Special Certification Signals Good Teachers

Students taught by teachers with NBPTS certification score better on tests.

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What is the mark of a good teacher? While top teachers can be hard to identify, those certified through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are a good bet, according to a new report. Students taught by NBPTS-certified teachers make greater gains on achievement tests than students taught by teachers who are not board certified, according to the report "Assessing Accomplished Teaching: Advanced-Level Certification Programs."

The analysis, done by a committee of the National Research Council, looked at student performance on standardized tests in reading and math (as an aside, the critics grumble that such tests are not an adequate measurement of achievement). While the report clearly signals that students taught by board certified teachers outperform their peers in these subjects, it remains unclear whether the certification process itself results in better teaching, or if better teachers are drawn to the certification process initially. The findings were based on academic studies of students in Florida, North Carolina, and California from the years 1994 though 2005 and were part of a larger report from the National Research Council.

In the past decade and a half, about 64,000 teachers have earned an NBPTS credential. If those teachers were spread evenly over the 14,000 school districts in the country and 96,513 public and private schools, there would be an average of just three board certified teachers for every five schools. And since not all board certified teachers are still working, even that is an overestimate. Of course, in reality, the placement of board certified teachers does vary tremendously, for better and for worse—by location and school district.

So why don't all teachers run out and get board certified? Well, earning NBPTS certification is no walk in the playground: It costs $2,500, requires hundreds of hours of work, and there's no guarantee that you'll emerge victorious. So some states have tried to lighten the load for aspiring teachers. For example, South Carolina covers the program fees with loans that are forgiven for successful candidates. Once certified, they receive $7,500 extra salary annually as long as they maintain the credential. Likewise, North Carolina pays test fees for all teachers who apply for board certification; those who are successful receive a 12 percent salary boost over the 10-year life of their board certification. Notably, a full 13 percent of teachers in North Carolina are board certified. By contrast in New Hampshire, where the state recently discontinued a policy of subsidizing the application fee, only 0.1 percent of teachers are board certified. It doesn't take a detective to deduce that states providing good incentives get higher numbers of certified teachers.

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