Lessons from Washington State
Last Friday I had the opportunity to spend most of the day in the company of one of my favorite people in education land. Jim Meadows is on the staff of the Washington Education Association, and has been playing an integral role in making Washington one of the states to watch in education reform. He’s doing it within the umbrella of the state teachers union, and he was in California last week at a CTA Good Teaching Conference talking to California teachers and union leaders about how we too might work within the union to promote better teaching and learning.
You might not hear the self-annointed education reformers of the charter school and fake accountability movement singing the praises of Washington state, which doesn’t even have charter schools. (I say “fake” accountability because it seems leaders are rarely held accountable for the conditions they create and the systems they control, and their cheerleaders prefer to blame teachers for what happens when poorly funded and poorly directed systems end up failing students in poverty). And it’s not all good news up in the northwest; they deal with some of the same school funding litigation and teacher evaluation challenges facing other states, and confront problems with leadership and TFA contracts as well.
But the Washington Education Association has taken up the mission of improving teaching and learning around the state, particularly by advocating for National Board Certification and for policies that encourage teachers to pursue certification. I’ve written in the past about my Washington envy, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has also spotlighted the work going on in Washington.
The main take away from Jim’s talk is that the Washington Education Association has demonstrated what many union advocates have argued but not always been able to accomplish: the union serves its members effectively by serving the profession and the students. National Board Certification is a rigorous process designed by teachers, for teachers, and those who go through the process overwhelmingly agree that it provides a relevant and meaningful professional development experience with lasting benefits; research into board certification confirms that effectiveness.
Though they have a fraction of our population, Washington has more National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) than California: 6,250, about 1,000 more than California. Washington put itself on a trajectory for success when the WEA mobilized its members to advocate for statewide incentives and provided its own statewide support. The raw numbers are not enough of a goal, however; high needs schools tend to have less experienced teachers and greater turnover, and it is important to note that the state incentives led more teachers at those high needs schools to pursue certification. California has its own success story about National Board Certification as schoolwide reform program, and the film Mitchell 20 provides another compelling example coming out of an Arizona elementary school.
In the past fifteen years, WEA has found a variety of ways to support National Board Certification, which you can see in the photo I snapped from Jim’s slides. (Please forgive the distortion caused by the angle from which I took the picture).
A couple of terms to clarify: “Jump Start” is a program to help candidates get off to a strong start in their certification process, and the Targeted High Need Initiative program was, as its name suggests, an effort by NBPTS to increase certification activities in high needs schools and districts.
Jim also offered a variety of advice to Californians interested in promoting National Board Certification. First, in order to leverage a state investment in NBCTs, make sure that they have opportunities to give back to their schools, districts, and the state. Make sure they are involved in the policy-making process in order to bring about policies that will be more effective. Use their perspectives and their input to build consensus around improvements, as a united approach to setting and achieving goals improves the odds of success. Share responsibility for monitoring challenges and searching for opportunities to make significant changes. Keep NBCTs connected (perhaps in networks like this one!), and be vigilant in building and safeguarding a policy agenda that supports National Board Certification. Provide a variety of opportunities for teachers so they can find their own paths, to grow from NBCT to accomplished teacher leader.
As much as I enjoy hearing from Jim about the good work that has happened in Washington, the imperative for me is to see good work happening in California as well, with the California Teachers Association doing its part to demonstrate and promote teacher leadership for improved educational outcomes. I’m glad to say that I saw and heard much that was encouraging that day, and I’ll be posting a follow-up on the rest of the day’s activity quite soon.