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M. O. Thirunarayanan's unsubstantiated and irresponsible claims:

Posted By: Matthew Delaney on February 12, 2004
 
Dr. Thirunarayanan,

As a career educator, it is professionally demoralizing for TCRecord to promote the presentation of an obviously one-sided and unsubstantiated commentary regarding National Board Certification by Florida International University (FIU) Associate Professor M. O. Thirunarayanan on its respected website. Furthermore, as a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), it is a blatant insult. My sincere hope is that the publication of this essay is not intended to simply generate or measure a broad list-serve response designed to increase reader traffic on the website. Certainly, the shock value of this irresponsible approach to commentary would be better directed to pulp tabloids or self-styled homepages rather than a respected website of the previous quality of tcrecord.com.

After reading the "National Board Certification for Teachers: A Billion Dollar Hoax" article, I am not convinced that this undocumented personal affront to the highly regarded and comprehensive National Board Certification process is legitimately worthy of a thoughtful response. The author has assumed the role of a self-styled "cyber shock-jock" in this article. Unfortunately, Professor Thirunarayanan's demonstrated lack of experience and scholarly resources regarding the actual certification process tends to place the author's derisory comments under a very poor light. He has become little more than the higher education equivalent of the "barking dog" lady who commandeers local town meetings in my part of the country with extended "save the pit bull" expositions. I am concerned with the author's inability to provide meaningful solutions for his stated perceptions of what he alleges as problems with the process. I believe that recognizing symptoms of a problem--real or imagined--is a very different intellectual course of action from that utilized in determining a solution.

Like it or not, Associate Professor M. O. Thirunarayanan is an implied public relations representative for his place of employment. It is unfortunate that Florida International University or other accredited institutions of higher education would promote at any level, or value at any level, this type of unsubstantiated "cheap shot" from their faculty. I realize that many college and university instructors live under the publish or perish mandate from their institutions, but I cannot imagine that making it up as you go along is the same as responsible research, intellectual dialog and impartial reportage. An important concern, then, is not only whether FIU condones this article, as much as whether they are actually even aware of the vacuous content and malicious intent of this select example of low quality writing that Associate Professor M. O. Thirunarayanan appears to value.

A simple solution to the so-called problem may be to challenge Professor Thirunarayanan to substantiate his claims regarding the low content thresholds and ineffectual practices promoted in the National Board Certification program with authentic quantitative research models. Of course, to throw another cliché into the mix, he may discover that this approach may be more easily said than done. Effective educators know that the most meaningful elements of teaching and learning, for the most part, cannot be accurately measured at the extreme ends of the spectrum. This problem has certainly demonstrated to be of serious concern in the past and continues to create one of the greatest difficulties with equalizing fair assessments of student achievement in each of the states in this nation.

In contrast though, the NBCT portfolio and content-specific assessment center testing which is expressly directed toward classroom performance as well as parent/community alliances directly addresses this issue. It is a vital part of the National Board Certification portfolio and assessment center process that has established itself as the most effective and demanding teacher assessment method to date. Moreover, it is important to note that the extensive endorsement, support and collaboration of recognized leaders and groups committed to education reform further attest the significance of this high and rigorous certification process.

Providing educational opportunities of value to students boils down to more than holding up a few personally selected, misinterpreted and specifically isolated examples of content knowledge to a one-sided public scrutiny. Effective instruction involves much more. Even the few purportedly problematic examples that Professor Thirunarayanan chose to "grand stand" in this article were, by the author's own admittance, important facets of knowledge for many students within their educational programs. If this writer believes, as readers are misled to understand, that teachers should be purveyors of a level of education that only doctoral students would otherwise encounter, then I have to question Professor Thirunarayanan's self-professed range and depth of experience of the K-12 educational process as presented in his TCRecord article.

