National Teacher Certification - What The New Rage Is All About

WASHINGTON - In a bid to improve the performance of public schools, a number of states are offering teachers financial bonuses and grants to gain national certification. The recognition is conferred by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), a non-profit organization based in Southfield, MI. While it supposedly establishes beyond any doubt that an educator is professionally proficient, becoming certified is pricey and some leading lawmakers are critical of the program.

National certification involves a two-step process. To complete the first step, which takes roughly 120 hours, candidate teachers must produce lesson plans, video tapes and samples of student work.

The second step the teaching profession's equivalent of the medical boards for physicians or a lawyer's bar exam consists of a day-long written and role playing test held at facilities run by Sylvan Technology Centers, a for-profit company that contracts for its services.

NBPTS charges teachers $2,000 to become certified. That's more than it typically costs doctors and lawyers for their credentials.

The American Board of Internal Medicine charges physicians $855.00 to become certified. To become an attorney in the state of New York, it costs $250 for the bar exam and $300 for a biannual licensing fee.

Twenty-six states are offering to pay the teacher certification fee in whole or in part. Seventeen states pay bonuses or provide salary increases to teachers who pass. Fourteen states do both -- pay the fees and provide bonuses. Some local school districts also provide fees or bonuses.

Nationwide, 1,835 teachers have been certified by NBPTS since its inception in 1987. North Carolina and Ohio have the largest numbers of certified educators.

That's because Gov. James Hunt of North Carolina and former Ohio Gov. George Voinovich were founding members of NBPTS and spearheaded the move to provide aid to teachers seeking certification. North Carolina and Ohio have 537 and 339 certified teachers respectively.

The number of NBPTS certified teachers is expected to increase dramatically this year. The organization has 6,746 candidates and expects roughly 2,500 of them to gain accreditation in 1999.

NBPTS spokeswoman Paula Shoecraft says the rise in candidates is partially due to the fact that her organization is certifying teachers in more categories than in the past. The categories are based on subject matter and student ages. Another factor behind the increase is that more states are offering economic incentives.

Not everyone holds the Michigan-based NBPTS in high regard.

Last year, Rep. Bill Goodling, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee, complained to President Clinton that the cost-benefit ratio of the program seemed grossly out of whack."Since 1991 (NBPTS) has received $58 million in federal support, but has only certified 911 teachers. How can this Administration justify that? In my 24 years in Congress I don't know if I've ever seen a poorer use of the taxpayer's money," Goodling wrote.

According to Shoecraft, Uncle Sam's contribution was used to pay for educational experts and research and development, not used to pay for specific teacher's certificates.

Congressional Education and the Workforce Committee Spokesman Jay Diskey said the certification cost seemed excessive for a profession where the average annual salary is $38,611.

NBPTS "had wide bipartisan support early in this decade," Diskey says. "A number of policy makers thought this was a good idea, but it hasn't produced. If this board were a business it would have been bankrupt many years ago, but the Clinton administration for some paradoxical reason still thinks there is tremendous worth to this."

"Why do teachers need to pay that amount of money when they (NBPTS) have federal and state support?" the official asked.

Nearly half of NBPTS's budget comes from the federal government and the rest is derived from corporations and foundations. Without state or local help, the $2,000 cost for NBPTS board certification is out of the grasp of many educators

Shoecraft says the $2000 doesn't cover the entire cost of assessing a teacher. She says developing uniform standards for teachers and elevating teaching to a profession has been time-consuming.

NBPTS is at the beginning stages of what the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association went through at their inception, she says.

"The difference between the bar exam and this is that the bar exam is a written exam, true and false and multiple choice. This is a performance based assessment and classroom teachers are trained to score each exercise," Shoecraft says.

Certification by the NBPTS is not essential in order to teach and is separate from state licensing. Once a teacher becomes licensed and works in the classroom for three years he or she can apply for board certification.


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