Reform You Can Believe In
What if I told you I know of a school improvement strategy that would…
- raise the level of teaching for individuals and school staffs – without requiring expensive and often ineffective trainers or consultants?
- provide the individual validation and “rewards” that reformers would offer through performance pay – but without pitting teachers against each other or rewarding the wrong behaviors?
- engender support among school board members, administrators, and other policy makers – without undermining or alienating teachers or unions?
- improve student learning – without driving anyone to focus on testing, scores, or value-added measures?
- improve student attendance and parent engagement at school – without relying on any “triggers”, gimmicks, or public relations spin?
- stabilize teaching staffs characterized by high turnover – without letting the staff grow complacent about the need for change?
- promote substantive conversations among principals and teachers about quality teaching – without making teachers feel targeted or inadequate?
- inspire volumes of glowing testimonials from those who’ve used this model – without neglecting to provide objective, quantitative evidence of effectiveness on a broad scale?
Well, I do know a program like that. The mystery to me, and many of my fellow National Board Certified Teachers, is that National Board Certification is not used more widely, or in demand more frequently in American schools and districts.
Actually, to be more precise, the demand for National Board Certification varies by state. North Carolina and New Mexico have made certification an important part of each state’s credential and license policies. I’ve written before about my admiration for the way that Washington education leaders have come together around National Board Certification in the past several years (present budget battles notwithstanding).
Last week, Accomplished California Teachers helped organize and host a screening of the documentary “Mitchell 20″ - which provides an excellent argument for the value of National Board Certification. There are benefits to the teacher, the students, the teaching staff, and even the broader school community. I’ve already written about the film here in InterACT, and posted a guest blog post by Patrick Guggino about it as well. Here’s the film’s trailer:
As much as I believe in National Board Certification, I wouldn’t want to pretend that everything about it is so clear cut and universally adored. It’s an expensive and time-consuming process, and the results leave some people second-guessing. Most teachers who go through the process say it’s valuable, even transformative, and most will say that whether they certify or not; however, some teachers end up frustrated by the volume or complexity of the work, and some by the lack of detailed feedback. And “Mitchell 20,” while it has a clear position and argument to advance, is not a propaganda piece setting up anyone to take the fall for the problems facing public schools. It shows the challenges, the failures along the way, and doesn’t pretend there are any simple answers to the problems facing students in Phoenix or anywhere else in the country.
Still, I don’t know of any better program to bring together teachers, unions, districts, parents, communities and policy makers around one vision of quality teaching and how to assess it.
And following our event at Stanford last week, the most encouraging outcome for me was to see people coming together. We had teachers from different districts in the region, comparing how their districts use (or don’t use) National Board Certification, what policies and support would help us move in the right direction as professional educators. We had union leadership in the room with district administrators, school board members, community members, Stanford faculty – and teachers, both National Board Certified and Someday-to-be-Certified. But with all those varied perspectives and angles, and all those stakes to hold, we had no controversy.
In fact, I was highly encouraged by the dialogue that followed the movie. Ideas, suggestions, advice, offers of help and support were popping up all around the room. People were energized to take on their challenges, make connections within and across districts, and seek support and partnerships that would promote better teaching and learning through National Board Certification.
Even though so many teachers are demoralized these days, I’m counting on the fact that we do have many talented and committed people in the profession. With a shared sense of urgency and purpose, I believe we can make a difference for each other and for our students.
I’d love to hear more good news from readers: what schools, districts, counties or states, institutions or programs are doing good work in a collaborative and productive manner?