Wednesday, September 3, 2008

National Board Certification?


June 30, 2008

Board certification's worth still uncertain

Teaching credential hasn't been shown to be cost-effective education investment

By Paul Thomas

Headlines and lead paragraphs heralding a new study on the effectiveness of National Board-certified teachers appear to vindicate South Carolina's financial and pedagogical commitment to the process.

The headline "National Board teachers found to be effective" draws the readers of Education Week to this: "Teachers who earn advanced certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are more effective than teachers without that credential, but there's little evidence to show the program has transformed the field in the broader ways its founders envisioned, a long-awaited report released today by a national scientific panel finds."

Welcomed news for South Carolina, where we have committed large yearly stipends and resources to support teachers applying to the board certification process, right?

Not quite. The first problem related to this study is the careless reporting of the conclusions. Education Week discredits its own claims in the third paragraph: "In the new report, however, a 17-member panel of the National Research Council says it's still unclear whether the process itself leads to better-quality teaching, because too few studies have examined that issue."

In South Carolina, we must look carefully at the report because we committed to board certification without any evidence that the investment actually addresses educational needs in the state.

The National Research Council report offers these tentative implications:

• While the report claims higher standardized test scores for students taught by board-certified teachers, when compared to non-board-certified, it also admits that this study in no way can be viewed as generalizable since the data come from only two states and one city, and draw on just reading and math scores for third- and fifth-graders.

• Most important is this key statement from the report itself: "There are no studies that collected baseline data about teachers before going through the process, making it impossible to attribute any findings to the process itself." This study suggests some very narrow correlations about board certification and test scores, but it does not show that board certification causes anything—at all. It is possible that students would have scored higher in the board-certified teachers' classrooms before those teachers became board-certified—or for a number of other reasons the study never addresses.

• Also key for us in South Carolina is that the report reveals absolutely no conclusions about the cost-effectiveness of board certification. This report does not clarify if the money invested in board certification produces student achievement equal to or greater than the money spent. Now, we are left wondering if the significant financial cost to South Carolina is producing what we need.

• Board-certified teachers are more likely to change schools or positions than non-board certified teachers, and those moves tend to be to schools that already include higher student achievement and lower poverty. Board certification contributes to teacher flight from the schools that need high-quality teachers and to schools that are already successful and include students experiencing fewer life challenges.

• Teachers from affluent schools tend to apply for board certification at higher rates than teachers from high-poverty schools.

• While African-American teachers apply at the same rates as whites, African-American teachers are underrepresented in those who complete certification.

With our commitment to board certification, South Carolina made a leap of faith when we should have been making evidence-based decisions.

Let's not make a mistake again by jumping to distorted conclusions, as the media appear to be doing, about this single study from the National Research Council.

Issues of poverty, equity and funding are plaguing our teaching work force and our schools. This report does not show board certification as an appropriate solution to those problems. In fact, the report suggests that board certification could be working against our overcoming these difficult obstacles.

Do teachers in South Carolina who pursue professional growth deserve our support? Of course.

The key question we must ask: Is board certification the appropriate mechanism for better compensating teachers and raising student achievement? The answer appears to be we have no clear evidence to say yes, but now have some signs that the answer may be no.

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