Special Report
Teacher Preparation

Even National Board Teachers Don’t Get a Pass on License Renewal

By Madeline Will — December 06, 2017 5 min read
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How national is the National Board certification for teachers?

Only just over half of states allow the extensive process for earning the prestigious credential to count toward the renewal of teacher licenses. What’s more, it doesn’t always make it easier for teachers to transfer their licenses from state to state: A third of states essentially require even board-certified teachers to start from scratch when they arrive.

For Peggy Brookins, the president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and a board-certified teacher, it’s a puzzling phenomenon.

After all, she says, the board certification process targets the same sorts of competencies states are trying to ensure via their continuing education requirements for teachers.

“What I go through on a daily basis when I talk about analysis and reflection, how I plan lessons, how I get to know my students, how I use data, how I use videos—all of that is part of the [board] recertification process, and it’s something you do constantly in your classroom,” Brookins said. “So having that versus sitting in a course that means nothing to me—it’s priceless.”

‘A Great Big Headache’

To achieve National Board certification, teachers must complete four modules: on content knowledge; the use of data to meet students’ needs; classroom pedagogy, based on a video analysis of their interactions with their students; and classroom effectiveness, which asks teachers to demonstrate how they develop assessments and then use the results to improve student learning.

It costs nearly $2,000 and takes a maximum of five years to go through the process—many teachers call it the most rigorous professional development they have experienced.

Thirty-three states allow the board-certification process to count toward renewing a teaching license, extending its length, or advancing to another tier, and 36 states recognize National Board-certified teachers from another state without making them take licensure tests, according to an NBPTS tally.

But for teachers not covered by those rules, having to jump through state hoops after being recognized as a highly qualified teacher is frustrating—and some opt to leave the classroom rather than continue to prove their competence.

Donna Keable earned her National Board certification in Rhode Island in 2002. A few years later, she moved to New Hampshire, where it was easy to transfer her teaching license.

But then, her husband got a job in Texas. Keable applied for a teaching certificate there, and was granted a generalist certification for grades 4-8—grades she had never taught.

“I thought it had been a mistake,” she said. “My whole career had been early childhood, mostly special education. ... I thought, you gotta be kidding me. Nobody is going to hire me for a middle school job, and that’s not my thing.”

State officials had told her that her National Board certification, which covers teaching 7-12 year olds, matched their middle-school certification, and not their elementary or early childhood certificates.

But after 28 years in public school classrooms, Keable was frustrated at the thought of taking numerous tests to teach her preferred grades. After a short teaching stint in a private preschool, she found a position at Head Start and is now a program coordinator for a collaboration between Head Start and a charter school in Texas.

While she’s now made peace with her decades-long teaching career coming to an end, it was a difficult transition, she said.

“I just assumed being National Board certified, I’d be able to get to Texas and just get my certificate,” Keable said. “It was an extremely difficult certificate to get, I was really, really proud when I got it. ... I did all this work on my own, earned this certificate, and it just caused me a great big headache.”

Beyond the Minimum Standards

The board frequently hears stories like Keable’s, Brookins said. She believes that if more states made it easier for National Board-certified teachers to cross state lines, it would help curb teacher shortages: Nearly 113,000 of the nation’s 3.8 million teachers are board certified.

Initial teacher licensure, she said, is “the minimum standards to enter a classroom. And board certification, everybody knows, goes well beyond that.”

To that end, her group will align its own renewal cycle to match that of states: Beginning in 2021, teachers will have to re-up their board certification every five years as opposed to 10, the same timeframe for license renewal as in most of the states. The change will also curb questions about whether teachers stay up to date with the latest research and technology in education throughout the 10-year period, Brookins said.

“It assures [policymakers] that they are on the same renewal schedule, and that the rigor of this renewal far exceeds—in my own opinion, because I’ve done it—what you would do for renewal otherwise,” she said.

Of course, not all National Board-certified teachers want or need their states to waive professional development requirements.

As a recognition of the process, Illinois reduces the number of PD hours required for National Board-certified teachers to renew their teaching license, from 120 to 60. But Jennifer Smith, an 8th grade science teacher in Monticello, said she wouldn’t feel comfortable only taking 60 hours of PD. She has accumulated up to 300 hours of PD in the summers, because she signs up for several weeklong programs at the University of Illinois and Illinois State University.

“Even though I am National-Board certified, science changes so much,” she said. “I’m always making sure that I know what’s new and what’s out there. ... I’m a teacher because I love to learn.”

Still, when states do count the National Board certification, it can be a meaningful incentive for teachers to go through the rigorous process, said Patrick Kelly, a National Board-certified teacher in Columbia, S.C.

“I think that it is a ... recognition that National Board-certified teachers are professionals and should be treated as such,” he said.

Kelly, who is going through the process to renew his National Board certification now, said it has been a more meaningful and relevant growth experience than the typical continuing education credits required by states.

“National Board allows for reflection on my learning and in fact, requires reflection on my learning, and that’s not really the case for normal recertification,” Kelly said. “Normal recertification is, go do X hours of continuing education, fill out the forms, do the paperwork—but there’s no opportunity to sit back and think, ‘How is this learning affecting my work and my students?’”

Because South Carolina waives continuing education requirements for the life of a National Board certification, “it has freed me up, in many ways, to do my job and teach,” Kelly said. “I haven’t been absorbed with the paperwork and red tape that is so often part of the [recertification process].”

Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/Education. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

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