Leaders of the Pack

Efforts underway to boost number of NY teachers with national credentials

Of New York  City’s roughly 75,000 teachers, those who have earned highly regarded credentials from a teacher-quality group known as the National Board could fit in a single auditorium.

There are only 207 National Board-certified teachers in New York City, and just 1,600 across the state. By contrast, in Washington, a state with fewer than a quarter of the teachers in New York, there are more than 7,200 National Board-certified teachers.

But New York’s number could soon get a big boost from the state, which received federal grant money to help more teachers earn the credentials, and from a group of National Board-certified teachers in the city that has committed to swelling its ranks.

The campaign comes at time when ensuring teacher quality is a top policy concern, but efforts to enact that goal through state-imposed teacher evaluations have faced some resistance. Meanwhile, teachers who complete the voluntary National Board certification process, which can take years, have been shown to raise student achievement.

“How do you take teachers who have gone through this incredibly rigorous, performance-based process and capitalize on their expertise?” said Geneviève DeBose, a National Board-certified teacher from the Bronx who now works for the organization. “There’s a lot more we can be doing.”

The nonprofit National Board for Professional Teaching Standards emerged from an education task force in the 1980s that aimed to raise the quality the instruction by creating higher teaching standards. Unlike today’s teacher evaluations, which are mandatory measures meant to spur teacher improvement and root out poor performers, the National Board’s certification process is voluntary and open only to teachers with at least three years experience.

Teachers who want those credentials must pass several exams and submit classroom videos, student work, and written reflections to prove they meet the National Board’s standards. That process can take several years, with less than half of candidates earning their credentials on the first attempt, according to DeBose.

The National Board recently won a $15 million federal grant to help New York and a handful of other states and large school districts urge more teachers in high-needs schools to earn the credentials and to guide teachers through the process. The grant winners must also help National Board-certified teachers become instructional leaders in their schools, which could include mentoring peers, heading up departments, or running model classrooms, DeBose said.

Beginning next month, New York districts and schools will be able to apply for funding to do this. Five winners will be selected.

Their task will be to “demystify” and spell out the benefits of the certification process, which is still unfamiliar to many educators, said Stephanie Wood-Garnett, an assistant commissioner in the State Education Department.

In New York State, teachers can receive a grant to cover the $2,500 cost of certification. Completing that process also relieves teachers from the 175 hours of professional development and a master’s degree normally required to earn a permanent teaching license. (Some teachers have also proposed a rule change to allow their National Board work to count for a portion of their evaluations while they are in the certification process, which would need local district and union approval, and possibly legislative signoff.) In New York City, National Board certification bumps teachers up to the highest pay grade.

More importantly, the certification process pushes experienced educators to reflect on and refine their practice, said Wood-Garnett. A 2012 Harvard University study found that Los Angeles students who were taught by National Board-certified teachers outperformed their peers.

“Any teacher I’ve ever worked with, they always say, ‘It’s the best professional development I’ve ever had in my career,’” Wood-Garnett said.

The credentials also validate teachers’ hard-won expertise and connect them with like-minded colleagues, said Lorraine Scorsone, one of the city’s first National Board-certified teachers. For more than a decade, Scorsone has led a support program for certification candidates run by the city teachers union. The candidates watch the videos and read the essays their peers will submit to the National Board, then ask probing questions.

“Through answering those questions,” Scorsone said, “a gem will come out.”

In December, about three-dozen National Board-certified teachers met in the city and discussed ways they could get more teachers to join them. They considered enlisting their principals as recruitment allies, hosting a citywide training conference, and mentoring colleagues through the certification process.

Pauline Sawyers, a National Board-certified teacher at I.S. 52 in Upper Manhattan, has already started that work. She is guiding six colleagues at her school through the process, which she said amounts to much more than just a portfolio and some tests.

“It’s one of those things,” Sawyers said, “that really helps you see your profession in a new light.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”