Friday, March 19, 2004


Students and business people sometimes get a congratulatory letter in the mail saying that you ''made'' it into a ''Who's Who'' style directory book, a huge honor. If you will just send them $75, you can get your very own copy and wow! Who WOULDN'T want to be listed?

The trouble is, another million or more other suckers get the same congratulatory letter.

Well, it's kind of the same thing with the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and its high-priced certification process, heavily influenced by the politically powerful national teachers' unions. Since it got started in 1987, an estimated $350 million in tax dollars have flowed to the organization and teachers who get involved with it.

And yet a major study just out acknowledges that NBPTS certification has little or no connection to improved student achievement -- except in the early grades of low-income schools, which need all the good teachers they can get, anyway. In the vast majority of schools, it makes no difference if the teacher is board-certified or not.

So basically, board certification doesn't tell us anything we dont already know. Most parents and hopefully all principals can tell in five minutes whether a teacher is good or not.

Yet the union is pressing for more and more dough for this, while continuing to block logical innovations for improving teacher quality, including merit pay, differential pay for hard-to-find specialties, ''combat pay'' for challenging teaching locations, and so on. Board-certification is just another way union-massaged school boards and legislators are blowing our dough in nonsensical ways in K-12 education.

The study, by Dan Goldhaber and Emily Anthony of the Urban Institute, is ''Can Teacher Quality Be Effectively Assessed?’’ and is available in full at http://www.crpe.org

Critics say it makes a lot more sense to track student achievement before, during and after kids have been in a teacher's classroom – to measure the teacher's ''value-added'' effectiveness -- than to pay big bucks just because a teacher has gotten the stamp of approval of some national organization.

Let's put the focus on the students, in other words, instead of the teachers. Isn't improving learning the whole point? Isn't any so-called measure of teacher effectiveness actually overly subjective and tweak-able if not tied to student achievement data? Isn't it more a check of how compliant a teacher is with the union-led standardization and nationalization of education, than with how ''good'' the teaching is? That's apparently what's going on here.

Some states have set policies whereby any teacher who gets the NBPTS credential gets a cushy pay bonus. Nebraska hasn't fallen for that quite yet. But plenty of local districts have paid up for NBPTS designations, and it's sad. Any Nebraska school board that pays a teacher any kind of a bonus or salary hike because of going through the NBPTS process ought to have their heads examined.

All it is, is a ''pretend credential.'' They’re trying to mimic what other professions do, such as physicians, engineers and certified public accountants. The knowledge required for K-12 education is nowhere near as complex and technical.

The NBPTS process has been shown, over and over, to be unconnected to improving teaching skills or even accurately pinpointing good teachers. Just about half of those teachers who have received the NBPTS credential have WORSE performance records for their students than teachers who have not gone through the process. That means about half of the bonuses so far have been paid to below-average teachers.

What kind of an Alice in Wonderland pay scale is that?

One of the nation's leaders in the crucial area of measuring teacher effectiveness, ed professor John Stone of Tennessee, told his education listserv today (www.education-consumers.com): ''I have no polls of legislators, but I suspect few would have favored a program of salary increases in which below-average teachers are rewarded nearly half the time.''

For more on the NBPTS, see the March 15th ''Communiqué'' of the Education Intelligency Agency:


Let's tell our school boards and legislators our version of ''NBPTS'' -- ''Nebraska's Best Practice is To Steer (Clear).''

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