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National Board Certification for Teachers: A Billion Dollar Hoax


by M. O. Thirunarayanan - February 10, 2004

The term “National Board Certification” conjures up visions of the highest levels of expertise in the area of certification. The reality is however, far from such visions. Teachers who are National Board Certified need only have as much content knowledge as some of the more advanced students that they teach. In this brief commentary, I will provide evidence to show that despite the lofty image conveyed by its name, the standards for National Board Certification for Teachers are closer to entry level standards for teachers. I will also argue that teachers who attain such certification do not deserve the humongous pay raises and other incentives that have been lavished on them.

INTRODUCTION

How much should a nation spend on mediocrity? In the

United States , over a period of time, the answer seems to be “nearly half-a-billion dollars.” According to information published by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (October 2003), $315.5 million dollars have been spent on this venture so far at the national level. In addition, states and school districts have spent a lot of money to support teachers who have either achieved National Board Certification, or are in the process of achieving such certification. For example, the State of Florida has appropriated $69 million during the year 2003-2004 to provide National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) and other teachers who mentor teachers who are in the process of attaining National Board Certification, a 10% salary raise (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, n.d. a).

It is true that not all states spend $69 million on NBCTs, but if all the expenditures made at the state and district level are taken into consideration, a grand total of at least half-a-billion dollars have been spent on NBCTs until now. Since this commentary is about a certification that is made to sound much superior and more respectable than it actually is, the dollar amount in the title of this commentary is also deliberately inflated in order to make the title catchier. However, given the fact that there are now 32134 NBCTs (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, n.d. b) in the country, and if the spending continues at the current rate, the billion dollar mark will be surpassed within a few years.

In this brief commentary I will provide evidence to show that despite claims to the contrary, the standards for National Board Certification for Teachers are closer to entry level standards for teachers and that teachers who attain such certification do not deserve the humongous pay raises and other incentives that have been lavished on them.

NATIONAL BOARD CERTIFICATION FOR TEACHERS

The term “National Board Certification” conjures up visions of the highest levels of expertise in the area of certification. The reality is however, far from such visions. A teacher who is National Board Certified need only have as much content knowledge as some of the more advanced students that they teach.

The following statement appears on one of the web pages maintained by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS, n.d. c), the organization that offers National Board Certification for Teachers:

At the core of the National Board Certification process are standards that describe the highest level of teaching in different disciplines and with students at different developmental levels. These standards represent a consensus among accomplished teachers and other education experts about what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do.(http://www.nbpts.org/standards/stds.cfm)

In a different part of the same web site (NBPTS, n.d. d), it is also stated:

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards seeks to identify and recognize teachers who effectively enhance student learning and demonstrate the high level of knowledge, skills, abilities and commitments reflected in the following five core propositions. (http://www.nbpts.org/about/coreprops.cfm)

The five “core propositions” are:

Teachers are committed to students and their learning.

Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.

Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

Teachers are members of learning communities. (NBPTS, n.d. d)

Let us look at each “core proposition” in greater detail. The first “core proposition” states “Teachers are committed to students and their learning” (NBPTS, n.d. d). Is this something that only highly experienced teachers should have? I don’t think so. Teachers should not be licensed to teach unless they demonstrate commitment to students. Such commitment must be evident long before the first day that a teacher steps into a classroom. Teacher preparation programs allow ample opportunities to prospective teachers to demonstrate such commitment, during course work, internships and other field-experiences, including student teaching. A teacher should not have to wait until he or she attains National Board Certification to start showing commitment to students.

The second “core proposition” states that “Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students” (NBPTS, n.d. d). My response to this is that if teachers don’t know the subjects that they teach, they should not be employed as teachers. Just the fact that they know the subject that they teach is not sufficient reason to give them National Board Certification. Only if they demonstrate advanced knowledge of the subject matter that they teach, should they be granted National Board Certification. Such advanced knowledge can be demonstrated by obtaining a doctorate in the subject area or by publishing scholarly peer-reviewed papers or by advancing in the subject area in other ways.

Teachers who do not know the subjects that they are hired to teach or how to teach them, should not even receive initial teacher certification. They should certainly not be allowed to earn National Board Certification. I will raise the issue of teacher knowledge again later in this paper, when I discuss the content standards for science certifications.

