Last week, I attended a special celebration on Capitol Hill to recognize the 25th anniversary of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), the independent board that certifies accomplished teachers in the United States. Yes, it has been 25 years since the board was created in 1987 by the Carnegie Foundation. This longevity is a testament to thoughtful, research-based reform that respects teachers and challenges them with high expectations.
It was inspiring to see and hear the architects and champions for this gift to the teaching profession. Former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, Founding Chair of the National Board, was passionate about the power of an accomplished teacher to change the lives of students. Gov. Hunt served on the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, the group that recommended the creation of the NBPTS. Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, a Republican, was also part of that task force. Their bi-partisan leadership, along with that of task force chair Lewis Branscomb, launched the process in such a manner that the Board and its work through the years has risen above partisan politics. Former Secretary of Education Dick Riley told the group that the investment by the federal government was one of the most transformative education reforms to date, but he also noted that there was more work to do.
Secretary Riley talked eloquently about President Clinton’s support for National Board Certification. Other political leaders in the 25-year history of the NBPTS have included a host of congressional and gubernatorial champions from both parties--including GOP supporters like U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, former U.S. Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, and former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot. Democratic supporters have included former governors like Roy Barnes of Georgia and Bob Wise of West Virginia.
Jim Kelly, the Founding President and CEO, said to me that the first goal of the Board, one encouraged by the original National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, was to certify 100,000 teachers, creating a critical mass of great teachers who are able to pass a rigorous assessment. That has been accomplished. From the speakers, especially the new CEO Ron Thorpe, I ascertained that a greater vision was emerging that would change the teaching profession in America forever. That vision is to make National Board Certification an expectation for those who teach in our schools.
Can you imagine National Board Certification being expected for teachers who are interviewing to teach in our schools, particularly in our high poverty schools? By the way, currently, 55% of Board Certified Teachers work in Title I schools. Can you imagine parents asking teachers during Open House if they are Board Certified? Can you imagine teachers displaying framed National Board certificates on the walls of their classrooms? And just imagine every teacher in America designating after her or his name the letters NBCT...National Board Certified Teacher.
We only have to look to the medical profession to know that this vision can be accomplished. The Carnegie Foundation in 1910 published the Flexner Report, written by Abraham Flexner. The report transformed the way doctors were trained and led to the closure of many medical schools unable to prepare doctors to the level of new medical standards. (We could stand to close a few teacher education schools.) Flexner’s work was the framework for board certification for doctors and later for specialized certification. Would you go to a doctor who was not board certified?
Can we do this tomorrow? No, but we can set the vision today. We can develop the strategies for making teaching a true profession in our society. We can unite the voices of teachers and advance this vision through unions, education reform movements, government, and parent groups to create the pathway to this higher standard. We can assess the current process for advanced certification and make the changes that are relevant to today’s teaching demands. We can research, incubate new ideas, and learn from other professions.
The National Board has never been more ready to make this new vision a reality. The time has never been better with supply and demand being on our side. Ron Thorpe is a leader who has the talent, skills, and savvy to bring the forces together to do the heavy lifting. Secretary Duncan and President Obama have the bully pulpit to unite the nation to support great teachers in every school. The philanthropic world should want to invest in proven transformational change in the teaching profession. The unions can lead their members to an understanding that elevating the profession is an investment in themselves and their future. The business community can embrace a tested process that can withstand the pressures of time and, with their support, can be brought to scale. Legislators and school board members can lead through laws, policies, and funds that will extend this vision to every classroom.
We can and must do this. If not now, when?
The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.