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National Board Makes Real Reform

It is no secret that I think the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards(NBPTS) is the best hope for building and sustaining a true teaching profession for the United States of America. I support the proposition that National Board Certification should be the norm for teachers, not an elite status. Can we make teaching a profession like all others? Yes, if we are willing to embrace and pay for needed changes.

Last week I learned of two NBPTS partnerships that I think are game changers for teacher quality. Even better, they are game changers for student learning, and I mean for all students.

Like so many teachers and advocates for teachers, I am tired of teacher quality reform being all about test scores. Using test scores for teacher evaluations continues to strike me as a silly notion since teaching is a practice. You want teachers well-prepared for this practice. You want to evaluate that practice fairly when it succeeds in educating students and when it fails at that task. And you want evaluators who are skilled in providing helpful recommendations for improvement. The NBPTS is providing resources for improving administrator skills in evaluating teachers.

The NBPTS is a treasure trove of tens of thousands of videos depicting the best teachers aspiring to be certified. But unlike other companies that provide tapes of classroom lessons, the National Board provides with each video an attached document that the teacher submitted to explain the taped lesson. The document highlights both the good and the bad in the lesson. The National Board teacher commentaries provide analysis of the teaching and reflection on what should be changed. Teachers must describe their students, the context of the lessons, and their goals. For the first time, NBPTS is making those tapes and commentaries available to teacher preparation programs and to states and districts.

Washington and Maine were very smart in licensing from NBPTS these materials for the purpose of training principals in recognizing accomplished teaching and conducting teacher evaluations. These states really get it: well-trained evaluators will be critical in recognizing great teachers. So simple, but so impactful! Their partnership with NBPTS will pay great dividends for those two states.

Something else related to the National Board is happening in Jefferson County, Alabama. This district targeted their most challenging high school and all the elementary and middle school feeders to this school. They created a cohort of all the teachers and administrators in these schools, and all are going through a part of or full National Board Certification together. They have the support of a nearby university as well as National Board Certified Teachers in the area. They have the benefit of a common language of accomplished practice and the opportunity to build a learning community. These teachers and principals see that this is the richest professional development activity they could undertake. The process not only identifies great teachers, but it identifies for all teachers great practices in driving student learning.

The student learning outcomes as a result of the Jefferson County project have been remarkable. The success has inspired at least one key leader to plan to take this model statewide by targeting all low-performing high schools and their feeder schools. I suspect you will soon see that one of the nation's best professional teaching workforces will be from Alabama. Leadership matters. Focusing on practice first matters.

These are real contributions for real reform. The National Board should be commended for stepping up to assure all children have great teachers. Under the leadership of NBPTS CEO Ron Thorpe, there is a new day coming for the teaching profession. I cannot wait.


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