A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Improving America's Schools: Newsletter on Issues in School Reform - May 1996

Reforms in Preservice Preparation Programs and Teacher Certification Standards

Just as states, districts, and educational associations are beginning to rethink professional development strategies to support school improvement, they are also trying to reform preservice preparation programs and teacher certification standards. They have been exploring better ways to prepare new teachers, certify experienced teachers, and provide ongoing professional development to practicing educators. Many organizations-including schools, universities, and national educator groups-have created professional development schools that fit the continuing needs of teachers, from their preservice period to after many years of practice. In addition, educators, professional organizations, private foundations, and others have established a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards that can certify and recognize exceptional, experienced teachers.

Professional Development Schools

The professional development school framework encourages simultaneous restructuring of K-12 schools and colleges of education. Professional development schools provide clinical settings that prepare novice teachers to succeed in real schools and communities. Like medical students who serve an internship in hospitals, novice teachers learn to apply their coursework to the everyday challenges of actual teaching. The schools also provide ongoing professional development for experienced teachers and university faculty.

Since the late 1980s, about 200 professional development schools have sprung up across the United States (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995). Although the structure, activities, and mission of professional development schools are diverse, fully developed models have several key characteristics (Abdal-Haqq, 1995):

Professional development schools incorporate effective practices identified in teacher education research. Several preservice teachers often work at the same site, and each may work with several cooperating teachers. The novices have time to observe, analyze, and provide feedback to one another. At the professional development school, cooperating teachers engage in coursework and other professional development activities, exploring teaching practices so they can be thoughtful mentors and supervisors. Often, preservice and experienced teachers take on-site college courses with college-level partners in the project. In most professional development school models, a liaison between the professional development school and the university coordinates the program and acts as a resource.

Many professional development schools work within networks of other groups that address the same issues. For example:

Professional Development School Certification

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) accredits all organizations that prepare teachers for the classroom. With a $500,000 grant from AT&T, NCATE is developing accreditation standards for professional development schools. The standards will assume that teacher education is a continuum of three phases:(1) preservice preparation, (2) extended clinical preparation and assessment that includes internships in a professional development school and initial licensure, and (3) ongoing professional development through renewable licensure and advanced certification.

Examples of Professional Development Schools in Massachusetts

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP) Professional Development Schools Project, accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) brings together college faculty and schools from four districts to improve teacher education and provide professional development for educators at both levels. Each semester, between six to eight student teachers take a school-based seminar, study pedagogy, and work with mentor teaches. School faculty serve as mentors to the interns, teaching, pre-practicum courses at the university and in the seminar. University faculty teach classes to mentors and act as resources.

The Learning/Teaching Collaborative was started in 1987 by two Brookline, Massachusetts classroom teachers. The collaborative now works with six public schools and two teacher preparation programs. The collaborative features (1) team teaching; (2) "alternative professional teaching time," in which one day each week is reserved for conducting research, writing curriculum, or supervising student teachers; and (3) special education inclusion. Graduate students from Wheelock and Simmons colleges work with teacher teams full-time for an entire school year, attending a twice-weekly seminar taught by public school and college faculty. The collaborative is governed by a steering committee of college and school faculty and administrators

National Board Certification

Since 1987, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has worked to establish voluntary certification for elementary, middle, and high school teachers at an accomplished level. Governed by a 63-member board composed of teachers, administrators, legislators, business people, teacher educators, and others, NBPTS aims to professionalize teaching and recognize accomplished educators. NBPTS--a private, nonprofit organization--is funded by foundations, corporations, and the federal government.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards targets experienced teachers for certification. Unlike state credentialing requirements, NBPTS' certification standards are uniform nationwide. To achieve NBPTS certification, teachers must meet certain standards and pass a performance-based assessment. The standards, which will be developed for more than 30 certification fields identified by the Board, are organized around demonstrating in practice five essential principles:

For each certification area, committees of teachers, academics, and experts develop standards for subject areas and developmental levels. The four developmental levels for certification include early childhood (ages 3-8); middle childhood (ages 7-12); early adolescence (ages 11-15); and adolescence and young adulthood (ages 14 and older). Teachers may opt to be certified as subject area specialists (e. g. , early adolescence/science) or as generalists (e. g. , adolescence and young adulthood/generalist). As of the 1994-95 school year, certificates were available in early adolescence/language arts and early adolescence/generalist. Certificates in the remaining 28 areas will be available over the next five years. Certificates are good for seven to ten years and are renewable.

After paying an application fee of $2,000 (beginning in the 1996-97 school year), public and private school teachers with at least three successful years of teaching experience who seek NBPTS certification take a performance-based, two-part assessment. The first part requires candidates to develop a portfolio during the school year that reflects their practice and includes samples of their students' work; written, personal reflections on their students' work; and videotapes of activities in their classrooms. To complete the two-part assessment, candidates spend two days during the summer at an NBPTS assessment center, where they participate in structured interviews and collaborative activities and take essay exams to document their teaching skills and subject-matter knowledge. Teachers receive written feedback on all parts of the process.

NBPTS has a strict policy that the certification process remain voluntary; the organization is opposed to making their certification a district or state requirement. However, the board does encourage states and localities to support teachers who seek certification by offering financial compensation, hiring board-certified teachers, providing credits toward license renewal for board-certified teachers, and paying candidates' NBPTS application fees. Several states and districts have devised incentives to encourage educators to seek certification (see boxes below).

New Mexico's World Class Teacher Project

The New Mexico State Board of Education earmarked $328,000 in staff development funding in 1994-95 for teacher recruitment, preparation, and fees for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification. The effort, known as the World Class Teacher Project, represents a collaboration among the state's seven colleges of education and its public schools. Up to 76 teachers will have their application and travel fees paid, receive professional development such as graduate seminars and study groups, receive five days of release time, obtain help in producing their required videos, and receive other support services.

State and Local Incentives to Encourage Educators to Obtain NBPTS Certification

  • In Fairfax County, Virginia, and in Massachusetts, teachers achieving board certification receive required continuing education credits

  • In New Orleans, teachers receive financial incentives to pursue certification

  • North Carolina give teachers release time to prepare their portfolios for NBPTS and to receive assessments; the state also pays the fees of teachers who complete the certification process. Certified teachers receive 4 percent annual salary bonuses.

  • NBPTS-certified teachers from other states who want to teach in Oklahoma can receive state certification without having to fulfill the usual additional requirements

  • Teachers in the Vancouver, Washington school district can apply individual professional development funds toward NBPTS certification


[Opportunities for Professional Development Sponsored by the U. S. Department of Education] [Table of Contents] [Resources for Professional Development]