Where Do Standards Come From? A Phenomenological Study of the Development of National Board Early Childhood/Generalist Standards
By Camp, Deborah Graves
Abstract. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to construct a description and interpretation of the standards development process of the Early Childhood/Generalist Standards documents, both first edition and second edition, using an analysis of the actions of and interactions between committee members, professional organization representatives, and National Board for Professional Teaching Standards staff. An additional purpose was to discover and analyze the influences upon which standards committee members drew when articulating the specific teacher behaviors that exemplify accomplished early childhood practitioners. Participants were selected in a purposive manner to obtain a diverse sample in terms of gender, ethnicity, geography, K-12 employment, and higher education representation. A series of three telephone interviews were conducted with two members from the first committee, three members from the second committee, and four members who served on both committees. Transcribed interview data were triangulated with archived secondary data to generate a description of the standards development process. Results from the interpretation of the data revealed the following assumptions: 1) despite the diversity and different perspectives of the committee members, discourse led to collaboration, and they easily reached consensus; 2) participants’ decision-making was heavily influenced by the National Association for the Education of Young Children; 3) constructivist and progressive ideology as well as research studies played an important part in discussions and decision-making; and 4) experiential teacher knowledge and expertise was highly valued by standards committee members and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Teacher quality counts. Studies compiled in What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996) suggest that teacher ability equates with student knowledge and performance. Teacher quality is a more powerful and consistent predictor of student achievement than race, socioeconomic status, or parental education and influences (Darling- Hammond, 1999). As part of the No Child Left Behind Act, policymakers dictate that every child must be served by a highly qualified teacher (2002).
National interest in student achievement and teacher quality sharply increased with the publication of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform: A Report to the Nation and the secretary of Education, United States Department ofEducation (U.S. National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), which warned the American public of the alarming deficit in student performance. In response to this report, the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy established a task force to analyze the critical role teacher quality plays in student achievement. This task force released A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century, which offered possible solutions to the teacher quality problem. One recommendation was the establishment of a national certification board to articulate standards for what highly accomplished teachers should know and be able to do and to certify the teachers who met these high standards (Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy’s Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, 1986). The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) was founded the following year, in 1987 (NBPTS, 1999).
Early childhood/generalist standards were published in 1995 (NBPTS, 1995) and revised in 2001 (NBPTS, 2001). Following an analysis of the theoretical underpinnings of both documents, I discovered that references to the philosophical beliefs espoused by the standards committee that drafted these documents are absent from the texts. In comparison to other respected best practice texts, Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8, Expanded Edition (Bredekamp, 1987) and Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs, Revised Edition (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997), the lack of citations in the standards documents becomes even more obvious. Published under the leadership and guidance of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) documents have served as position statements to help early childhood personnel evaluate policies and design ageappropriate, individually appropriate, and culturally appropriate programs. In the first document, “This position statement reflects the most current knowledge of teaching and learning as derived from theory, research, and practice” (Bredekamp, 1987, p. 62), and the knowledge base espoused in the revised document “is derived from reviewing the literature as well as review by many experienced, knowledgeable early childhood educators” (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997, p. v.)
The revised DAP position statement purports that if early childhood teachers are to make informed instructional decisions, they must “have knowledge on which to base their practices” (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997, p. vii). The NBPTS standards make similar statements but, in contrast to DAP, no reference or explanation as to where this knowledge was derived is made other than, “like all National Board standards, they rest on a fundamental philosophical foundation, expressed in the NBPTS policy statement What Teachers Should Know and Be Able To Do” (NBPTS, 1995, p. 1). DAP was based on the explicit premise that although no one theory can sufficiently explain the complexities of development and learning, a broadbased review of the literature “generates a set of principles to inform early childhood practice” (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997, p. 9), and within the ensuing elaborations of these principles, the names of many theorists and early childhood pioneers are referenced. The dominant theorists cited are Piaget, Dewey, and Vygotsky, and there are numerous references to Maslow, Erikson, Bruner, Montessori, Bronfenbrenner, Gardner, and Kamii (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997).