The third “core proposition” states, “Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning” (NBPTS, n.d. d). This is a part of the basic responsibilities of all teachers. Students in Colleges of Education usually take courses that cover topics such as learning theories, classroom management, and assessment. Teachers should know how to manage and monitor student learning before they are placed in charge of a classroom full of students.

According to the fourth “core proposition”, “Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience” (NBPTS, n.d. d). Even children learn from their experiences and they do not have any kind of certification, and certainly not National Board Certification. Why should teachers have to wait until they attain National Board Certification to start learning from their experiences? It should not take more than a few minutes of thinking each day to realize what they did wrong and how they can rectify their mistakes.

The fifth and the last “core proposition” states “Teachers are members of learning communities” (NBPTS, n.d. d). So are the students that they teach. These students do not have any certification either. Every member of every profession is a member of some learning community or the other.

THE LEVEL OF KNOWLEDGE EXPECTED OF NATIONAL BOARD CERTIFIED TEACHERS

The following statement makes it very clear that the knowledge and skills expected of National Board Certified teachers is very much similar to the knowledge and skills required of beginning teachers:

The related question is what distinguishes the beginning practice of a competent newly-licensed teacher from the advanced levels of teaching performance expected of a Board-certified teacher. In our deliberations about this question, we considered whether there were certain kinds or classes of knowledge, understanding, commitment, or ability that a Board-certified teacher might exhibit which would be wholly unnecessary for a beginning teacher and consequently should be omitted from licensing considerations. We could not identify any area in which this approach would not seriously undermine the capacity of beginning teachers to develop their practice on a solid foundation (Interstate New Teacher Assessment & Support Consortium, 1992).

THE CONTENT KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED IN THE TWO NATIONAL BOARD SCIENCE CERTIFICATIONS

If you think now that the “core principles” are at the level of initial teacher certification, you will be shocked when you read that teachers who are National Board Certified are only expected to know as much content as some of their more advanced students. Should teachers be granted National Board Certification for knowing just as much content as some of the more advanced students that they teach?

There are two National Board Certifications in the content area of science. One is the “Early Adolescence/Science Standards” and the other is the “Adolescence and Young Adulthood/Science Standards” (NBPTS, October 2003, p. 3). The first set of standards is for teachers who teach science to children between the ages of 11 and 15 (NBPTS, n.d. e), and the second set of standards is for teachers who teach children aged 14 to 18 and above (NBPTS, n.d. f).

The following statement appears in the NBPTS “Early Adolescence Science Standards” document (NBPTS, 1998):

“It is axiomatic that science teachers at all levels know the fundamental laws, concepts, and theories of science that they must inculcate within students as a condition of high school graduation” (NBPTS, 1998, p. 19).

The authors of the document have this to say about how much science content teachers should know:

How much should an accomplished EA/Science teacher know about the essential topics listed above? should be phrased in terms of the usefulness of that knowledge as applied in the middle grades (NBPTS, 1998, p. 19).

Standards are supposed to be exact statements about what someone should know and be able to do at a given level, either developmental or grade or experience level. When it comes to specifying standards for the content that teachers should know, the NBPTS document is very vague and sometimes takes recourse to evasive jargon.

The following statement appears in the NBPTS “Adolescence and Young Adulthood Science Standards” document (NBPTS, 1997):

The correspondence between the science curriculum and breadth of science knowledge expected of an accomplished teacher is deliberate. It is axiomatic that science teachers at all levels should know the fundamental facts and concepts they have been charged with inculcating by the time their students graduate from high school (NBPTS, 1997, p. 13).

It is true that this standards document goes on to argue that teachers should have depth of knowledge in science disciplines. Using biology as an example authors of the document mention some topics related to cells to try and prove the point that teachers need to know much more than their students. One such topic that is mentioned in the document is the “fluid-mosaic model” (NBPTS, 1997, p. 13). However, a mere few minutes of web-based research showed that information about this topic is available in several Advanced Placement (AP) Biology course web sites. It is true that AP courses are more advanced than other courses offered at the high school level, but they are still just high school level courses.

How much mathematics should National Board Certified science teachers know?

They are proficient in the practice of mathematics appropriate to the developmental level of the students they are teaching, including the use of algebra, geometry, statistics and probability, and discrete mathematics in the modeling and solving of science problems (NBPTS, 1997, p. 14).

