by Faye Wagoner
The Need Is Now
State Standards Boards
Real education reform requires reforming real educators. One effective way of accomplishing this is through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As a NBPTS Certified Teacher, I can attest to the power of the assessment process to encourage, deepen and ignite teaching. It awakens the best in teachers and focuses them on the most important thing--the students in their classrooms.
This vehicle for reform is moving in the right direction, but it is moving too slowly. I would like to propose some policies which would encourage enough teachers to get on board so that the NBPTS can make a real difference nationwide.
First, more people need to know about
NBPTS. Every education policymaker, including the university and business community, should become informed about its purpose, process and availability. Every teacher should be informed about its possibilities.
Second, policy makers should put some incentives in place for teachers to enter the process. They should work in partnership with the business and university community.
Third, states should set up standards boards using educators to license and regulate the profession. Their work should be written and designed by teachers, including some ational Board Certified teachers if possible. All of the standards, including assessment standards, should align with the national standards so that there isn't a conflict in purpose.
The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future charges that quality teaching is the most critical yet most frequently overlooked ingredient in education reform. What Matters Most:Teaching and America's Future cites the NBPTS as a crucial part of achieving its recommendations. 1 The NBPTS is one of three supports to quality teaching. Teacher educations programs, initial licensing, and advanced certification are the three supports cited.2 The NBPTS is in the process of raising standards not for entry level competency, as state licensing boards do, but for master teacher competency. NBPTS members want the best teachers to stay in the classrooms with students. A National Board certificate shows that the teacher has been judged by his or her peers as one who is accomplished, makes sound professional judgements about a student's best interest, and acts effectively on those
The National Board is setting standards in over 30 areas of teaching. It is a better system of recognizing accomplished performance than earlier merit pay proposals because it allows teachers to measure themselves voluntarily against national standards set by respected colleagues. Since it is nationally run it avoids the local politics of most merit pay programs. It raises the sights of educators while lowering competition because candidates are measured against the standards instead of against each other. There are no quotas. Potentially each candidate could be successful. This begins to create a profession out of teaching. At every level the Board has included at least 50% teachers so candidates can trust the assessment.
BENEFITS-If a teacher can manage the time and the money, she/he needs to see the personal and professional benefits before entering this process. I have found many such benefits. The main one was an opportunity to take a focused look at my own classroom in all its facets. It was like taking several graduate courses focused directly on my own goals with my own agenda. This opportunity to view myself and my interactions with my students through a different lens with direct feedback from valued colleagues was both invigorating and frightening. It led me to a network of professionals who continuously help me improve my practice. It provided me with an opportunity to mentor other teachers and to be a liaison with a university that supports the process. I have been given access to university policy makers and provided direct input into two university programs.
By focusing my concentration into my own practice the process led me to new understandings of my own strengths and weaknesses. It added to my confidence and my willingness to take risks. This change has turned my outlook toward finding new opportunities to build our profession. It has empowered me to seek policy changes which I believe to be important to teaching.
All of these benefits came as a result of the Certification. They are not insignificant! The NBPTS is trying to publicize these benefits but it needs help to reach a larger audience. Every principal, department chair, school board member, education reformer, teacher, and university or business partner should be aware of the NBPTS and its process.3 The NBPTS has been discussed in professional journals for years but most of the public and even most teachers are not really aware of its work. It was a great boost to the NBPTS when President Clinton mentioned it in his State of the Union Address. Currently many universities are including information about the NBPTS in teacher preparation classes. Soon those new to the profession will enter with Board Certification as a goal. Right now Board Certified teachers are connecting with individual universities in many ways. Presentations should be made at the state, district, and school level to inform those who are not university connected.
AVAILABILITY-One area the Board needs to address is availability. Since this is a very authentic assessment it takes time to develop standards and write assessments.The Board cannot speed up its offerings because of the complexity of the process. To date only 6 of the 36 areas are available for certification. Since they cover all elementary generalist areas, more than 50% of teachers can now enter the process if they choose. However, when recruiting teachers it is disheartening to have an interested, motivated teacher and then to have to explain that his or her area is not yet available. The Board needs to clarify that it is moving at the fastest possible pace without endangering the quality of the work.
The Board has a steep learning curve. Each year the Board refines its methods. Many improvements have already been made in tune with candidate feedback. It has adjusted timelines, reduced testing time, provided local test sites, and provided computer access for testing. It has encouraged universities to assist candidates in many ways. I am confident that the Board will soon provide more offerings more quickly now that it is in motion.