My analysis of the standards suggests that, although unstated, this document appears to draw heavily from the organismic metatheory and specifically from the cognitive theory of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky’s social constructivist theory, Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, and John Dewey’s progressive assumptions. Common themes and patterns detected were an emphasis on the importance of: 1) social interaction, 2) consideration of the whole child, 3) learning by doing, 4) children as active learners, 5) building on prior knowledge, 6) play as a means for cognitive development, 7) inquiry, 8) honoring children’s interests and choices, 9) the integration of subject areas, 10) providing children authentic experiences, and 11) supporting children’s cognitive efforts.
For example, the standards’ authors contend that accomplished early childhood teachers know that children begin school as “seasoned learners and explorers with a wide range of past experiences” (NBPTS, 1995, p. 15; NBPTS, 2001, p. 7). A central tenet of constructivism is the belief that children are active and intelligent learners (Piaget, 1977). Teachers also know that when children interact with materials and other people, they are given “the opportunity to interpret their experience in order to make sense of the world” (NBPTS, 1995, p. 15; NBPTS, 2001, p. 8).
The standards make multiple general as well as specific references to children’s construction of knowledge and the importance of their prior knowledge. For example, “They orient their teaching on the basis of what they know about how children construct knowledge” (NBPTS, 1995, p. 27) and “Accomplished teachers are aware that children construct their own approaches to learning . . .” (NBPTS, 2001, p. 20). These teachers also “know that children learn and construct meaning by making multiple connections” (NBPTS, 2001, p. 29).
Despite these obvious Piagetian terms and descriptions, the standards documents do not indicate the need for early childhood teachers to understand principles of Piaget’s theory. Instead, a plethora of vague statements characterize both documents, such as “Accomplished early childhood teachers know how children develop mathematical understanding” (NBPTS, 2001, p. 33). Although Piagetian practices are described in the standards, never once is Piaget’s explanation of assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration mentioned as the mental processes children use to develop mathematical understanding.
National Board early childhood standards also appear to be based on theories espoused by social constructivist Lev Vygotsky. The statement that “children’s learning is shaped by language, culture, family, and community values, as well as by individual attributes and talents” (NBPTS, 1995, p. 16; NBPTS, 2001, p. 8) exemplifies Vygotsky’s theme of the centrality of culture (Vygotsky, 1929).
Another major Vygotskian theme deals with the child’s relationship with the environment, one described as the zone of proximal development, and the standards’ document makes several allusions to this relationship. For example, the introduction to the first document states that teachers design “activities to the children’s ‘proximal zone’ for learning and development” (NBPTS, 1995, p. 9). Also, “Teachers realize that development occurs when children have meaningful opportunities to practice newly acquired skills that challenge the learner just beyond the level of present mastery” (NBPTS, 2001, p. 8). Howard Gardner’s influence is also evident in both documents. Gardner proposes that there is not a single intelligence but rather students possess an array of skills and can be highly talented in at least 10 distinct areas of mental activity (Gardner, 1999). Both standards documents state, “Some children learn best when they move their bodies. Others respond to music or to creating their own works of art” (NBPTS, 1995, p. 15). The revised document adds, “Still other young children express what they know by talking about learning experiences. Some children prefer logical mathematical representations to explain their understanding” (NBPTS, 2001, p. 8).
Analysis of the early childhood standards also reveals the strong influence of progressive educator John Dewey. Dewey (1902) explicitly states, “Learning is active. It involves reaching out of the mind. It involves organic assimilation starting from within” (p. 25). The standards make numerous references to the importance of children learning by doing. For example, “Accomplished Early Childhood teachers know that children learn best by working with concrete materials, employing all their senses, and discussing their ideas. Therefore, they help children do science rather than only read about it” (NBPTS, 1995, p. 33; NBPTS, 2001, p. 36). Also similar to Piaget is Dewey’s (1943) notion of social interaction and collaboration as a learning structure. As mentioned previously, the importance of cooperative activities, class discussions, and other collaborative opportunities predominate the standards.
