A weekend interview with ...
... Joseph A. Aguerrebere, president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Aguerrebere spoke with reporter Donna Winchester about the importance of having National Board-certified teachers in high poverty schools.
The St. Petersburg Times recently analyzed schools in the Tampa Bay area and found that, as in other areas, the majority of national board certified teachers are working in schools with the lowest percentages of minority students and students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. As president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, do you think that’s a problem? If so, why?
I’d say a few things. One is that the national board certification process is available to all teachers. It’s something that tries to raise the bar for the whole profession. I think the question to ask is, why are these other schools that are not as affluent, why are they not taking advantage? What are the principals and the superintendent and the school board doing to encourage teachers to go through the process in these schools? Particularly in schools that have high needs, the teachers need some guidance to get through. In some cases, it can come from the local universities. In others, it can come from other board certified teachers.
Some districts have salary incentives to encourage board certified teachers to go to high-poverty schools. How is that working?
Colorado has new legislation that offers incentives to board certified teachers who go to work in high poverty schools. It’s had some mixed results. It’s certainly cut down on the number of low performing teachers who go to work in low performing schools. In other places around the country, board certified teachers who work in high needs schools, they can get additional pay. An example of that is the state of Washington where, if teachers achieve certification, they get $5,000. If they work at a high needs school they get an additional $5,000 for their willingness to do that. There is a waiting list for teachers who want to go through board certification. I do think that it points out that when a state indicates that this is important, it causes teachers to take a second look.
When groups of teachers go through it together -- 10 teachers, 20, teachers, 30 teachers, or in a few places, the entire faculty of a school -- that, at least anecdotally, is really transformative. It’s changing the culture of the school. They’re getting used to analyzing each other’s teaching through those videotapes and having some really interesting discussions about why some teachers were more successful in teaching certain children than another teacher. It’s leading to the development of professional learning communities, groups of teachers going through together and trying to support each other and learn from each other in a constructive way, the goal being that they’re getting better results.
The other strategy we’re aware of, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC), the superintendent did a little bit of reassigning of successful principals to work at high needs schools. What we’ve heard pretty consistently from board certified teachers is they’re willing to go to work in a place where they perceive that the principal really gets it. They’re not interested in going to a place that is dysfunctional.
In other places around the country there have been attempts to work with people who grew up in those neighborhoods who want to return and give back to the community. Admittedly, it’s a long term strategy.
I understand that one of your organization’s objectives is to “contribute to a more equitable distribution of teacher resources.” Could you comment on that objective? What are you doing to facilitate a more equitable distribution of board certified teachers?
We have our own programs trying to address this issue, trying to encourage teachers in areas where maybe there’s not much activity going on to think about going through it. We use some of our federal funds for that purpose to establish some support. I know in the last few years we’ve initiated some new programs designed to give teachers a taste of board certification. It’s called Take One. It’s an opportunity for teachers to get a taste of what it would be like going through it by doing one section. They submit it just like they were doing the full process. They get a score back. If they like the score, they can bank it and they just have to take the remainder.
I think this past year we had about six sites that we were funding with some of our federal funds. This year we’re funding about 57 sites. Teachers are encouraged to work on board certifications in those areas that are currently underrepresented.
We have another project, something that we call the Dream Team that’s funded through private sources. Hewlett Packard has supported us. It tries to identify board certified teachers from minority backgrounds willing to go into sites where there isn’t much activity going on. It’s designed to give teachers the confidence that they can do it. The bottom line is we have seen an increase in numbers of minority teachers who are going through, and it’s more likely that minority teachers tend to work in districts that have greater needs. I don’t have statistics for this year, but I know a year and a half ago the number of African-American teachers who certified increased by 24 percent. The number of Hispanic teachers increased by 13 percent.
Our effort this year and next year are to reach out to districts and superintendents and make the case to them for board certification. We’re going to try to work with principals and superintendents, particularly those principals who were board certified teachers themselves.
I understand that you had a national meeting last year in North Carolina to discuss this issue. What came from that meeting?
We’ve actually had number of meetings. The one in North Carolina was the first of what we call state summits. They were co-sponsored by teachers associations. The associations came up with a number of ideas, some of which we’ve already talked about. The teachers said, “I’ll go to work for a good principal in a good setting where I have support. I’m not willing to work in a place where I don’t have the support I need.” We did hear that.
What about the argument that becoming board certified doesn’t necessarily give one an edge in working with kids at high-poverty schools?
I think for a lot of school districts, particularly those with high needs schools, I think the National Research Council report hopefully will start to convince those in leadership positions that this is a worthwhile investment. But just because someone was effective working in one setting doesn’t mean they’ll be as effective working in another setting. It’s not an automatic, but the odds are better. If they’ve demonstrated they’re good in one setting, they can adjust their instruction to meet the needs in another setting.
People have to ask the question, why is it that these schools are deemed unattractive to work in? The schools have to address these issues. A lot of these teachers do have choices now. Board certification has developed a market for high quality teachers.
That said, I think every kid deserves a good teacher. It shouldn’t be a zero sum game. We shouldn’t take away from the rich to give to the poor. There should be enough to go around.