Barbara B. Kelley—Leading from the Classroom: The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers

Mrs. Bush, Secretary Paige, members of the education and business communities, and policy makers, good morning. My name is Barbara Kelley—I am an elementary physical education teacher at Vine Street School in Bangor, Maine, and I chair the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

This is my 28th year in the teaching profession. Holding this gathering at the White House focuses a welcome spotlight on the critical issue of teacher quality. I'm especially grateful to you, Mrs. Bush, America's teacher in the White House, for initiating this conference, and for including classroom teachers in this vital conversation. It is critically important that teachers be leaders in the effort to elevate the profession. That's one of the reasons I'm so proud to represent the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards—an organization that includes a majority of practicing classroom teachers in every aspect of its work.

I think we all agree that involved parents and quality teachers are the keys to improving education. I also want to congratulate the President and Congress for passing an education bill that reinforces the importance of standards. The first step in setting high standards for students is setting higher standards for teachers. Yet for too long, agreement on what constituted good teaching was as rare as unanimity among Olympic figure skating judges.

Unfortunately, even master teachers were at a loss when attempting to describe the skills and knowledge necessary to work effectively with students. Our first task at the National Board was to address this problem by creating a set of standards describing what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do.

If you all think back to your best teachers in school, you probably remember that those talented individuals possessed both a mastery of their subject matter AND the skills to make their content come alive for students. This is precisely the balance we seek to maintain in our work at the National Board. In creating our standards, we took the best research available, and there was plenty out there, to construct a rigorous definition of good teaching. We created a common language that all educators can use to describe how they conceive, implement, and evaluate their practice.

Knowing how to be a good teacher and actually doing it are two very different things. In creating a voluntary certification process that allows teachers to be measured against our standards, we have been guided by a fundamental principle: good teaching should result in improved student learning. The first requirement for National Board Certification is the submission of a portfolio in which teachers document how each aspect of their efforts affects student learning. An eighth grade science teacher for example, cannot just write about what she hoped to accomplish in a particular laboratory lesson. She must submit the lab reports that her students have produced, describe how she assessed their work, and how, in subsequent instruction, she planned to address the students' strengths and weaknesses. This science teacher would also have to submit written commentaries with two separate videotapes of her teaching, through which she demonstrates her ability to convey scientific concepts to students and engage them in scientific inquiry. Finally, like all our candidates, this teacher would have to submit evidence of her outreach to students' families. The National Board standards view parents as full partners in their children's learning. Candidates must link their work with parents, their collaborations with colleagues and their professional development experiences to their students' learning in the classroom.

The second requirement for certification is a content knowledge exam. A high school algebra teacher, for example, must successfully solve problems not only in algebra, but also in geometry, calculus, discrete mathematics, and statistical analysis to meet the content standards for National Board Certification.

Through this timed, test-secure content knowledge exam, the portfolio entries, and written confirmation from administrators, colleagues, and parents—candidates seek to demonstrate that they have mastered both the art AND the science of teaching. It probably won't surprise you that teachers often tell us seeking National Board Certification is by far the most demanding, yet rewarding, professional challenge of their careers. The fact that only 50% of first-time candidates actually achieve this certification speaks to the rigor of the process. Even for candidates who fail to achieve certification the first time, the process is a powerful learning opportunity.

Dr. Sherry Maddox-Adams is a good example of one such teacher. She is the recipient of the 2001 Excellence in Teaching Award by the National Council of Negro Women and teaches fifth-grade in Atlanta's inner city. She began a program called "Bringing Our Boys Back," a program that identifies underachieving African American males and helps them reach their academic potential. She invites adults into the classroom to serve as role models and to help students with their behavioral problems. But the first time she went through our assessment process, she didn't achieve certification. Listen to what Dr. Maddox-Adams said—"I consider the first time I went for National Board Certification to be successful because it helped me understand where I was weak as a teacher and I learned what I needed to improve." It is a credit to Dr. Maddox-Adams that she chose to retake the parts of the assessment on which she was unsuccessful, and I'm happy to report she was awarded National Board Certification last fall.

No one collects more formal and informal data on students than classroom teachers. Whether it's listening to student comments during a classroom discussion, assessing a student analysis of a piece of literature, or having an after-school conversation with parents, teachers are constantly collecting data on their kids. National Board Certification requires teachers to organize the information they collect on students and demonstrate how they use the data to influence instruction. Kathy Novak, a National Board Certified teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a good example of a teacher whose knowledge of her children is essential in her practice. The year she went through the National Board process she observed a student in her class whose test scores and class work were on a downward spiral. The student, Ronnie, would often shut down and appeared unable or unwilling to keep up with his studies. Ronnie's primary caretaker, his grandmother, was convinced he would fail the fifth grade. Kathy identified specific strategies to address the areas in which Ronnie needed additional support, and designed them around his individual interests. Today, Ronnie's grandmother gives Kathy the credit for turning her grandson around. Our process requires candidates to write specifically about how they differentiate instruction. Kathy, and others like her, say completing the National Board Certification process made them far more focused on each of their students as individuals, an essential component of the commitment to "leave no child behind."

