Equity & Diversity

Blacks Apply, But Unlikely To Win Certification

By Julie Blair — May 07, 2003 4 min read
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African-American teachers are far more likely than their white counterparts to apply for National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification, yet they are far less likely to receive the credential, a recent report concludes.

The report, “NBPTS Certification: Who Applies and What Factors are Associated with Success?,” is available from the Urban Institute. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Less surprising, the study found that educators of all races who win approval have higher standardized-test scores and work in higher-performing schools located in wealthier communities than those who fail.

The report is the first wide-scale analysis to document the characteristics of teachers who apply for and win board certification, according to Dan Goldhaber, the author of the study, which was underwritten by the U.S. Department of Education and released in March. Mr. Goldhaber is a research associate professor of public affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle and an affiliated scholar at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

The Arlington,Va.-based NBPTS was started in 1987 as a way to challenge and reward high-achieving teachers. Those who apply must show their worth through performance-based assessments that include student-work samples, videotapes, and rigorous analysis of classroom teaching and student learning.

Experts on the teaching profession said the report’s findings were striking.

“The part that is really troubling and requires much closer examination is why the high proportion of African-American applicants is not achieving board certification,” said Susan Moore Johnson, a professor of education at Harvard University. She noted, however, that information in the study was insufficient to determine whether the board’s selection process is somehow skewed.

“It is not surprising,” Ms. Johnson added, “that teachers who have higher test scores [and] the time and support from schools apply for board certification, and that they teach in wealthier schools and districts.”

‘Long-Standing Inequities’

Mr. Goldhaber looked at a sample of more than 200,000 North Carolina teachers from 1997 through 2000, including more than 4,000 who applied for board certification. Data on race, gender, age, standardized-test scores, and job placement were supplied by the state education department, the federal Department of Education, and the Educational Testing Service, of Princeton, N.J. North Carolina was chosen, in part, because it had more board-certified teachers than any other state at the time of the study.

“Teachers who are African- American, female, have higher test scores, are younger, and earn higher salaries are more likely to apply for national board certification,” the report says. “In addition, having an advanced degree and a permanent North Carolina-based teaching license significantly increases a teacher’s probability of NBPTS application.

“Teachers who have previously applied to NBPTS are also more likely to apply ... than those who have never applied.”

Overall, teachers of any race who work in schools with lower percentages of minority students and whose students were performing at or above grade level were also more likely to apply.

Black teachers made up 13 percent of the applicant pool, but only 4 percent of them attained certification. In contrast, white teachers made up 85 percent of the applicant pool but represent 94 percent of those who won approval. Only a handful of Hispanic and Asian-American teachers applied, and only a handful of those who applied were certified.

“If we knew what was causing the adverse impact, we’d be able to end it,” said Ann E. Harmon, the director of research and information for the national board, “but I don’t think there is anything in our system [that accounts for the disparity]. It is a reflection of some long- standing inequities in our society in general.”

Further research is needed on the subject, Mr. Goldhaber agreed.

On the positive side, the report shows that the board’s system is set up to identify and reward teachers who perform well on such tests as Praxis I and II, the SAT, and the Graduate Record Examinations, all predictors of teacher knowledge, Ms. Harmon said.

Resource Distribution

The study also underscores that North Carolina is shifting significant resources to well-to-do schools, Mr. Goldhaber said.

North Carolina pays the $2,300 application fee, then awards a 12 percent pay increase each year, for the 10-year life of the certificate, to every teacher who achieves board recognition. That means the Tar Heel State is investing $45,000 per teacher over the life of the certificate—an estimated annual outlay of $50 million.

In addition, the federal government has put more than $100 million into the development and implementation of programs for board-certified teachers nationwide, the report says. Foundations, corporations, and individuals have provided another $100 million.

North Carolina policymakers “are subsidizing teachers in high-income schools. That’s not something I’d favor,” said Susanna Loeb, an assistant professor of education at Stanford University. “This has strong implications for the equity of the current policies.”

The national board, however, argues that certified teachers are resources for not only their own schools, but also for those in neighboring communities.

“It would be shortsighted and simplistic to say that [state policies] shift resources to affluent districts,” Ms. Harmon said.

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