Victor Harbison
In this 2010 photo, Victor Harbison, the first CPS high school history teacher to receive National Board certification, shows historian Timuel Black a kiosk that his students at Gage Park High School made memorializing the late Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1966 open housing march to Marquette Park. Credit: Photo courtesy MK Communications


Efforts in the late 1980s to define and support high-performance teaching led eventually to the creation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The group developed methods to measure excellent teaching and a certification process to recognize accomplished teachers. It awarded its first certificates in 1993.

Chicago joined the movement for National Board Certification in 1998, when the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center launched Nurturing Teacher Leadership, an intensive preparation program for candidates. In 2000, the work of building a cadre of board-certified teachers got a big boost from the brand-new Chicago Public Education Fund, which committed $1.3 million—half of its 2000 and 2001 operating budgets—to programs supporting teachers seeking certification.

In 2009, Chicago’s crop of newly minted board-certified teachers was the largest in the nation: 302. These newcomers brought the district total to 1,310, well beyond the 1,200-teacher goal established in 2000.

See “Teaching’s Mt. Everest: Is It Worth It?” Catalyst October 2001 and “Chicago leads nation in new National Board Certified Teachers,” Catalyst December 2009


Chicago’s early success prompted Mayor Richard M. Daley to set a new, more ambitious goal: 2,400 board-certified teachers by 2011. Though that didn’t happen, the continuing push not only increased the sheer number of board-certified teachers across the district, it also encouraged the creation of cadres of master teachers at individual schools, especially in the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

A case study published by the National Board in 2009 suggested that schools with a critical mass of board-certified teachers could have strong, positive effects on student learning. At the time, more than 50 Chicago schools had faculties where at least 15 percent of teachers were board-certified.

About 60 percent of CPS schools with concentrated student poverty (85 percent or more of students low-income), had at least one board-certified teacher.

The National Board’s case study highlighted some examples of board-certified teachers who had assumed leadership roles in their schools — for example, a teacher at Lindblom College Prep who created a website where she and her colleagues could share videos of their teaching so they could see where they needed to improve.

By 2014, the CPS tally of board-certified teachers had risen to 2,219 teachers, well short of the 2011 goal. However, the number suggested that the earlier board-certified teachers were—and likely still are—working in the system.

See More master teachers in poorest communities Catalyst October 2006 and “Case study: National Board teachers take the instructional lead” Catalyst September 2009


Recent studies suggest that National Board certified-teachers may be more effective than their non-certified peers. One study found that high school students in Chicago who were taught by board-certified teachers earned higher ACT scores than those who were not. However, the research offers no clear policy steps for using National Board Certification to improve teacher quality more broadly.

In recent years, city and district leaders appear to have put National Board Certification on the back burner. In 2014, only 87 teachers earned certification, a big drop from its heyday in 2009. Due to the leadership churn following Arne Duncan’s departure as CEO, the Chicago Public Education Fund shifted focus toward supporting new district leaders. Later the Fund returned to another high priority: developing principal leadership.

In 2013, CPS merged its support for candidates seeking National Board Certification with the union’s longstanding Quest Center program. The number of candidates likely will decrease, but those who tackle the program with the CTU’s help stand a good chance of earning the credential. The rigor and personal attention of CTU’s preparation program has produced a pass rate of more than 90 percent for its candidates.

See “Quest Center is ‘Cadillac’ of support programs” Catalyst October 2001 and “Take 5: Looking ahead post election…and more” Catalyst April 2015

Freelancer Maureen Kelleher's work has appeared in Education Week and the Harvard Education Letter. She was an associate editor with Catalyst Chicago from 1998-2006.

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