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Perspectives: Teacher Quality is Key to Student Success

It should be beyond dispute that the pathway to a successful career, regardless of the profession, is a strong educational foundation. A key ingredient in that foundation is the instructional knowledge, motivation and emotional support provided by effective teachers at all levels, from elementary school to college. Recognizing its vital role in maintaining our democratic society, access to an effective education should be seen as a civil right. Yet we know that quality teachers and quality schools with a strong curriculum, adequate facilities and family and community support are not consistently available to everyone in this country.

Evidence shows that teacher quality is the key determinant when it comes to measuring student success. Yet, students in high-need schools are twice as likely to have an inexperienced or unqualified teacher. The Alliance for Excellent Education, for example, has reported that many teachers who teach low-income students do not have a major or minor in the subject they teach or are likely to be inexperienced. In addition, the same students are 61 percent more likely to be assigned an unlicensed teacher.

This is why the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), an independent, national nonprofit organization that works to measure teacher performance and help teachers improve their practice, is committed to ensuring that every child has access to quality teaching, particularly in those communities that have been historically underserved.

Key to this commitment is ensuring the existence of a diverse teaching force to meet the needs of today’s classrooms. As part of our diversity initiatives we are creating deeper bonds and stronger collaborations with the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities.

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund is a critical element in our work with HBCUs. TMCF is actively recruiting students and graduates from its member colleges to become National Board Certified Teachers through its Teacher Quality and Retention Program. We are grateful that TMCF has taken an active role in building a pipeline of teachers to go through the National Board Certification process, an extensive yearlong experience in which teachers examine their practice against a set of national standards. The pipeline that TMCF has created offers teachers a path toward accomplished practice and leadership opportunities.

In 2009, NBPTS and the White House Initiative on HBCUs co-sponsored a forum as part of a national strategy to increase the number of HBCU graduates who enter the teaching profession and ultimately pursue National Board Certification. During the forum, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talked about how attracting and retaining the “best and brightest” into the teaching profession will be a key factor in shaping the landscape of public education for the next generation. He paid particular attention to the importance of attracting more African-American males into education. Using our partnerships, we can address this goal.

We know that since their establishment, HBCUs have played a major role in the preparation and production of exceptional educators. While comprising only 4 percent of all U.S. colleges, HBCUs graduate nearly 30 percent of all African-Americans earning bachelor’s degrees and 50 percent of African-American teachers with bachelor’s degrees. Accordingly, it is critical that HBCUs and NBPTS strengthen our partnership as a way to create more opportunities for African-American teachers to achieve National Board Certification.

In addition to working with HBCUs and their alumni, NBPTS continues to break down barriers for other underrepresented groups as well. We currently work with Hispanic-serving institutions as well as tribal communities to improve the quality of teaching at those institutions. Our Direct Recruitment Efforts to Attract Minorities (DREAM) Team, led primarily by board certified teachers, works to recruit and support teachers of color to pursue certification. Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, NBPTS is able to assist our most challenged schools through our Targeted High Need Initiative.

The THNI program is focused on increasing teacher quality and student achievement in high-need schools by working with new and experienced teachers looking to attain National Board Certification.

Research has documented the National Board’s positive impact on student achievement and learning. In the most rigorous and comprehensive study to date about National Board Certification, the non-partisan National Research Council found that students taught by board certified teachers make higher gains on achievement tests than students taught by other teachers. Additional research indicates that minority students make even larger gains than other students when taught by certified teachers.

When we talk about improving schools, we must ensure that our best teachers reflect the diversity of society. At a time when teacher effectiveness is a critical focus in our nation, it is reassuring to know that the number of board-certified teachers of color continues to rise, though not fast enough. Much more needs to be done. D

— Dr. Joseph A. Aguerrebere is President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

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