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Reform You Can Believe In

March 29, 2012

Debra Eslava-Burton, SFUSD Supervisor for Teacher Support and Development, discussing National Board Certification at the Stanford "Mitchell 20" screening, Mar. 20 (photo by the author).

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.

Dean Vogel

CA Teachers Assoc. President Dean Vogel listening to a fellow panelist at the Stanford "Mitchell 20" screening, Mar. 20 (photo by the author)

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?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy Coyle permalink
    April 2, 2012 6:20 pm

    I think teachers get the most out of the National Board Certification process when it is voluntary; however, I agree that it is truly a vehicle for transforming education. I would love to see more of the financial barriers removed. The time commitment is a bit daunting but very worth it!

  2. Sarah K-G permalink
    April 6, 2012 8:49 pm

    I agree with Amy that the process of National Board needs to be voluntary to get the most out of the process. Reflection is key, and not something that can be forced.

    I am fortunate to teach in a district where teachers going through the NB process are supported. My district has been committed to paying the fees for all NB candidates.

    In the past, our district had a partnership with the local university, where NB was embedded in a masters’ program. The program was a cohort model, and district teachers spend two years (or more) together on this journey. So often we only mingle with teachers who are at or near our grade level. The cohort model meant that kindergarten through high school teachers would be together, and we all learned more from that experience then I can put into words. Everyone knew that if we worked hard, we would end the two year program with a wealth of new knowledge, strong bonds with colleagues who grew into friends, a master’s degree, and NB certification would just be icing on the cake. While we currently have teachers completing NB without the masters’ degree component, I really hope the cohort will be offered again in the future. As a result of this support, my district is home to the largest number of NBCTs in our region.

    The woman who was instrumental in generating support of the National Board process recently retired from our district. This was a huge loss, but our district NBCTs continue to have networking meetings and discuss ways to get our voices heard.

  3. Mike permalink
    April 7, 2012 12:07 pm

    The best teachers jump hoops better than the worst teachers but hoop jumping does not cause good teaching.

  4. Lisa Alva Wood permalink
    April 8, 2012 2:57 pm

    Try Take One!, where candidates can do just one of the four NBCT entries and bank a successful score for two years… what a great way to introduce NB Certification and provide meaningful professional development for entire staffs. There are guidelines on the website, and doing just the one entry is so much less daunting… you could even do it on your own.
    A great way to bring the conversation over to real teaching, learning and results!

  5. Mike permalink
    April 11, 2012 5:16 pm

    There is evidence that NBCT are better teacher than those who are not. There is not evidence that the certification process caused this.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      April 11, 2012 7:21 pm

      Mike, it’s admittedly a tricky thing to measure and prove conclusively. I would argue that there are very few programs of any size or significance that could prove a causal relationship, as it’s quite difficult to control for other factors.
      However, for those who wish to dig deeper, here are some resources and we can let folks reach their own conclusions.
      See also: Measuring What Matters –
      I do know that teachers who have been through the process overwhelmingly support it – even those who do not end up certifying. From my experience as an NBCT and as a support provider, I will say that it helped me develop a framework for understanding and analyzing what I do and why, and gave me a common language to support deep and robust conversations on those topics with my peers. If the only acceptable evidence that the process helped me were to be standardized tests, I’d be screwed: I work in a school where most kids test very well, and there would be little room to show that they were testing better, and no way to prove that National Board Certification was the cause even if they did improve.

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