National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)

One promising solution for improving the nation's education system is to encourage higher standards for its teachers. As a leader in this effort, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has created a voluntary national system to certify teachers who meet high and rigorous standards for what "accomplished teachers should know and be able to do."

The non-profit organization also advocates for broader education reforms to expand NBPTS certification opportunities.  With more than 47,000 National Board Certified teachers in 27 teaching fields, NBPTS is proving that high quality teaching standards lead to academic success, especially for lower-income and minority students.

Established with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, NBPTS helps to build the professional capacity of teachers and provide the necessary resources to match the best teachers with the neediest students.

When the organization was formed in 1987, the educational field had excellent teachers but had not yet agreed on how to define teaching excellence.  To fill this gap, NBPTS brought together a group of teachers and subject-matter experts who developed standards in more than 27 fields of certification based on subject matter, age and developmental needs, and other factors. 

NBPTS also made it a key priority to ensure broad minority representation in all of its leadership committees.

"High minority representation was critical to the success of all the standards committees," says Joan Baratz-Snowden, an NBPTS board member who helped to coordinate the standards.  "From the assessment process to scoring, diversity was an essential element of the final product."

After finalizing the standards, NBPTS sought to forge strategic partnerships and establish specialized programs to help recruit and support minority candidates to complete the certification process.

Its Office of Strategic Partnerships works extensively with a broad range of organizations such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) and several Asian-American organizations to engage and expand minority participation. 

NBPTS also established the Direct Recruitment Efforts to Attract Minorities (DREAM) Team Initiative, a promising program funded by the Hewlett-Packard Foundation that encourages national board certified teachers to help mentor other minority teachers who have not yet completed the certification process. 

The Targeted High Needs Initiative (THNI) is another successful project that targets 20 urban and rural sites for increased participation in the NBPTS certification process. In addition to nurturing external partnerships, NBPTS also works to expand opportunities for diverse representation in all of the organization's programs and projects.

NBPTS's efforts to raise teaching standards and expand the pool of board-certified teachers in minority communities has started to pay off in the classroom. 

One recent evaluation compared the records of more than 600,000 students in North Carolina, cross-matching them with National Board Certified Teachers and candidates.  The study found a measurable difference in the levels of student learning between NBPTS-involved teachers and their non-certified counterparts, especially for younger and lower-income students.

In a 2004 Florida study that compared the math achievement levels of a group of 9th and 10th graders, researchers found that, all else being equal, (e.g., student character, school environment, and teacher preparation), those students who had National Board Certified Teachers gained more skills than their fellow students taught by non-certified teachers.

"This was particularly true for students who had special needs," notes Snowden, "or might have required extra support and attention."

As a result of coordinated policy and program efforts, several state and local policy makers have also created incentives for National Board Certified teachers who are willing to teach in the neediest school districts.

In California, for example, National Board Certified Teachers willing to teach in high-needs schools receive a $20,000 bonus over a four-year period.  Florida and New York also offer financial bonuses for teachers willing to use their skills in under-served communities.

While NBPTS standards have helped to improve the professional outcomes for teachers and the educational results of their students, the organization has developed several new strategies to maximize their effectiveness.

"We've learned that providing teachers with a financial incentive to invest in the next generation is helpful, especially when we are trying to encourage teachers to move to high need areas," says Snowden.

Ongoing professional support among peers is also an important requirement for success.

"We know from our research in California that high density is important," Snowden explains. "Having more than one National Board Certified Teacher in one place is essential to change a school or district's culture and expectations, and that's where we need to start."