Policy makers have invested in National Board Certification because it gives them an opportunity to attract, identify and reward exemplary teachers. Salary rewards for National Board Certification allow accomplished young and second-career teachers to advance through the salary schedule more quickly than in the traditional compensation model. The certification is a process open to all teachers—public or private. There is no requirement that teachers be graduates of traditional teacher preparation programs. Indeed, we have certified teachers whose route to the profession was through Teach for America or through other alternate licensure programs. Most important to the students in our country, the process reenergizes and keeps good teachers in the classroom. Eighty-six teachers achieved National Board Certification in the first cohort of teachers certified in 1994. Since then we have certified a total of 16,032 teachers in 24 certificate areas encompassing most subjects and grade levels in pre-K-12 education. But this number is only the beginning of a much larger effort to improve our schools.

Today, fully one-third of all schools of education are engaged in National Board-related initiatives. These include using National Board standards as an important resource to redesign the structure of pre-service and graduate programs based on standards rather than on seat time. Additionally, a growing number of colleges and universities are hiring National Board Certified Teachers to co-teach with faculty, work with student-interns, and help focus the work of higher education on instructional strategies that result in better student learning.

Within their own schools, National Board Certified Teachers are serving as mentors for new teachers, curriculum and instructional leaders, and overall change agents whose expertise is being tapped to lead school reform initiatives.

For example, in the Paradise Valley School District of Arizona, NBCTs have release time to participate in a system-wide mentoring program for new teachers. They are also collaborating with Arizona State University to improve its teacher preparation program, offering professional development workshops for other teachers, and teaching in a Master's degree program especially designed for public school teachers.

In Massachusetts, NBCTs are leading school-wide and system-wide mentoring efforts, working on the states' curriculum frameworks and statewide assessment, and evaluating the portfolios of mid-career professionals who have recently entered the teaching profession.

The theme that I hope you are hearing in each of these examples is that National Board Certified teachers are not only dedicated to their students, but that they also feel an obligation to improve their profession.

Support for the National Board has come from virtually every corner of the education community, including school boards, school administrators, and disciplinary groups.

Through working with the business sector and a coalition of bipartisan policy makers, the National Board has been able to create important partnerships on which we continue to build. For example, State Farm, under the leadership of Ed Rust, is funding scholarships for teachers throughout the country as well as providing a platform from which National Board Certified Teachers can engage other members of the business community about teacher quality and education reform. The Washington Mutual Foundation has invested more than $2.5 million in National Board Certification over the past two years to help teachers achieve their professional goals, including the establishment of a national scholarship program to help defray the cost of certification for candidates.

Outside of individual corporate support, business coalitions have also recognized the importance of supporting the National Board's mission. In a recent report on teacher quality, the National Alliance for Business, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Chamber of Commerce recommended that every school have a cadre of National Board Certified Teachers and that states and districts should do everything possible to support and encourage National Board Certification.

States are heeding this message and state policies supporting National Board Certification are growing in number. Governor Keating of Oklahoma, for example, understands the importance of high quality teachers and rewards NBCTs with $6000 a year for ten years. This $60,000 investment is a testament to support for the process. Many more states are making similar investments: Florida provides an annual 10% a year to teachers achieving National Board Certification, and an additional 10% to those who mentor new teachers or other National Board candidates. With such support, it's no wonder over 20,000 teachers nationwide are seeking certification this year.

What's next for the National Board? Now that we have a critical mass of NBCTs in various states across the country, we have embarked on a very aggressive research agenda to measure the impact that these teachers are having on student achievement and on the profession itself. For example, value-added researcher William Sanders is in the process of generating data on the work of National Board Certified Teachers in North Carolina and the performance of their students on statewide achievement tests. This will be an important supplement to an earlier validation study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in which National Board Certified Teachers significantly outperformed colleagues who failed to achieve certification, in 11 of 13 measures of expert teaching. The study also concluded that students of National Board Certified Teachers had a greater depth of understanding of the subject matter they were being taught.

Additionally, the National Board recently brought together over 200 education researchers from around the country to encourage further independent research on National Board Teachers and their impact. Lee Schulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said, "The National Board is probably the best grounded, in research terms, of any assessment in the professions that I know, in spite of the fact that it's barely a decade old in terms of that kind of operations." We feel certain that present and future studies will provide further validation that the work of the National Board, and more importantly, the work of National Board Certified Teachers, is truly redefining the teaching profession and reshaping America's schools.

Edward J. Kame'enui "" Presentations "" Michael B. Poliakoff

Print this page Printable view Send this page Share this page
Last Modified: 08/23/2003