How Michigan Can Meet Superintendent Whiston's Challenge
There is a lot of media coverage right now about the deplorable conditions in Detroit Public Schools and the water crisis in Flint. These two crises are superimposed on Superintendent Whiston’s Campaign for Michigan to become a Top Ten [Education] State in Ten Years, which could arguably be called the third crisis facing Michigan right now. In thinking about these issues I keep coming back to the need to support the Detroit and Flint communities. I also keep coming back to the question of why haven’t more teachers in Michigan pursued Board Certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). These might seem unrelated, but they aren’t when you think about Malala Yousafzai’s words to the United Nations on July 12, 2013: “Education is the only solution. Education first.”
National Board Certification is not well known in Michigan. When I meet other educators and educational stakeholders in Michigan they are not usually familiar with National Board Certification. This strikes me as strange considering that the NBPTS was started in Michigan. The NBPTS is an independent organization that has developed rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do and a national voluntary certification system based on these rigorous standards. The NBPTS also advocates for education reforms to integrate National Board Certification in American education and to capitalize on the expertise of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs).
Why then are teachers, administrators, district officials, policy makers, parents, and students not demanding National Board Certified Teachers? In a 2014 PDK/Gallup poll, eighty percent of Americans thought teachers should be required to have an advanced certification, yet only 3% of the teachers in the country do (and the number is even less in Michigan). Having more NBCTs in Detroit, which already has one of the state’s largest groups, and in Flint would certainly not cure all the problems, but NBCTs have demonstrated their skill with knowing the content they teach, knowing how to teach this content to students, and knowing how to manage their students’ learning. There are many outstanding educators in both of these communities. However, as educators we must, as other professions do, show our accomplishment through rigorous professional standards so the rest of society is comfortable acknowledging our expertise, and this is where National Board Certification comes into play. Implementing the structure of National Board Certification in Michigan is not just the repsponsibliity of teachers though - policy makers and other educational stakeholders need to financially and structurally support accomplished educators to benefit the students in Michigan.
Ed Trust Midwest reports that by 2030 Michigan could be in the bottom ten states educationally if significant changes are not enacted. Baltimore schools’ scores on the NAEP fell 8 points in 4th grade math & 8th grade reading since 2013 and these schools still outperformed those in Detroit. Policymakers (and the general public, corporations, teachers, and students) are looking for ways to improve the educational system and the economy in Michigan, and NBCTs are a vital component of this work. Research shows that students of NBCTs gain more than 1.5 months of additional learning than students of non-NBCTs, and the gains for students in underserved areas can be even more. Truly closing the achievement gap and strengthening instruction, not just lowering standards so the achievement gap looks like it is closing, will not only help our students to compete in the global economy, but also help improve the overall outlook of our state. Parents want their students to have the best possible education, and NBCTs provide that through our reflective practice that is based in research and evidence. Administrators and teachers are both concerned about the new requirements that require student growth measures to be used in teacher evaluations, and NBCTs are used to looking at student growth to inform instructional decisions and make the best decisions for the students.
School districts spend a lot of money for professional development, some of which teachers and administrators feel is relevant, and some which they feel is not. Schools and districts already create School Improvement Plans and know which areas are important for their school and/or district. Professional development based around these school improvement goals and based in the philosophy of National Board Certification can be facilitated by NBCTs and will directly benefit students in individual buildings and districts. These teachers are then ideally positioned to begin the certification process with support from their NBCT colleagues. The NBPTS, it’s stakeholders, and NBCTs represent highly accomplished educators who view education as a profession. Other professions have a national certification and/or regulatory agency, and the NBPTS is that for education. Professions have career paths that allow for advancement and growth throughout a career. NBCTs that desire to can be teacher leaders and teacherpreneurs for issues pertaining to district and state goals, instructional coaching, and many other issues. Teacher leadership opportunities for those interested help retention rates of mid-career teachers. Mentoring programs that utilize NBCTs as mentors for early career teachers benefit both the mentors and early career teachers as well as the educational community and increase the retention rate of early career teachers. Both the school-based professional development and mentoring programs have been successful in other states and can be successful in Michigan.
It seems so simple - encourage educators to become NBCTs and everything will be fixed. Nothing is that simple. However, National Board Certification can be used as the definition of highly accomplished teaching and the path to teacher leadership. Imagine what the city of Detroit would look like now, what the Flint community would have done had its residents been more comfortable navigating the water agency bureaucracy years ago, or what the whole state would look like if educators and education were at the forefront of importance over the last decade or two. Educators and policy makers need to work together to increase the number of NBCTs, the leadership opportunities available to highly accomplished teachers, and the opportunities for these educators to advise on policy and advocate for their students so that we don’t have a repeat of these crises. We can't afford to let Michigan fall into the bottom ten states for education.