UW News

November 1, 2001

UW joins effort to increase teacher certification

By Steve Hill
University Week

The UW has joined in a statewide effort to increase the number of national board-certified teachers in Washington’s K-12 classrooms.

The UW and Washington State University, along with the Washington Education Association, began offering courses this fall for teachers seeking certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Other universities in the state will join the effort beginning in the 2002 academic year.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has said the goal is to recruit 600 teachers who will pursue national certification during the next three years. Currently there are 69 nationally certified teachers in the state and almost 10,000 nationwide.

“Certification is enormously important for the profession,” said the UW’s Donna Dunning, who serves as project director for the College of Education’s NBPTS Program. “Teachers often feel undervalued and not appreciated for the work they do. There’s been a lot of criticism and most of it stems from A Nation at Risk.”

That 1989 report and the subsequent A Nation Prepared, have led to a movement to nationally certify teachers. The latter report emphasized the continued development of teaching as a profession and the need for teachers to assume responsibility for improving their own practice. National certification, the thinking goes, elevates the profession just as national standards in medicine and finance have raised the stature of and expectations for the people in those fields.

Dunning, four faculty from the College of Education, and graduate student Tracy Coskie, are there to support those teachers pursuing a certificate.

Elizabeth Dutro, Nancy Place, Tom Stritikus and Gary Troia, working alongside a board-certified teacher, facilitate classroom sessions once a month for the group of teachers aspiring to board certification. They’re also available via e-mail and through a Web site created specifically for the class.

But the monthly face-to-face sessions are, perhaps, the most important component of the preparatory course. The sessions are designed to offer support for the teachers as they go through the rigorous certification process. The value of that support can’t be overstated, according to Dutro.

“I think this would be a difficult process to go through alone,” she said. “So I think just having the opportunity to come together as a group is important. And by fostering that activity the UW is playing a valuable role.”

To achieve certification teachers must demonstrate that they are: committed to students and their learning; knowledgeable about the subjects they teach and how best to teach those subjects to students; responsible for managing and monitoring student learning; thoughtful about their practice and learn from experience; and members of learning communities.

To show that they meet the standards teachers submit a portfolio of videotaped classroom teaching and lesson plans. They supply student work samples and demonstrate their impact on student learning. Finally, they include a written demonstration of their knowledge of a specific subject area, classroom practices, curriculum design and assessment strategies.

If they earn certification it usually means higher pay – $3,500 annually in Washington and up to $10,000 more in some states. During the 10 years of their national certification the teachers don’t have to renew their Washington credential. And even if they fail to earn certification, teachers can apply the graduate credits earned toward an advanced degree.

But Dunning said the teachers and their reasons for being there vary a great deal.

“Some of them are fairly new teachers, some are near retirement,” she said. “Many of them just want to sharpen their skills and to learn new things.”

The initiative will be a boon to the state, too, according to College of Education Dean Pat Wasley.

“Washington will benefit from having more teachers who have passed board certification because they are able to demonstrate the kind of skills top-notch teachers need to have,” she said.

The UW contingent operates under the assumption that the teachers themselves know best how to demonstrate their skills to the board. In other words, the responsibility for learning is clearly with the learner.

“They’re facilitators,” Dunning said of the UW faculty members and the board-certified teachers they are partnered with. “They aren’t there to do the work. They’re there to ask clarifying questions and to help hone the teachers’ thinking.”

The NBPTS is comprised of various educators, mostly other certified teachers. Wasley serves on the 63-person board. That group has come up with 25 certification categories and is responsible for creating the specific tasks required for certification as well as reviewing applications from prospective certified teachers.

It’s likely that half of those who apply won’t earn their national certification. But Dunning said that everyone who participates in the process benefits.

“I haven’t talked to anybody who has been through the process – whether they became certified or not – who doesn’t say they’re a better teacher and their students are learning more,” she said.