The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

NBPTS - fix or eliminate?

On EduWonk, Andy Rotherham writes:

If you follow the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards issue you'll want to check out the CALDER site, a lot of the recent research all in one place. Regardless of where one comes down the evidence is not very compelling -- especially considering the cost. The Board needs to get on top of that.

I respect Andy Rotherham – he was, after all, the one who effectively forced NBPTS to release the less-than-flattering Sanders study they had commissioned and were apparently trying to bury. He’s proven himself to be someone who wants to get the facts on the table regardless of the issue, rather than do so selectively to support pet causes (as is otherwise so common in education).

But I think he punted here – and it’s emblematic of a classic flaw in thinking in the education industry that is only now starting to change.

What the body of research on national board certification says, in essence, is that teachers certified by NBPTS are no more effective in producing academic gains in students than are uncertified teachers – and even for the subset of studies that does find an effect, the effect size is extremely small (in the area of 0.1 to 0.2) and can hardly justify the tremendous expense of the certification process and ongoing bonuses paid by the states.

So, while the idea of teacher certification is a good one in theory, we have clear evidence that the current program doesn’t work. What now?

Logically, one would think that we should just eliminate the program – it’s expensive and it doesn’t work, so it’s gone. But something funny happens with new initiatives in education – once they’ve been added to the mix, it’s extremely rare to see them eliminated.

Instead, we throw more and more resources at them in order to revise them, when (a) it may not be possible to change them based on the faulty assumptions on which they’re based, (b) we let the same people who gave us the faulty program take the lead in trying to fix it, and (c) even if it is possible to ultimately fix them, the fiscally smart course of action is to shut them down in favor of something that can accomplish what you want now, instead of sometime down the road.

Rotherham may just be reflecting the reality of the additive paradigm by calling on the Board to “get on top of that” issue. But if a program, particularly a program as expensive as NBPTS, is shown to have no value, I would argue that the right course for education is to eliminate it.

In fact, they’re trying to do that right now in South Carolina, and it’s playing out just as you would expect. The governor, citing the ineffectiveness of the program, wants to dismantle the certification program in their state and redirect funds to initiatives that are proven to increase student performance. And he’s facing quite a fight from people who ignore the body of evidence, apparently for no other reason than that they like the program in theory. (See the January 24 article in Education Week - Bonuses for NBPTS-Certified Teachers at Risk in S.C. – for the whole story).

But supporting a program with no outcomes has real costs – including opportunity costs.

If nothing changes, South Carolina will spend $52 million in the coming year on certification programs and bonuses – again, with virtually no return on its investment. (Given SC's $6.5 billion budget for education, that’s close to 1% of total spending, just on this one initiative.)

What if we instead gave that $52 million directly to the schools for them to spend?

With 1,100 schools in South Carolina, that would be just over $47,000 per school. In a system where principals have so little discretion over funding, wouldn’t that mini-windfall allow them to do things that actually did improve education outcomes?

Or what if we used it to fund a statewide program that did offer proof that it could accomplish its stated performance outcomes?

Or what if we did anything else besides throw away money on a program that is proven not to work, rather than try to tweak it?

Tweaking, by the way, is the most expensive path of all, since we’ll be funding an ineffective program for years while the same people who got it wrong the first time try to get it right – and we’ll have to wait years more to gather any evidence of the impact of their reforms. It’s much, much better to shut the program down and redirect the funds toward something more productive.

Will South Carolina be able to eliminate funding for board certification programs? It’s possible – and it’s possible also for other states to pursue this course as well, as mentioned in the EdWeek article. This may all be a positive indicator in retrospect – as we continue to change our focus from inputs to outputs in education, we can only hope that we see more performance-based thinking, and less of a legacy mentality.


  • And it took a study to figure this one out? Oh dear. Are we now so obtuse that we can't figure out that expensive paperwork-intensive hoop-jumping has little or no relationship to actual teaching performance?

    Perhaps many of the people who can jump through the right hoops might also be good teachers, but that does not mean that those who can't jump through the hoops, or merely don't want to spend the time and money to do so are poor teachers. Don't they teach basic logic in college anymore?

    By Mike, at 9:46 PM  

  • So much money is wasted in education on certifications, the latest fad that doesn't work, incompetent teachers and administrators. It is the kids who lose day in and day out in a system run by "adults" solely for the benefit of "adults". Sigh...


    By Anonymous, at 5:16 AM  

  • Ah but the REAL problem is we don't spend enough money on education. I can atest to this becasue my child came home asuring me that the last education bond MUST pass or she would be sold into white slavery to pay for the increase in pay our poor over worked teachers (and their equally over worked national union reps justly deserve. Majoorca in the summer is expensive ya know...

    By Anonymous, at 5:38 PM  

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