The NBPTS claims their standards documents codify what teachers should know and be able to do; however, many of these statements are vague. The early childhood documents refer to the importance of practitioners’ knowledge of child development, theories, and research, yet what this knowledge, theory, or research constitutes is never stated. For example, “Accomplished early childhood teachers know how young children develop and learn” (NBPTS, 2001, p. 7), yet the document does not explain to the reader how the authors believe children learn. In contrast, NAEYC stated that “Young children learn by doing” (Bredekamp, 1987, p. 51) and referenced the works of Piaget, Erikson, Elkind, and Kamii. Another example in the revised standards document states, “Accomplished early childhood teachers keep up-to-date in their knowledge of early childhood development, including advancement in cognitive science and other current research” (NBPTS, 2001, p. 7). But what are these advancements and research?
The purpose of this study is to examine the early childhood standards development and revision process and to determine the factors that influenced committee members during the standards meetings, his study will fill a gap in the literature with regard to National Board standards development. Analysis and research were warranted to understand the standards development process and to explain how committee members chose the best practice standards expressed in the early childhood document. National Board certification is driving policy and practice both at the K-12 level and the university level (Diez & Blackwell, 1999). As the number of early childhood candidates continues to grow, both supporters and proponents of National Board certification will inevitably call for further scrutiny of the standards development process. The results of this study could be used to re-examine how NBPTS standards are developed and to make explicit to policymakers the foundation of theory, research, and practitioner knowledge on which the standards are built. Given the current political climate and the passage of the No Child Left Behind legislation, congressionally funded programs such as the NBPTS may be required in future standards revisions to justify their position statements with scientifically based research.
Review of Related Literature
Beginning in the mid-1980s, professional organizations such as the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) began to develop standards for preschool through mh-grade students (NCTM, 1989), thus launching the education field’s first attempts to articulate a comprehensive set of expectations of what students should know and be able to do (Raths, 1999). The development of rigorous student standards inevitably called for equally challenging teacher standards. The NBPTS’ efforts have produced the most comprehensive body of articulated teacher standards to date and “the first thoroughly researched standards for what excellent teaching ought to be” (Lewis, 1994, p. 4).
As a result of the release of the government report A Nation at Risk (U.S. National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) and the Carnegie Task Force’s recommendation (Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy’s Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, 1986), the NBPTS was created in 1987 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and nongovernmental organization. An early area of emphasis was teacher quality as the key to improved student achievement (NBPTS, 2002b). The Carnegie Corporation supplied grants to the NBPTS, as did the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, Ford Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trust. In 1988, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) successfully introduced legislation, Senate Bill 2698, that provided $19 million for four years to develop certifications. By 2000, the board had received over $70 million in Congressional funds (Wilcox, 1999). Through January 2002, the board received $109.8 million in federal funds (Archer, 2002) from Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation. This amount represents approximately 55 percent of its total funds (NBPTS, 2002b).
In 1989, the board published Toward High and Rigorous Standards for the Teaching Profession: Initial Policies and Perspectives of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS, 1989). As part of its initial vision, the Board developed the Five Core Propositions, which described what all accomplished teachers, regardless of certification areas, should know and be able to do. These propositions are as follows:
1. Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
2. Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
3. Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
4. Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
5. Teachers are members of learning communities. (NBPTS, 1999, p. 6-8)
All certification area standards and assessments are built upon the Five Core Propositions (Baratz-Snowden, 1990).
The NBPTS has demonstrated an exponential growth in its certification program. For example, in 1993,177 teachers achieved certification. By 2002, the number had increased to 7,886 (NBPTS, 2002d); by 2006, over 47,000 teachers had achieved certification (NBPTS, 2006a).
In 1990, the first Early Childhood/Generalist standards development committee was formed (NBPTS, 1995); in 2000, the NBPTS convened a committee to revise the original standards (NBPTS, 2001). The role of all standards committees is to translate the Five Core Propositions into specific standards for each certification area; to identify the specifics skills, knowledge, and dispositions that characterize accomplished teaching; and to couch the language in terms of observable teacher actions. The National Board conducts nationwide searches for outstanding educators to serve as standards committee members. These committees are made up of approximately 15 educators, primarily classroom practitioners, but also include researchers, teacher educators, and child development experts, thus representing a broad diversity of viewpoints in each field (NBPTS, 2002c).
