Only 111 out of the 108,000 teachers in New Jersey are National Board Certified, rendering New Jersey 49th in the U.S. in percentage of K-12 National Board Certified Teachers® (NBCT). The national certification was developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Admittedly, the process of becoming a NBCT isn't easy. But many argue that it is critical because it forces teachers to improve their techniques by examining their methods. Research shows that students of NBCT absorb 7% to 15% more information than students of non-board certified teachers, and advance more quickly. In a given year, these students acquire an additional 25 days of learning.
"National Board Certification® is our best measure of teacher quality," says Dana Egreczky, president of the Business Coalition for Educational Excellence (BCEE) at the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce. "When teachers go to grad school, they prove they can learn. When teachers get National Board Certified, they prove they can teach."
Abbe Leff, an elementary art NBCT in the Mount Olive School District, has been teaching for 13 years. "I was in this same job for eight years, teaching the same curriculum, the same lessons. I needed something to enhance my teaching," she says. Last year she became National Board Certified in art—early to middle childhood, which permits her to teach preschool through middle school. National Board Certification is very specific to an area of expertise and age group. "It's a great way to evaluate what you're really doing," she says of the process that involves exercises, providing videos and photographs of teaching practice, and assessing knowledge gains through a computerized standardized test on every aspect of art.
Now she sees a difference in herself. "I've learned through the process to become a more effective teacher. I've applied it to my teaching now." For example, after Leff visited Paris she created a Power Point lesson from photographs, questions and answers, riddles, facts and the like. "Maybe before I might have just bought posters, held them up and talked about them, but it might not have sunk in. Wherever I go I see opportunities for teaching."
She is even teaching in cyberspace by creating a fun website with the day's lesson that students can access at home—"to extend learning beyond the classroom," she says. Leff has seen an increase in the amount of information students acquire, and more involvement and interest.
So then, why don't more New Jersey teachers becoming board certified? The cost, $2,300 per certification, is prohibitive given the average annual teacher's salary in New Jersey is $54,000. What's more, says Leff, most teachers are unaware of the program and the availability of subsidies to help them pursue certification. "It's a very time and labor-intensive process," notes Kathy Coulibaly, associate director of public relations for the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). Coulibaly adds that the New Jersey Department of Education and the NJEA are among those organizations in the state that help defray the cost of up to 175 teachers per year becoming national board certified.
The cost of certification was intimidating to Leff until she learned about companies like State Farm, which help subsidize the process. State Farm, an insurance firm, is a founding sponsor of national board certification since its inception. "Our economy is greatly impacted by the depth and quality of our educational system," says Ryan Salonia, State Farm public affairs specialist. "One of the greatest contributions businesses can make in New Jersey to strengthen the economy is to have profitable businesses that supply jobs for residents. However, we can't do this without an employable workforce and our educational system is the key to make that happen. We believe that an effective way to improve our educational system is to have better teachers in our classrooms."
In New Jersey, State Farm supports National Board Certification from beginning to end. "The hope is that we continue to increase the number of NBCTs through the efforts of the Chamber's Business Coalition for Educational Excellence. Eventually current students will come out into the workforce so that businesses like State Farm can tap into a much higher quality workforce that can be a benefit to State Farm and its customers," Salonia says.
State Farm provides a grant to BCEE that helps recruit teachers to become NBCTs and educate teachers on the value of National Board Certification, and a grant to the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) in Sewell, which offers training and support for teachers in completing the application process. State Farm also runs video conferencing from its offices to EIRC meetings.
Teacher Abbe Leff says she did it for herself to be a better teacher, and for her students to be better learners. "Having a higher standard of excellence with teachers really ensures the future of the kids in this state," she says. "If we have better teachers, we have better kids growing up, especially in impoverished areas. That's where we need them the most. We need better teachers for the sake of the children."
To find out more about becoming a National Board Certified Teacher, contact the Business Coalition for Educational Excellence at www.bcee.org or 609-989-7888.