Four years ago, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Public Education Fund decided to invest millions of dollars in a program to produce more master teachers, an effort to improve the quality of instruction, particularly in schools where kids do poorly.
Since then, the number of CPS educators who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards—the profession’s most prestigious credential—has grown to 233. Another 126 teachers learned in late November that they had earned the credential, and dozens more are in the pipeline to earn certification next year.
However, the close-to $7 million investment has been less successful in reaching communities where schools need these teachers the most.
A Catalyst analysis found that nearly a quarter of the city’s community areas—half of them African American, most with below-average family incomes—have no National Board-certified teachers. Among them are Riverdale, Oakland and Washington Park. Among the 18 communities with no nationally certified teachers, five are mostly white, two are largely Latino and one is integrated.
In contrast, the communities that are best served by National Board certification—as measured by the percentage of their schools that have such teachers—are more likely to be mostly white and have above-average family income. Eleven of the 19 communities where at least 40 percent of the schools have at least one National Board-certified teacher are largely white. Two of them are mostly Latino, five are predominantly African American and one is racially mixed.
Among the 131 schools with National Board teachers, 56 percent have student poverty rates that exceed the district average of 85 percent; another 29 percent range between 50 and 85 percent low-income students.
“We are aware of this,” says Tonika Terrell, who runs the district’s National Board candidate support program. “It has been hard to recruit in the most impoverished areas, where schools have the greatest needs, but we’re working on it.”
Efforts to ensure master teachers are placed in the most needy communities come none too soon, say school improvement activists.
“We need these kinds of teachers in our communities because these are the areas where most of the schools are on probation,” says Serena Williams, an LSC parent at Carver Military Academy, which is in Riverdale. “This really bothers me. The community needs to be made aware of this kind of certification. This would be good for our schools.”
However, one education expert says a lack of teachers with such credentials isn’t about racism or class, but about teacher professionalism.
Teachers ask themselves, “Where can I go where I am welcome to practice my skills and knowledge,” says Steve Tozer, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and former chair of the governor’s advisory council on education quality.
He adds, “At the most basic level, National Board teachers have leverage in the market place and the labor pool. They can go to schools that are considered harder to get into—magnet schools or higher-performing schools. The conditions for teaching are better.”
Still, despite the tilt in the geographic distribution, National Board certified teachers are teaching mainly in low-income schools, the Catalyst analysis of data from CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union found.
Nearly half of the 214 National Board teachers who work in schools are at schools where the percentage of low-income students exceeds the citywide average of 85 percent. Another 36 percent, or 77, are in schools where the low-income percentage ranges from 50 percent to 85 percent of enrollment.
Communities that boast the highest numbers of National Board-certified teachers—Kenwood, Lakeview, Logan Square and North Park—are an equal mix of income and racial groups.
Study: Master teachers serve as leaders
In the meantime, so far, CPS has put up $4.7 million towards the effort to boost the number of National Board-certified teachers, and the Chicago Public Education Fund has contributed $2.2 million.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was established in the mid-1990s to advance the teaching profession, and it developed a rigorous process for certifying teachers. To earn the certification, teachers spend a year or more compiling a portfolio of their instructional practices that includes videotaping themselves in the classroom, analyzing student work and providing evidence that their strategies work. Completing the process can take as many as 400 hours outside the classroom. Candidates also take a series of exams.
Recent research shows that National Board certification can have a positive impact on student achievement. A study conducted in North Carolina, which has more nationally certified teachers than any other state, found that National board-certified teachers were more effective at raising tests scores of low-income children than teachers without the certification.
No such study has been conducted in Chicago’s schools, but a 2003 survey conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research determined that National Board-certified CPS teachers are more likely to be white women and more likely to teach in magnet schools.
The Consortium study also found that National Board-certified teachers are more likely to take on leadership roles at their schools, and, when clusters of board-certified teachers work at a school, teachers there are more willing to try new things and have more influence on budget, policy and curricular decisions.
Peterson Elementary in North Park, for instance, has nine nationally certified teachers and a student poverty rate of 78 percent. National Board teachers there—two learned in mid-November that they had achieved certification—encourage other faculty to become candidates.
Principal Joseph Kallas credits one teacher, who also was one of the system’s first seven teachers to obtain national certification. “She pushed it,” he recalls. “She talked about the benefits. She talked to teachers one on one, then [she] personally mentored them through the process.”
Even teachers with little chance of gaining national certification benefit from the experience, Kallas adds. “The best teachers that go through the process benefit, certainly, but I’ve had some marginal teachers who have grown enormously,” he says.
Indeed, six more teachers are planning to apply during the next cycle, and Kallas says some new teachers are following suit but have not yet completed three years of teaching, a prerequisite to become a National Board candidate.
Targeting warning list schools
CPS’s Terrell says that communities with the largest concentrations of board-certified teachers have more schools where principals are supportive and the working environment is collegial.
The district is also taking a more strategic approach in targeting schools to recruit teachers for its candidate support program, Terrell says.
“We are looking at schools that are on the academic warning lists,” she says. At those schools, teachers, principals and community residents don’t know about National Board certification, she explains. “We are starting conversations with principals about the benefits. We know where we need to put our recruitment efforts.”
The Chicago Public Education Fund says over the next four years its focus will be ensuring a more equitable spread of board-certified teachers citywide.
“Equality is our concern—we want these teachers to be in schools that need them most,” says Michael Alexander, a senior program officer at the Fund. “We’re taking a look at programs in other cities that get National Board teachers into these kinds of schools. Research shows that nothing makes a bigger impact in schools than quality teachers.”
Alexander also says while districts can provide incentives, like financial ones, to get teachers to move into these schools, it is harder to get them to stay. Incentives for Chicago teachers has included Illinois State University paying the $2,500 application fee and, after earning the certification, a one-time bonus of $3,000 from the Fund and $30,000 over 10 years from the Illinois State Board of Education.
However, National Board-certified teachers are often enticed to leave struggling schools to go to better-performing ones within the district. Keeping board-certified teachers in hard-to-staff schools has to be a schoolwide effort, says UIC’s Tozar.
“The environment has to be changed [so] that teachers view these schools as places where they can be successful.”
To contact Debra Williams, call (312) 673-3873 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.