Findings Prompt Scrutiny of National Certification Board

Published August 1, 2002

The findings from a new study, showing that nationally certified teachers produce only average student achievement, should prompt a “wake-up call” for lawmakers and others to take a closer look at the organization that issues and promotes national certification, says a researcher familiar with teacher certification issues.

The study, conducted by East Tennessee State University education professor J.E. Stone, found Tennessee public school teachers who were certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) performed no better than average in raising student achievement.

No Competition in Certification

Dr. George Cunningham, an education professor and testing expert at the University of Louisville, said Stone’s study is important because “it points out a major reason why the effectiveness of our schools is below what it should be.”

Cunningham that NBPTS is one of four organizations that effectively control teacher training and teacher evaluation in the U.S.—including also the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), and the group that lobbies for NCATE control over who may teach K-12 students: the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF).

These four organizations “speak with one voice and have overlapping boards of directors,” Cunningham said. They are as one in the belief that school effectiveness “cannot be judged by assessing the academic achievement of students using tests.”

Instead, they define an effective teacher as one who uses progressive education methods—such as cooperative learning, Whole Language reading, and “discovery” math—and who is committed to “diversity” and the role of schools in promoting a particular vision of “social justice.” The NBPTS criteria for certification oblige teachers to depict themselves using progressive instructional methods and advancing social justice.

Too Much Money, Too Few Results

While Stone’s findings are important, they are hardly surprising, concluded Cunningham. But the research should serve as a wake-up call to governors, state legislators, and members of the general public who “do not realize” the NBPTS and its allied organizations “are absolutely opposed to the standards-based education reform adopted by all but one state, [reform] which is founded on the importance of increasing student academic achievement.”

Dr. Richard P. Phelps, former senior study director at WESTAT in Rockville, Maryland, said “we should be concerned that huge amounts of taxpayer dollars are financing a program that has shown no evidence of success. The NBPTS process costs the taxpayers money and, in addition, it requires an enormous expenditure of teacher time and school resources.” Phelps’ book, Kill the Messenger: The War on Standardized Testing, is scheduled for publication in Spring 2003 by Transaction Books.

The Education Commission of the States (ECS), he added, “should never have endorsed a program in the first place that could show no evidence of effectiveness” … but the ECS “has consistently endorsed pretty much any program or philosophy that ‘mainstream’ education professors like.”

Another testing expert, Dr. Louis Chandler, chairman of the Department of Psychology in Education at the University of Pittsburgh, held out more hope some good could come from an ECS study. He suggested Stone had made a “reasonable argument” that those designated as “better teachers” should show better results than their peers, and had come up with a useful “outcomes” test.

“Some facets of education lend themselves better to scientific study than others,” Chandler noted, “and this is one example where data are available which can be useful in informing decision makers. If further studies are called for, Dr. Stone has suggested a useful paradigm.”

A Form of Pedagogical Correctness

Some teachers who have looked at NBPTS closely believe it seeks to enforce a form of pedagogical correctness by obliging applicants to demonstrate they adhere to the progressive, learner-centered philosophy as opposed to teacher-centered instruction focusing on knowledge and skills.

John Tuepker, a high school history teacher in Long Beach, Mississippi, believes a connection exists between the growing clout of the NBPTS and stagnant U.S. history scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The National Board, he said, “sees history as ‘social studies,’ that is, as an activity, not a real academic subject”; furthermore, it does not believe student achievement can be measured by standardized tests. “The result will be ever-lower history test scores as [NBPTS]-type progressive methodology will be forced on more and more teachers who want that bonus.”

Tuepker added some of the nationally certified teachers may prove to be effective. “Many of them temporarily adopt the learner-centered methods in order to pass the certification and get the bonus money and the status, and then return to the more traditional methods that produce higher scores on standardized tests.”

An applicants’ guide prepared jointly by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, which actively encourage NBPTS certification, provides evidence to support Tuepker’s thesis.

The guide advises that even though teachers may believe in other, proven standards for effective teaching, “your sole focus should be the National Board standards, because it is those—and only those standards—on which your work will be evaluated.”

Al Haskvitz, a Walnut, California teacher who has been selected as one of the nation’s top teachers by eight different organizations, including USA Today and Reader’s Digest, said Stone’s study is accurate in that the hoops NBPTS makes teachers jump through to win national certification are not designed to raise student performance. Instead, “they are designed to create uniformity.”

Haskvitz agrees with NBPTS officials that the Stone study is not definitive … but he also believes the study is accurate: “In the last 10 years, I have corresponded with about 100 certified teachers and not one said that their students did better in the classroom and not one principal has said anywhere that NBPTS teachers are superior at raising student performance over teachers with equal experience and education.”

Robert Holland is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Virginia. His e-mail address is [email protected].