Guest Column

Board-Certified Teachers: A Missing Piece in School Reform

by Awilda Hamilton

Buzzwords always have a certain appeal while adding to the proliferation of rhetoric in K-12 schooling. Unfortunately, by becoming part of our everyday language, words like renewal, redesign, restructuring, and reform have lost their meaning.

Superintendents who take classroom reform seriously have one no nonsense process that packs promise: national teacher certification.

Few have taken advantage of this tool. To date, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, based in Detroit, reports only 595 teachers have earned national certification since its start in 1993.

Winning Proposition

The standards developed by the national board focus on the knowledge and skills that accomplished teachers should know and be able to do. Through the board’s rigorous certification process, teachers not only benefit themselves and their pupils, they also enhance an entire school or district. Many districts with board-certified teachers have discovered such advantages.

Board-certified teachers can provide guidance to the curriculum planning teams that design programs and delivery systems. They also can help design in-service programs that model the elements of good teaching identified by the national board, and they can revise peer review and evaluation processes.

But perhaps the greatest benefit is the potential impact of board-certified teachers on educational reform at the local school and classroom levels. These teachers can demonstrate the teaching practices critical to promoting student learning.

The importance of developing a teaching community invested in reform activities cannot be overstated. Certainly, national certification can be a superior vehicle in getting the word out to the general public that the school system has been recognized for being on the cutting edge.

Various Uses

All of the ways for using board-certified teachers constitute personal, professional recognition that will be highly valued. This is an important point since teachers assign a high value to recognition of their professional abilities by others. Thus, recognition by peers, administrators, school board members and the public will be positively received by the teacher, perhaps resulting in the infusion of even more energy into his or her teaching.

The national board seems mistaken in its 1994 report, "Why America Needs the NBPTS," when claiming that "almost all the incentives for continuing professional development are wrapped up in salary schedules that reward the accumulation of graduate credits. It does not matter what is studied or whether it is related to a teacher’s assignments. It does not matter if a teacher receives a high grade or a low grade, or, for that matter, if anything at all is learned that might strengthen the teacher’s practice. All that counts is that one’s card gets punches."

This self-serving statement overlooks the many well thought-out and planned professional development activities that have emerged in recent years. In addition, thoughtfully created professional development activities using nationally certified teachers can mirror the same concrete, performance-based practices demonstrated for board certification. This supports what is known about best practices in adult learning where the learner applies concrete experiences to what is being learned.

Budget Implications

Should the school system pay the teacher’s application fee for national board certification? Depending on the priority they place on national certification, some districts pay some or all of the application fee, currently $2,000. As a minimum, if a district pays entry fees for teachers to attend professional development activities or enroll in courses or workshops at a local university, payment of all or part of the application fee should be considered on a par. About 41 school districts and states currently provide financial support for their teachers in the certification process.

School districts also can support certification efforts by granting released time, approving professional leave days, paying for travel through staff development funds, or providing secretarial help to the applicant.

Vital Investment

If superintendents are serious about making meaningful educational reforms, investing in teachers is fundamental. Though not a panacea, the national board certification process is a powerful tool about which more superintendents and board members need to be informed.

Unlike some reform efforts, placing a high priority on board certification does not always mean a hard hit on the school board’s pocketbook. The potential gains are too good to pass up: teachers receive recognition for superior performance; the school system has talented and empowered employees to apply to wider reforms; and students reap the benefits of master teachers.

Awilda Hamilton is assistant professor of Educational Administration, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio