WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- (This column is a response to a commentary entitled "Teacher certification Not What It Seems," published by UPI on Nov. 2, 2001)
Despite the tragedy of Sept. 11 and the many military, security and economic issues facing the nation, Congress is inching closer to approving the president's education initiative, known as "No Child Left Behind." Progress on this legislation demonstrates the strong determination of our lawmakers to move forward on top domestic policy issues despite the nation's crisis.
The elements of No Child Left Behind are embodied in current Congressional work on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Like previous ESEA reauthorizations, this one aims to bring new education reforms to public school classrooms. For President Bush, the most important of these are literacy initiatives and annual testing of students in mathematics and reading in grades three through eight.
The ultimate success at the state and local level of these and many other reforms depends on the ability of classroom teachers to implement them. In other words: education reforms cannot succeed without trained and effective teachers. For example, the annual testing provisions in No Child Left Behind will likely require teachers to spend more time interpreting test data and making careful diagnostic decisions about how best to teach each child.
Fortunately, a framework already exists for setting high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do in order to improve student learning. The framework is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan and non-governmental organization.
NBPTS created and now administers National Board Certification, a credential that is offered on a voluntary basis to teachers in public, private and charter schools. The certification complements -- but does not replace -- state licensing standards or curricula.
National Board Certification is important to education reform because the process attests to teachers' knowledge of advanced content in the subjects they teach; their strength in monitoring student learning; their professional judgment in the classroom as they work to improve student learning; their ability to effectively incorporate parents into the learning process; and their ability to effectively reflect upon their teaching practice and hone their skills. Implementing sound education reforms can only succeed with competent, high quality teachers, and National Board Certification is helping to meet that goal.
The process is challenging and rigorous. Candidates spend 200 to 400 hours during the course of one school year completing certification requirements. Each candidate must submit a portfolio of extensive samples and analyses of their classroom teaching, student work samples, and videotapes of their teaching practice. In addition, candidates must complete a lengthy written exam designed to demonstrate their knowledge of subject matter content.
Only about 50 percent of first-time candidates achieve National Board Certification, and despite the difficulty of the process and the high standards teachers must meet, more and more experienced teachers are putting their practice to the test. This investment in the National Board Certification stems from the quantifiable benefits of the certification process for both the students and teachers.
Since certifying the first group of 86 teachers in 1995, the number of National Board Certified Teachers has grown to more than 16,035 nationwide. In addition, nearly 17,000 teachers have applied to pursue National Board Certification for the 2001-2002 academic year.
NBPTS was founded in the late 1980s with strong support from the nation's governors. And the first federal funds for the board's development of the standards and certification process came with the strong support of Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and others in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. The board continued to grow and flourish with the help of the Clinton Administration and bipartisan support in Congress.
Today, National Board Certification plays a prominent role in the education reform plans of many governors. The reform plans of Governors Frank Keating (R-Okla.), Bob Taft (R-Ohio), and Gray Davis (D-Cal.) all include National Board Certification. These governors have not only endorsed National Board Certification, they are having their states offer salary supplements and fee reimbursements to teachers who earn the credential.
Florida Governor Jeb Bush's "A+ Plan for Education" recognizes the importance of National Board Certification not only with salary bonuses and fee reimbursements, but also by providing additional bonuses to National Board Certified teachers who mentor other teachers.
State and local support does not end here. Forty-four states and nearly 300 school districts offer regulatory and financial incentives to teachers seeking and attaining National Board Certification. The incentives range from merit pay and salary bonuses to state reimbursement of examination fees and stipends for teachers who meet the certification requirements.
Govs. Bush, Musgrove, Taft, Keating, Davis and others understand that real education reform begins and ends in the classroom. While many education reforms aim to reinvent the wheel, National Board Certification does not: it simply fosters and recognizes what parents, educators and policy makers have long sought in education--excellent teaching.
Educators, researchers, and policy-makers see the impact made by National Board Certified teachers in classrooms throughout this country. A study released last year by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro shows that teachers holding National Board Certification significantly outperform their non-certified peers on 11 of 13 measures. For example, board-certified teachers were better at understanding why students succeed or fail on a given academic task; engaging students without overwhelming them; anticipating difficulties students might have with new concepts; and improvising when faced with the unexpected.
In addition, policy-makers are also seeing the merit to this process that is driven by state and local needs. There is no Washington mandate associated with National Board Certification. Instead, states and school districts use the process to identify and reward their best and most accomplished teachers.
Finally, educators and policy-makers are recognizing that National Board Certification is one of the best professional development experiences today in education. In state after state, National Board Certified Teachers serve as mentors to other teachers and as leaders in their own education communities. They share teaching strategies, help teachers build confidence in each other, and share experiences that improve their profession.
When Congress finishes its work on the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act and President Bush signs the legislation into law, millions of U.S. teachers will be called upon to implement the law's new provisions. As the nation's governors and many school superintendents are already finding out, the teachers who are best prepared to help children meet high expectations are those that have done so themselves--through rigorous National Board Certification.
(Betty Castor is the President of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards)