Master challenge

Print More

Schools Chief Arne Duncan has set a lofty goal for raising teacher quality in the district: Triple the number of nationally certified teachers over the next three years and put them in classrooms where students need them most.

Currently, 377 CPS teachers have earned National Board certification; Duncan’s target is 1,200 by 2008.

“Is this doable? I certainly hope so,” says Janet Knupp, president of The Chicago Public Education Fund, which so far has invested $2.5 million in the district’s effort to get more master teachers in low-performing schools.

School officials say they have mapped out a plan to meet the challenge. First, recruit enough candidates to meet the quota, factoring in the average 50 percent success rate. Then, make sure that more than half of those who earn national certification are placed in low-performing, hard-to-staff schools.

“We want to grow [candidates] as opposed to trying to move people to hard-to-staff schools,” says Amanda Rivera, who is spearheading the district’s National Board certification initiative. “We hope to have 800 candidates so we can achieve our goal of at least 400 [more nationally certified teachers] for next year.”

Last year, a Catalyst Chicago analysis of data provided by Chicago Public Schools found that 18 communities, predominantly African American with below-average household incomes, had no National Board-certified teachers. (See Catalyst December 2004). After the most recent crop of teachers earned National Board certification in December, a similar analysis found that five of those areas now have master teachers.

Still, there are 13 areas without National Board-certified teachers: Beverly, Forest Glen, Fuller Park, Greater Grand Crossing, Hermosa, McKinley Park, Oakland, O’Hare, Pullman, Riverdale, South Deering, Washington Heights and Washington Park.

Stepping up recruiting efforts

To get more teachers interested in applying for national certification, CPS is first targeting principals. Teams of central administrators, nationally certified teachers and principals who have National Board-certified teachers on staff will visit principals of hard-to-staff schools and talk up the merits of the credential.

An advisory committee of core curriculum and teacher recruiting specialists are drawing up a plan for tapping the expertise of National Board-certified teachers for core subjects, like math, science and reading, and early childhood education.

“This is a good first step,” says researcher Barnett Berry of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality. “You can’t impose this process on anybody, anymore than you can impose a CPA [license] on an accountant.”

After getting principals on board, CPS will focus on recruiting candidates. The Chicago Public Education Fund is surveying teachers to find out what makes them decide to apply for national certification and whether additional incentives would entice more. Now, successful candidates get bonuses from the state and from the district totaling $32,500 over 10 years.

Still, the application process can be grueling, requiring some 200 to 400 hours of work outside of the classroom, and only half of those who complete it earn national certification. “It is not an easy process,” says Rivera. “However, we need to do a better job of getting teachers to value and understand it. And, even if they don’t achieve [national certification], they’ve still grown.”

Expanding candidate support

This year, the district opened a satellite candidate support office at Talcott Elementary in West Town. There, would-be master teachers can meet with mentors, take training classes and borrow cameras, video equipment and other resources necessary to compile an application portfolio. Two more such centers will follow.

Rivera says the district is looking at ways to create a teacher leadership component to the National Board process, which currently does not exist. According to a recent study, one drawback of national certification is that it lacks a leadership development component.

“We are working on this,” Rivera says. Some people view this as a personal development process, but we want to use it as a strategy for school improvement.”

To contact Debra Williams, call (312) 673-3873 or e-mail williams@catalyst-chicago.org.