The Need Is Now
The professionalizing of teaching is critical now. Teachers are being asked each year to more and more with less and less. They are becoming discouraged and are leaving the profession for less stressful, more lucrative jobs. New teachers are not staying long because they want more opportunity and recognition than education affords them. One third of new teachers do not continue as long as five years.
Currently, all teachers are on the same level. "Entering novices take on exactly the same kind of work as thirty year veterans."4 Until recently the only promotion possibility was to leave the classroom and enter administration.5 Many teachers want to be with students, educating them, yet they want recognition, incentives, and rewards as much as any professional. If they are forced to leave the classroom in order to achieve these things we all lose, especially the students. They would be more likely to stay if treated as experts with a voice in policy decisions.
The NBPTS provides an opportunity to stay in the classroom and still elevate the profession. For example, I was invited to talk with Deans of Education from five local universities about ways the university can support teachers through the NBPTS process. Board certified teachers are often given opportunities to influence reform and to assist in staff development. They have an opportunity to network and grow, fostering schools as communities of learners. Classroom teachers need to participate in the real decisionmaking which affects their professional lives.
Board certification encourages principals to recognize the abilities of teachers and to consider their leadership potential throughout the school community. Dr. Michael Doran, Principal of Jackson Middle School in Fairfax, Virginia says," Teachers who attempt certification show the school community their commitment to education at a high level with a good research base. They model the behaviors we want to see in students. They show the larger community that we focus on the main thing--student achievement."6
Without the kind of growth that certification offers it doesn't take too many years for teachers to get bogged down and to lose the vision that brought them to education in the first place. With it they have become committed to being professionals.
If NBPTS and teaching standards are key to elevating the profession, why aren't more teachers jumping at the chance to try the process? 604 have been certified in three years nationwide.7 The problem breaks into four parts: time, money, understanding the rewards, and availability. As Diane
Hughart, a Board certified teacher, stated, "The rewards must be worth the effort."
TIME-The certification process is very time consuming. In my own case it easily took more than 120 hours to complete. Time is one commodity teachers do not have in abundance. In fact, when incentives are requested, often teachers ask for time over money. In America teachers have 8.3 minutes of planning time per instructional hour. They have 3-5 hours of planning time per week as compared to 15-20 for their counterparts in Japan, Korea, and Germany.8 "Japanese teachers are typically in 'front of the class' for only four hours a day. Time spent outside the classroom is not considered wasted, but an essential aspect of professional work."9 Reflection, a central part of the certification process, is the hardest part to put into place and the first thing candidates find threatened because of time constraints when the process is over, according to a survey of several NBPTS candidates in the Fairfax County Public School District. In the words of Carol Horn, a NBPTS certified teacher, "Reflection informs reform." Without it teachers see no reason to change. Yet , reflection requires time.
MONEY-Money is another factor. Most teachers cannot afford the $2000.00 application fee without help from their district or state. That is why most applicants are from more affluent systems, which pay all or part of the cost. In a survey conducted by George Washington University doctoral candidate Joyce Lieberman, payment of the fee was the support requested most by teachers who have already attempted the NBPTS process.
Even if a teacher can afford the fee, the certificate does not now lead to any pay advantage in most districts. Since teachers receive the lowest pay of any job requiring a college degree,10 most teachers have to spend the available money on courses which will move them up the salary scale instead. Of course, if districts counted the certification for salary credit that would help solve this problem.
REWARDS-Assuming a teacher can manage the time and the money, she/he needs to see personal and professional rewards before entering this process. The intrinsic benefits are wonderful, but more concrete incentives would make the effort more attractive. They would clarify that the rewards are worth the effort.
If reformers want more teachers licensed, they need to offer more incentives.11 The National Commission on Teaching and America"s Future suggests setting up incentives with the aim of certifying 105,000 teachers in the next ten years.12 Once teachers commit to try the process they are sold, but they need clear and powerful incentives to take the plunge because of the time and money involved.
In my case having the district offer to pay the fee was enough to knock me off the fence. I was looking for a way to give back to my profession, besides, I believe strongly in the need for national standards so this was an opportunity to act on my beliefs. Paying the fees is a starting point. Each state should put a program in place to pay fees for candidates. This could be funded by the state, district, or business partners
. Beyond that, teachers should receive tangible rewards for completing the process successfully. While merit pay has generated vigorous debate, this program is not the same. It has solved the problems of competitiveness by using standards instead of personalities as a basis of comparison. There should be a pay increase, either a bonus or a separate lane on the pay scale. This was the incentive requested most in the survey of NBPTS candidates conducted by Joyce Lieberman. A career continuum should be developed which rewards knowledge and skill.13 An updated list of incentives offered state by state can be found at the NBPTS website
http://www.nbpts.com. The effect of a pay increase is evident in the larger number of certified teachers in states that offer pay incentives like North Carolina. If a pay lane is not possible, at least the process should count as much as six credit hours for pay scale purposes.