There are many reasons why teachers teach. Money is generally not one of them. For me, there can be no greater satisfaction in my life than the knowledge that I was an instrumental part of a student's learning success story, because I know that it is also the beginning of a life success story. Professor Thirunarayanan's claims regarding the ability of National Board Certification to measure accomplished teaching do not address this issue, but the portfolios and the content-specific assessment center testing of the National Board Certification process does.

National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) demonstrate a high level of consideration and ability directed toward helping all students, not just AP students, to succeed. Furthermore, they are committed to assisting those students who most need their intervention: the students labeled as failures by every brand of measuring stick that policymakers can throw at them. NBCTs search for alternative approaches designed to help children in their classes meet those standards--day-by-day and student-by-student. Committed and accomplished NBCTs realize that their efforts to work with students exhibiting physical, behavioral, attendance, social/emotional or any combination of these challenges extend well beyond simple content knowledge. Once again, Professor Thirunarayanan's claims regarding the ability of National Board Certification to measure accomplished teaching do not address these issues, but the National Board Certification process does.

The educational landscape is littered with automatons endowed with advanced abilities to drone on and on within often meaningless "content knowledge" realms. I am sure that we have all experienced these walking "cures for insomnia" at one stage or another of our undergraduate and graduate education. It is an unfortunate monument to the tenure system in institutions of higher education to consider that these ineffectual individuals can remain and even prosper within our college and university systems.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, on the other hand, has developed and promoted a certification process over the past sixteen years that has increasingly established high and rigorous standards for teachers in virtually all content areas. These standards did not evolve from a single essay emanating from the limited vision of a disgruntled writer. The National Board Standards evolved from extensive input across the educational, business and policy spectrum as well as pilot testing and intense evaluation over a period of years. The Five Core Propositions incorporated within the National Board Certification process ensure that the portfolios submitted for assessment demonstrate that teachers applying for National Board Certification meet those standards at every level.

I am proud to have achieved National Board Certification. However, National Board Certification has not been the capstone of my teaching career, rather, it has opened the gate for continued professional development that makes a difference in the lives of my students. It has helped me focus more directly on areas of my teaching and the needs of my students that advance their knowledge and skills well beyond simple content knowledge. Standardized test scores and scientific theories alone cannot prepare individuals for life in this rapidly changing world. Learning to think and apply their learning in practical and thoughtful applications of knowledge, however, can.

My intent is not to demean the many valuable, challenging and comprehensive graduate programs available to educators. However, a number of NBCTs have already earned doctorates that cover the full spectrum of instructional content from universities across the nation. Many of these teachers state that the National Board Certification process was a more intensive, meaningful and educationally effective experience for them than anything they encountered within their doctoral programs.

If Professor Thirunarayanan and TCRecord truly intended to initiate a conversation directed toward the complexity and effectiveness of the National Board Certification program, I recommend that either or both of them research the subject in a more conventional format than unsubstantiated website claims. Perhaps I could boldly recommend--conveniently borrowing from Professor Thirunarayanan's own suggestions for measuring accomplished teaching--that this author compare the depth and value of National Board Certification by:
"developing and empirically testing innovative ways of teaching, learning and
assessment, and publishing his work in scholarly peer reviewed journals,"
and
"publish scholarly papers and/or books in areas of expertise" related
to National Board Certification so that the author can better address the issues raised
in this article.

Perhaps, when that finally occurs, Professor Thirunarayanan's opinions will deserve our serious, scholarly attention. However, my students can't wait. They need to continue learning every single day. So, until then, I will remain proud to have achieved National Board Certification, and I will persist in my efforts to continually improve my teaching through professional development, analysis of my own teaching and reflection directed toward advancing the quality of my classroom practice as well as providing avenues of achievement for all students.

Dr. Matthew M. Delaney, NBCT
Curriculum Coordinator/Electives
Whitman-Hanson Regional High School
600 Franklin Street
Whitman, MA 02382
matthew.delaney@whrsd.org
TEL (781) 618-7437
FAX (781) 618-7099

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 M. O. Thirunarayanan's unsubstantiated and irresponsible claims: by Matthew Delaney on February 12, 2004
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