One of the best kept secrets in education might be the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

(Open Disclosure: I am an NBCT and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Board).

Since 1987, the Board has worked “to advance student learning and achievement by establishing the definitive standards and systems for certifying accomplished educators…”(Mission Statement, NBPTS).

While the rancorous and often misinformed media and political debate over education reform has grabbed most of the air, the National Board has quietly and methodically done what no one else has: Defined what good teaching is and provided a consistent means to identify those who know how to do it.

Most important of all, those Standards have been developed by teachers for teachers.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York funded the establishment of NBPTS following the recommendations of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy’s Task Force on Teaching as a Profession.

The task force’s final report — A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century —released on May 15, 1986, called for the creation of a board to “define what teachers should know and be able to do” and “support the creation of rigorous, valid assessments to see that certified teachers do meet those standards.” (History)

The National Board now has standards for 25 areas of education from early childhood through high school, in almost every subject area. These standards were developed and validated by committees of master teachers, along with representatives of subject area organizations and other education experts. The standards also go through a regular cycle of reviewing and updating, also led by teachers.

Under pressure to improve the quality of their graduates, many of the nation’s teacher education programs now use National Board standards as part of their curriculum; some of those programs are including NBCTs [a teacher who has earned National Board Certification] as full or part-time instructors.

Similarly, as states and districts scramble to develop new more rigorous teacher evaluation systems, some have turned to National Board standards and teachers for guidance. It is not enough to have a generic checklist or to do a superficial classroom walk through (“Hmm, nice bulletin boards”). Nor does just collecting student achievement data reveal who is or is not a great teacher.

In honor of the National Board’s 25th anniversary, I’ll be sharing a series on the standards and the teachers who write them.

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