With a teaching workforce that is majority White and female, less than 1 in 5 U.S. public school teachers (18 percent) are individuals of color, despite the majority of public school students being of color. Even more concerning is that only 2 percent of the educator workforce are Black males.
As part of a national push for greater diversity among educators and to ensure that every child benefits from high-quality instruction, we at the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) are working to make National Board Certification more accessible for teachers to pursue—particularly teachers of color.
National Board Certification was established in 1987 to define and recognize accomplished teaching practices and competencies and to advance teachers’ commitment to student achievement.
The certification process is a rigorous, peer-reviewed system of professional practice that only 112,000 teachers—3 percent of America’s teachers—have achieved.
As an African-American science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educator and a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), I am not only a part of this small minority of teachers, but I can attest to the impact of board certification for advancing student achievement.
Starting at the source
With the support of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans President’s Advisory Commission, the National Board is collaborating with post-secondary education programs as well as school districts to implement components of the national board assessment to inform professional development.
Earlier this year, I had the honor of speaking at Mississippi’s Jackson State University (JSU), a historically Black university and the state’s only urban university.
JSU’s commitment to diversity among teachers and leaders is inspiring, and is particularly evident at its School of Lifelong Learning, where the focus on challenging minds and changing lives is displayed through the Southwest Mississippi World-Class Teaching Initiative.
This initiative supports Mississippi teachers seeking National Board Certification and provides support for high-quality teaching, mentorship and professional development.
Despite the challenges Mississippi faces with persistently underperforming schools and socioeconomic disparities of multigenerational poverty, the Teaching Initiative is poised to become a national model for teacher preparation, development and creating pathways for teacher leadership.
Mississippi’s educational leaders and policy makers recognize board certification as important to creating an effective teaching workforce capable of preparing students for the global economy. Undoubtedly, it’s a smart investment.
Over the past decade, research has shown that students of national board certified teachers outperform students in other classrooms on achievement tests.
Further, the positive impact of having a board-certified teacher is even more significant for low-income and minority students.
Most recently, a multiyear study in Washington state found that the students of board-certified teachers gained nearly one-and-a-half month’s worth of additional learning during the school year, nearly enough to counteract students’ learning slide over the summer.
In addition to implementing the Teaching Initiative at state university campuses across Mississippi to support professional development, state lawmakers have rewarded board-certified teachers with a $6,000 annual bonus—one of the highest incentives in the country.
Recently, candidates from JSU’s Teaching Initiative were paired with board-certified teachers in a collaborative effort to improve early childhood literacy rates. The board-certified teachers worked directly with 43 struggling third-graders to bolster their reading skills, while teacher candidates observed their instruction.
By the end of the summer, 79 percent of the students in the program passed the Mississippi K-3 Assessment exam.
Not only did the students benefit academically, but the board certified teachers modeled practices for excellent teaching that will enable future board certified teachers to achieve on their own.
Bringing it back to the community
There is an ongoing effort to increase the number of teachers of color who achieve board certification, as well as to ensure that teachers are exposed to mentoring programs, can access study materials for board certification, and engage with support systems and networking opportunities that encourage certification.
Consequently, the Teaching Initiative has been replicated in various communities across the country. From Native American reservations and rural areas to inner-city schools, the Teaching Initiative model has been implemented to increase teacher diversity and strengthen instructional leadership roles.
These programs provide opportunities for teacher leaders to give back to their communities, mentor new teachers and promote teaching and learning that is culturally relevant.
As we at the National Board continue to revise our process so that certification can become a reality for more teachers and particularly for teachers of color, we encourage programs like the Teaching Initiative to provide opportunities for leadership, rigorous and performance-based teaching competencies, and professional development opportunities designed to increase student achievement.
Diversity in the teacher workforce is critical to advancing students’ academic and personal development. Encouraging educator diversity while improving the quality of professional development deepens our commitment to the recruitment and retention of teachers and leaders.
National Board Certification is just one way to leverage teacher leadership—the ultimate reward is providing students with high-quality teachers who ensure that students thrive and are able to fulfill their promise.