Teacher Preparation

National Board Puts Focus on Lifting Profile

By Anthony Rebora — October 23, 2012 6 min read
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At a time of competing pressures around teacher evaluation and development, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which provides an advanced certification for educators, is retooling itself in an attempt to increase its influence in the field, say the organization’s leaders.

The process may ultimately result in significant changes to the group’s flagship certification program, including streamlined procedures, tie-ins to the Common Core State Standards, and integration of student-achievement measures. Also under development is a separate teacher-leader endorsement for educators who are no longer in traditional classroom roles.

Currently, candidates for national-board certification must go through an extensive, 10-stage process oriented around portfolio submissions (including video demonstrations) and content-area assessments. The program can take as long as three years to complete, and has a $2,500 application fee.

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Nearly 100,000 teachers—about 2.5 percent of the profession—hold board certification. But the NBPTS is working on plans to increase that number dramatically in coming years, Ronald Thorpe, who took over as the organization’s president and chief executive officer last year, said in a recent interview.

Mr. Thorpe, a former vice president of education for WNET public television in New York City and the creator of the Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference, a high-profile annual professional-development gathering, said he hopes to transform board certification into more of an industry standard for excellence in teaching, akin to board-certification designations in the medical field. It should be “what every member of the profession aspires to and most [of them] achieve,” he said.

Having that kind of widely recognized mark of distinction in the field would give teachers greater professional standing and more influence in education policy discussions, Mr. Thorpe said.

A Changing Field

Getting to that point won’t be easy. The NBPTS’ influence has arguably declined in recent years amid shifts in the education policy landscape. According to surveys conducted for Education Week’s Quality Counts report, the number of states providing financial incentives for teachers to earn national-board certification decreased from39 in 2005 to 24 in 2012.

That decline is partly attributable to states’ efforts to rein in education spending during tough economic times. But it has also been seen as a byproduct of the growing emphasis on teacher-development systems that focus less on professional credentials and more on measures of student achievement, including test scores.

“For a long time, the national board was really the only way out there for teachers to distinguish themselves,” said Sandi Jacobs, the vice president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality. “But with states coming up with their own evaluation systems to differentiate between teachers based more on student performance, the meaning of the [national-board] certification becomes more of an open question.”

The organization’s exact plans for regaining its footing and heightening the profile of its imprimatur are still largely under development. Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization has contracted with the Bridgespan Group, a consulting firm, to analyze the teacher market and identify steps to enhance the significance of board certification. (The Gates Foundation also helps support coverage of the education industry and K-12 innovation in Education Week.)

As part of that project, “strategies to refresh the board’s standards and streamline its certification process are very much under review,” David Haselkorn, the NBPTS’ senior vice president for institutional advancement, said in an email. Specific goals include linking the content standards more closely to the common standards and incorporating the use of digital portfolios, he said.

Mr. Haselkorn also noted that the Bridgespan project entails exploring “the role that student-achievement gains and student voice play in assessing teacher effectiveness.” No decision has been made on what a student-achievement component might look like if included in the certification process.

“Obviously, it is both a controversial and challenging issue, and the board will need to proceed with care to ‘get it right,’ ” he said.

‘Mobilizing the Base’

As part of its repositioning, the NBPTS is also taking steps to provide greater support and recognition to teachers who already hold its certification—an organizational objective Mr. Thorpe has labeled “mobilizing the base.”

He acknowledged that the NBPTS has historically not done a good job of keeping track of the teachers it has certified. To change that dynamic, as part of a staff reorganization, he has hired three former classroom teachers to serve as directors of educator engagement.

Their charge is to connect with board-certified teachers across the country and give them greater visibility through collaborative opportunities and wider recognition of their impact on schools and students.

Mr. Thorpe suggested that by better leveraging the talents of board-certified teachers, many of whom are in education leadership positions, the NBPTS can both help make improvements in schools and bring attention to its role in identifying and fostering educator expertise.

“These leaders can impact schools differently, with an understanding of teachers’ perspectives,” he said.

To keep more teachers in its fold, meanwhile, the organization is hoping to boost certification renewals by creating a new endorsement specifically for teacher leaders. Board-certified teachers must renew their certifications within 10 years. But currently, Mr. Thorpe explained, many teachers who have advanced in their careers find that the renewal application is not relevant to their present roles.

Video Lessons

The organization is also looking to build on the internal assets it has developed in the course of administering the certification program for more than 25 years. Jumping directly into the evaluation arena, for example, it recently announced an initiative to license its teaching-practice videos to states, districts, and schools for use in training school leaders in conducting teacher observations.

Maine and Washington state have signed on to use the video-observation program as part of new teacher-evaluation initiatives.

Michaela Miller, a board-certified teacher who is the manager of the Teacher-Principal Evaluation Project for the office of public instruction in Washington state, said the videos give educators the ability to create “structured conversations around what good teaching looks like in relation to established instructional frameworks.”

Mr. Thorpe said the board’s video library now holds some 10,000 lesson-demonstration videos—compiled, with permissions for reuse, from the submissions of teachers who went through the certification process.

The organization plans to use the videos in partnerships with teacher-preparation programs as well, potentially reaching teachers early in their careers with demonstrations of what the group sees as exemplary instructional practices.

“The idea,” Mr. Thorpe said, “is to build from within the profession the standards for the profession.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2012 edition of Education Week as National Board Seeks to Revive Impact on Profession


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