Another incentive would be allowing these teachers a louder voice in
decisionmaking. Currently, in most places they are accorded no special status. In many buildings there is no shared
decisionmaking. However, only by convincing teachers to try reforms in their own classrooms will any reforms actually occur. Top-down decisions don't work. Real reform is bottom-up. Teachers will make changes if they believe in them and that will happen more when a valued colleague is part of the decision. Board certified teachers should be given opportunities to sit on the committees that make the big decisions like state standards or block scheduling.
When professional development opportunities are
available-i.e. national conferences, etc. these teachers should be sent since they have proven their commitment and their willingness to learn and share.
Perhaps the local evaluation cycle could be amended to compensate for some of the time spent on the process. If candidates could submit their portfolios to their own districts in place of their local evaluation it would eliminate some duplication of effort while still assuring the district of the quality of the candidate's work.
The Certification should guarantee nationwide licensure. Every state should sign the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification Interstate Contract, which in each member state awards its highest level certificate in corresponding certification areas to Board certified teachers. If the standards are national then the license should be also. Board certified teachers should be given the opportunity to mentor new teachers, to team teach, and to conduct staff development. However, time should be provided to do networking, planning, and reflecting for all teachers. Teaching can be a lonely profession. It is impossible to continuously improve without opportunities to interact with colleagues.14 Perhaps a different class load or organizational structure could give Board Certified teachers the time to make significant contributions while still maintaining the quality of their own classrooms.
One model that provides this opportunity is the Professional Development School in which a group of preservice teachers works together in a school with a group of teachers all year. Another model would have Board certified teachers teach half time and work with colleagues half time. In my case teaching collaboratively for two classes allowed me to attend several meetings without feeling guilty about having to leave my students.
Universities should see Board Certified teachers as resources to expand the profession. The universities could provide credit or pay as compensation for the services these teachers provide.. Several universities are providing support groups for people going through the process, special certificate programs, clinical faculty positions, and opportunities as speakers and mentors. Becoming a university liaison is a powerful incentive to teachers because the connection to preservice teachers is rejuvenating.
State Standards Boards
Other professions have standards set by members and standards boards policed by members. Why are only educators not able to police themselves? In most states they are controlled by lay people who may not understand the implications of their decisions in real classrooms. Some decisions which look great on paper may not be developmentally or educationally sound. Currently twelve states have set up educator run standards boards. Other states should follow. 15
The state boards should follow the NBPTS model of at least 50% teachers on each committee. They should write the standards and determine methods for accountability because only they can make the assessments authentic. They can align the standards with the national ones to avoid conflict so teachers and students can be successful at achieving them. If the standards become embedded in state and local policies, they will influence all classrooms and students.16
The standards movement is powerful; however, as M. Hayes Mizell says, "Standards are necessary to focus the mission of schools but unless schools insist that teachers improve their performance in the classroom, and help to do so, standards will have little practical meaning for students." 17 Education reform must reform educators. Classroom teachers will only believe in the reform if educators are at the helm and their own input is seriously considered. This would allow teachers to see themselves as a part of a learning community, moving on an education continuum instead of at the bottom of a hierarchy where their input is ignored. 18
The coming teacher shortage is no myth. "Over the next decade we will recruit and hire more than two million teachers for America's schools."19 Master teachers are retiring at an alarming rate. New teachers are not staying in the profession. "In recent years more than 50,000 people who lack the training required for their jobs have entered teaching annually on emergency or substandard licenses."20 Untrained teachers cannot give our children the education they need. "Studies show that teacher expertise is the most important factor in student achievement."21 If student achievement is our goal, we must keep and attract expert teachers. The way to attract the best people to our schools is to set up respected, achievable standards and Professional Standards Review Boards so that we will be seen as a profession just like law or medicine. Teachers need to be rewarded for knowledge, skill and performance. The incentives must be real and tangible like money, credit, and voice. They need time to plan, network, and reflect.
Many excellent teachers have been waiting to attempt the NBPTS process to see if it would last and would make a difference. It has reached critical mass. Now we need to provide an atmosphere in which it can flourish and grow a community of learners for every school. Would you go to a medical group that had no Board certified doctors? Shouldn't each school have some Board certified teachers? Our children deserve no less.
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