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The Devil, the Details, and National Board Certified Teachers

Three years ago, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) commissioned a policy brief on the impact of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) on teaching and learning in America. Measuring What Matters was created using the Teacher Solutions model: a panel of recognized classroom teachers collaborated over several months to examine the existing research and develop policy recommendations and implications, from the perspective of the classroom.

As principal co-author of the report, I read several dozen research reports on National Board Certification, a brain-numbing experience. What I found most fascinating in this literature review was the variety of explanations, from the research point of view, of the purpose of National Board Certification--the mission. More than a few of the reports (including some written by Famous Researchers) mis-characterized the process and assessment goals--which is not surprising, given the very complex and nuanced nature of the evaluation process. Figuring out why teachers would voluntarily sit for national certification (a laborious process with no guarantee of payoff) was a genuine enigma for most researchers, however.

Lots of the reports simply quote language from the NBPTS website, and many mention the financial incentives that are in place in some--but certainly not all--states. Very few investigators thought much at all about the concepts of teacher professionalism, expertise and advocacy embedded in a national certification for teachers.

The original mission of NBPTS was three simple goals:
#1) Creating, from within the profession, standards for accomplished practice
#2) Developing a reliable, valid means of assessing practice, measured against those standards
#3) Using the expertise of accomplished teachers in school and policy reform

Not among the goals:
Comparing, sorting or determining who the "best" teachers are, co-opting high-functioning teachers to reconstitute troubled schools, or using national certification as means of improving individual teaching (although over 90% of teachers who have been through the process say it was great professional development).

The idea was not to fix, select or reward teachers, but to draw on their accumulated knowledge and proficiency.

What would it look like to actually use the expertise of NBCTs and other demonstrably talented teachers to reach our national education goals?

What if we:


Asked teachers with a track record of success in our toughest urban and rural districts how to build more successful classrooms there?

Captured the wisdom of teachers who have been effectively managing student data since they got their first computer?


Created new school governance models using the guidance of those who recognize effective--and ineffective-- school leadership and organization?

Involved knowledgeable veterans in creating recruitment and mentoring to bring exceptional talent into classrooms--and keep it there?

National Board Certified Teachers even have to show evidence, as part of their certification score, that they have built solid and workable school/home/community partnerships--shouldn't we be asking them how they do that on a national basis?

Evidently not. NBCT bloggers who took part in the USDOE's April 1 webinar for board-certified teachers on the new ESEA "Blueprint" came away disappointed, yet again. It was another "Don't Ask--We'll Tell" situation.

If NCLB should have taught would-be education policy creators anything, it's the hard fact that intentions are one thing, but outcomes are something entirely different. The devil is indeed in the details. Those best positioned to predict what any policy will yield are those who will be living under it.

Over 82,000 teachers have successfully--voluntarily--accepted the challenge of proving that their practice meets high and rigorous national standards. Don't we owe them more than a PowerPoint presentation and a pro forma back-pat, in return for their compliance? NBCTs are a resource, not a cheering section.

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The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land 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.

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