I am sure that a closer look at other content areas will reveal similar low content standards when it comes to National Board Certification for Teachers.

CONCLUSION

The National Board Certification for Teachers is by no means a high level certification. The science content that is required of teachers is very similar to the science content that students are expected to know by the time they graduate from high school (National Academy of Sciences, 1996). It is at best equal to entry-level certification for teachers. The only thing that is high level about the certification is the language that is used to mask the mediocrity that is an inherent hallmark of the certification. The National Board Certification is nothing more than initial teacher certification at the national level.

As an educator who has visited schools in different states in this country, I do realize that the majority of teachers work very hard to educate students from very diverse backgrounds. I also realize that compared to other professionals, teachers are sometimes underpaid and that their salaries need to be raised. However, it is not right to achieve higher salaries by deceiving the taxpaying public. Giving the certification a high sounding name and making it appear impressive does not by itself result in improving the qualifications of the teachers who are so certified. Teachers who have attained National Board Certification should immediately refund the increased salaries that they have been receiving and are enjoying because of such certification. They should then start making legitimate claims for a well deserved, albeit reasonable, pay raise.

In conclusion, it is my humble opinion that candidates for a truly respectable National Board Certification should at a minimum ...

• hold an earned doctorate in their areas of expertise

• have five years of classroom teaching experience during which time their students have learned significantly more than students in the classrooms of their peers

• have developed and empirically tested innovative ways of teaching, learning and assessment, and have published their work in scholarly peer reviewed journals

• have published scholarly papers and/or books in their areas of expertise

• perform well on rigorous exams and other assessments in content areas.

REFERENCES

Interstate New Teacher Assessment & Support Consortium. (1992). Model standards for beginning teacher licensing, assessment and development: A resource for State dialogue. Retrieved

September 3, 2003 , http://www.ccsso.org/content/pdfs/corestrd.pdf

National Academy of Sciences.(1996). National science education standards. Washington , DC : National Academy Press. Retrieved September 3, 2003 , http://print.nap.edu/pdf/0309053269/pdf_image/104.pdf

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (1997). Adolescence and young adulthood science standards. Retrieved

September 3, 2003 , http://www.nbpts.org/pdf/aya_science.pdf

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (1998). Early adolescence/science standards. Retrieved

September 3, 2003 , http://www.nbpts.org/pdf/ea_science.pdf

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (October 2003). Quick facts. Retrieved

December 30, 2003 , http://www.nbpts.org/pdf/quickfacts.pdf

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (n.d. a). About NBPTSSM: State $ local support and Incentives:

Florida . Retrieved January 1, 2004 , http://www.nbpts.org/about/stateinfo.cfm?state=Florida

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (n.d. b). NBCTs: NBCTs by year. Retrieved

January 1, 2004 , http://www.nbpts.org/nbct/nbctdir_byyear.cfm

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (n.d. c). General information about the NBPTS standards. Retrieved

September 3, 2003 , http://www.nbpts.org/standards/stds.cfm

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (n.d. d). What teachers should know and be able to do: The five core propositions of the National Board. Retrieved

September 3, 2003 , http://www.nbpts.org/about/coreprops.cfm

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (n.d. e). Early adolescence/Science overview. Retrieved

January 3, 2004 , http://www.nbpts.org/candidates/guide/whichcert/18EarlyAdolScience.html

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (n.d. f). Adolescence and young adulthood/Science overview. Retrieved

January 3, 2004 , http://www.nbpts.org/candidates/guide/whichcert/19AdolYoungScience.html



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 10, 2004
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11266, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 4:47:37 AM

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About the Author
  • M. O. Thirunarayanan
    Florida International University
    E-mail Author
    M.O. Thirunarayanan is an associate professor in the College of Education, and an associate dean in the University Graduate School, at Florida International University, in Miami, Florida. Over the course of his career, he has taught various courses in education in three different universities since Fall 1992. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, he currently also teaches learning technologies courses at the doctoral level and advises doctoral students. His current interests include researching the integration of technologies in educational settings to facilitate teaching and learning, the impact of technologies on education, and various other issues related to education. Recent publications include Technology and Degree Inflation and From Thinkers to Clickers: The World Wide Web and the Transformation of the Essence of Being Human , both in Ubiquity.
 
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