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'Board Certification' Gains Support as Goal for Teachers

November 13, 1998|RICHARD LEE COLVIN | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Nearly 1,000 teachers nationwide, including 59 from California, this week joined a rapidly expanding educational vanguard that is attempting to redefine good teaching.

Nationally, 47% of this year's candidates achieved "board certification," based on a series of grueling 90-minute exams, essays and an evaluation of their teaching skills. With the addition of 924 teachers this week, 1,836 have earned that status.

Those who are board-certified will be paid as much as $10,000 extra annually in addition to enjoying enhanced prestige and the satisfaction of knowing that an outside agency has validated their teaching methods.

Teacher certification is similar to the process followed by the medical profession, in which after obtaining their license to practice, doctors can earn higher status by becoming board-certified in their specialty.

James A. Kelley, president of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, said the growing popularity of certification is transforming what it means to be a good teacher.

"In the old days it was, 'I taught him, if he didn't get it, tough luck,' " Kelley said. "Our game is not 'tough luck.' It's to analyze achievement and see if it's sufficient and, if not, do something about it. Student learning is what this whole thing is about."

In the process, advocates hope, the status of the teaching profession will be enhanced.

The board was formed in 1987 after a broad coalition of educators and policymakers agreed that there was an urgent need to establish standards for the teaching profession. It has taken a number of years, and an investment of nearly $100 million from public and private sources, for the board to define good teaching and figure out how to measure it.

So far, the board has created standards for 12 specialties, such as teaching the primary grades and high school biology. Candidates have to demonstrate knowledge of their subject and an ability to tailor lessons to each student. They also have to know when and how to use various teaching methods to inspire in students "curiosity, tolerance, honesty, fairness, respect for diversity and cultural differences." Finally, they must show they collaborate with their peers to benefit students.

This year's jump in teacher applications reflects the growing sense among educators and politicians that certification is a means of improving school performance. About 40 states and a growing number of districts now offer subsidies and pay increases tied to certification.

In North Carolina, where Gov. James B. Hunt has been pushing teacher quality as an issue for a decade, 329 teachers achieved board certification this year, qualifying them for a 12% salary hike. The state now leads the nation with 536.

Last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District had a single board-certified teacher. This week, the district reported that 45 of its teachers had qualified for the distinction.

The current contract for the United Teachers-Los Angeles union provides a 7.5% raise to those who achieve certification, and another 7.5% for sharing their expertise with colleagues. In addition, the state agreed to kick in a one-time bonus of $10,000.

The state now has 120 board-certified teachers; of the new recruits, nearly all reside in Los Angeles County. Eight listed addresses in San Diego County, two in Orange County and two in Ventura, according to a list provided by the board. The school districts where the teachers work were not included. Information about L.A. Unified was provided by the teachers union.

Five of L.A. Unified's teachers are at a single school, Palisades Charter High School in Pacific Palisades. Each of the five is already widely recognized for setting high standards for students, assisting other teachers and using innovative methods.

Chemistry teacher Ben Van Loo on Thursday was performing another role--that of game show host. To help his students prepare for an exam, Van Loo has created his own version of "Jeopardy"--complete with hand-held buzzers for students to indicate they know the answer.

"What is the molar weight of sulfur dioxide?" was one question. After students checked the classroom periodic table, a student on the red team buzzed in.

"Approximately 65," the student answered. "Not close enough," Van Loo responded. "Green team?"

"64.044?" another team ventured. "That is correct," Van Loo said.

Math teacher Libby Butler, who also received board certification, is involved in several campus programs aimed at getting underrepresented minority students involved in honors and advanced placement courses; she also tutors at a satellite center Palisades sponsors across town in the Crenshaw district.

"She's efficient, she cares and, if you don't understand it, she'll try to help you," senior Iria Ephriam said of Butler, her honors calculus teacher. "She's here before school, nutrition break, lunch, she's here."

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