform you that in night games on fields with artificial turf, this batter is hitting .429 against lefties once he’s ahead in the count with runners in scoring position and two outs. If the broadcasters can gather that information, maybe the league could just crunch some numbers and give us the All-Star roster!

But back to teaching. Who are the All-Stars, or the Most Valuable Teacher(s)? If you ask pundits and politicians, and even a cross-section of regular citizens, it’s all about test scores. That’s like saying the All-Stars are the players with the highest batting averages. Not even the most casual baseball fan would settle for such simplicity; for what it’s worth, only five of the top ten hitters (by batting average) in the American League were All-Stars this year, along with only six of the top ten in the National League. Yet, time and time again in education circles, we hear students, teachers, schools and even states reduced to a few statistics.

I’m not arguing for even more statistics in education, however. We need to expand our concept of data, doing what National Board Certified Teachers are required to do – gather rich and varied evidence of student learning, beyond multiple-choice bubble tests. National Board Certification represents the teacher’s chance to make the case for All-Star status, and to be measured according to rigorous and meaningful standards. It’s an evaluation that probes beneath any statistics, requires more than test scores, and makes us better teachers for having gone through the process. But, unlike making the All-Star team, National Board Certification can and should be available to any interested teacher. The goal is not to restrict access to some elite cadre, but rather, to expand the availability of quality teaching and higher certification.

Gathering with these All-Star teachers, and unable to really follow the ball game because I’m more excited about our work, I’m trying to put my finger on exactly what National Board Certified Teachers are here to do. Unlike the All-Star game, this conference is more than a celebration and a showcase. I hope we’re here to do some hard work. We need to embrace our responsibility to collaborate more across regions and states, and work more closely with education stakeholders at every level to communicate who we are and what we do in schools and classrooms. We need to recruit more teachers to our team, and change the game for the sake of our students, who deserve more than being reduced to their batting average.

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