While shortages of qualified and effective teachers persist in high-needs schools, there is no shortage of rhetoric about the proper remedy.
It’s a rare week when a think tank or research center does not produce a report on what ails the teaching profession. For example just recently, the Center for American Progress released two reports — one on attracting and retaining effective teachers for high needs schools and the other on pay for performance programs as a primary tool to do so. Both reports from the influential think tank are informative, but like many others before them, they do not address a number of critical issues. One very important missing piece: quality teacher preparation and good working conditions are critical in supplying effective, stick-with-it teachers to high needs schools. Another missing element in the discussion: The important role of growing expertise from within.
Our own research at the Center for Teaching Quality has taught us how powerful the certification process can be as a strategy in developing successful teachers in high-needs schools. We have also learned from National Board Certified Teachers, who describe the huge payoffs that come when teams of teachers sitting for the National Boards use their intensified focus on high standards to consider many teacher effectiveness issues that policy pundits overlook or do not fully understand.
One of the best examples can be found in a crime-riddled, impoverished neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona, where 20 of Mitchell Elementary School’s 34 teachers are either National Board Certified or in the process of earning the performance-based credential. Mitchell serves a community where less than 25 percent of the adults have a high school education. Over 50 percent of the students are second language learners; 96 percent are on free/reduced lunch, and 96 percent are Latino. The school was once in NCLB corrective action. Now Mitchell meets all its AYP goals each year.
The district did not recruit expert teachers to high needs school; they grew them from within. In addition, most of their home-grown NBCTs have roots in the community. Most are minorities, like the students they teach.
Most importantly, Mitchell teachers claim the process has transformed their teaching and given them newfound opportunities to take more control over their professional development. With support from the Arizona K-12 Center and its director, Kathy Wiebke, teachers are using the National Board process to better understand their teaching and how it directly impacts student achievement — as a collective. In particular, together these teachers are learning more about how to teach students with special needs and work more closely with parents.
As the district’s associate superintendent, Suzanne Zentner, noted, “We believe in the NBC process" as an “alternative approach to improving student performance” and closing the achievement gaps. Teacher turnover is no problem at Mitchell Elementary School in inner-city Phoenix.
We all agree that we must pursue fresh approaches to recruiting and retaining effective teachers for high needs schools. The strategy of growing NBCTs from within is showing promising results where it has been tried. It's the best of all worlds -- combining rigorous professional standards, teacher collaboration, and bottom-up leadership. We need to give this promising strategy every chance to succeed.