Is the ‘master teacher’ credential headed for extinction?

Teaching is a profession that gets a lot of lip-service respect, but is generally dismissed as a career for academic lightweights–mediocre students who get easy As in lackluster education colleges and then struggle to pass basic skills tests.

That’s why a credential that rewards excellence and intellectual rigor is an important recognition for accomplished teachers who deserve to be respected in a demanding profession.

But it looks like that credential—called National Board Certification–is now in danger of disappearing because of the dire financial position of the NBPTS, an organization launched 30 years ago to reward and recognize “master teachers.”

According to an analysis published in The 74, the net assets of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards has shown “a steady and troubling decline.” The organization had $32.8 million in 2010, an amount that plummeted steadily and precipitously to $1.8 million by 2016. Last year, the organization secured a $1 million no-interest loan from the nation’s largest teacher’s union, the NEA, which the organization will have to pay back over the next five years – at the same time it is striving to hit a bodacious goal to certify 1 million master teachers by 2025.

NBPTS also is rolling out a number of initiatives designed to draw more teacher candidates, according to a recent article in Edutopia:

“While an increasing body of research has shown that board-certified teachers are more likely to improve academic outcomes for students—up to one and a half months of additional learning in a year, according to one study—and to advance in their careers, many teachers have been reluctant to pursue certification due to the cost and time required.

The board now hopes to change this by cutting the fees, lengthening the time applicants can take to finish, and providing more online access, with a goal of certifying 1 million teachers by 2025. There are 19,500 teachers going through certification currently, compared to 9,000 four years ago.”

Is it too late to save National Board Certification?

I’m a big fan of national certification, in part because I use to help run programs at a foundation that helped put this respected credential on the map in Chicago. Encouraging more teachers to pursue this rigorous process was one of the few things that the district and the union were able to agree on, and the city rewarded teachers who secured this status with a pay bump.

Illinois has more nationally certified teachers than most states–more than 6,000, with almost 1,300 now in the pipeline. And there are other super users of this credential­­–North Carolina, Florida, Washington, South Carolina,  and California. But what’s striking about the map of NBC teachers is just how many states all but ignored this credential. Texas and Colorado have fewer than 1,000 “master teachers” each; New Jersey only 275 and Minnesota only 440.

I appreciate NBPTS is trying to reinvent itself, finally. But I’m afraid this new strategy is a Hail Mary pass, too little too late for an organization that should have been more proactive in managing this financial freefall. Says The 74:

 “Further help from the federal government or even the national teachers unions seems, at best, uncertain. Without a secure revenue stream, the organization’s lofty goals are unreachable, and its future is in doubt.”

I can only hope that a more stable partner is waiting in the wings, because this professional credential is worth fighting for.


Photo courtesy of Edutopia.

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Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. After leaving journalism she explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.

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