Currently, limited research has been conducted on the benefits of National Board certification for teachers or its effect on student achievement. Contained in professional literature, however, are “numerous anecdotal reports and teacher testimonials” lauding the benefits of the process (Serafini, 2002, p. 319). Board-certified teachers believe that students benefit, because as candidates analyze their current practices (using the standards as criteria), they adjust their instructional strategies to better meet student needs (Barone, 2002).
Rotberg, Futrell, and Lieberman (1998) conducted a case study of teachers’ perceptions of the National Board process. Most of these teachers considered the process a valuable professional development experience, stating that the National Board process was more meaningful and beneficial than traditional staff development activities
The Accomplished Teaching Validation Study (Bond, Smith, & Baker, 2000) measured the differences between National Board-certified teachers (NBCTs) and noncertified teachers and their impact on student achievement. Teachers were evaluated by using 13 key characteristics of exemplary teaching. Findings revealed that the NBCTs scored higher than the noncertified teachers on all 13 characteristics. A survey of 519 California NBCTs (Belden, 2002) indicates that the certification process improved their knowledge of subject matter, as well as their abilities to develop curriculum, determine appropriate learning goals and objectives, and design student assessments.
In 2002, the National Board earmarked $6.6 million of its federal funding to finance 22 research studies on the impact of National Board certification. The RAND Corporation conducted an independent review of research proposals submitted in response to a board request ( Viadero, 2002). These studies will address such areas as the impact on student achievement and on low-performing schools (NBPTS, 2002a). Some of these studies recently have been released by NBPTS. Some studies suggest that students of certified teachers perform better on standardized tests than students of noncertified teachers, although “other studies reveal mixed effects” (NBPTS, 2006b). Skeptics of NBPTS cite the lack of quantitative research demonstrating the impact of National Board certification on student achievement and simultaneously question the cost-effectiveness of this evaluation program in light of such undetermined student benefits (Ballou, 1998; Podgursky, 2001; Stone, Cunningham, & Crawford, 2001; Wilcox, 1999). Stone (2002) published a study of 16 Tennessee NBCTs that suggests students of NBCTs do not demonstrate greater achievement than students of nonNBCTs.
Another criticism is the unfounded research-based claims of these standards. Neither the Five Core Propositions nor any of the standards documents cite studies and data. Many critics contend that these standards are based on teacher opinion rather than quantitative research (Stone et al., 2001; Wilcox, 1999).
Other critics accuse the National Board program of being culturally biased, favoring white, middle-class, and suburban teacher norms. Many believe that African American teachers’ beliefs and cultural pedagogical styles are not aligned with board standards (Delpit, 1999; Irvine, 1998). Bond (1998) indicates that the NBPTS program produces disparate impact, in that white and African American candidates are passing at substantially different rates. The passing rate for all candidates’ first attempts is approximately 35 percent to 45 percent (Barone, 2002). Some researchers report 62 percent of white teachers pass on their initial attempt, compared to 18 percent for African Americans (Brotherton, 2002).
Educators as well as laymen (Ballou, 1998; King, 1994; Raths, 1999; Stone et al., 2001) criticize the vagueness of NBPTS standards, contending that they read like obscure slogans. For example, the statement “Teachers know how young children grow and develop” (NBPTS, 1995, p. 15) does not answer the question, “How do children learn and develop? Candidate A has a Skinnerean understanding. Candidate B has a Piagetian understanding. Are both of these ‘understandings’ what teachers need to know? Is one such understanding sufficient?” (Raths, p. 137).
Voices from the political right accuse the National Board of developing standards that endorse a learner-centered teaching style characteristic of constructivist and progressive ideology and argue that the standards allude to Jean Piaget’s constructivist theory, Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory, and John Dewey’s progressive assumptions even though there are no references cited in any of the documents. These critics disagree with the National Board’s description of best practice, instead calling for standards that describe a more teacherdirected approach to instruction (Finn & Wilcox, 1999; Stone et al., 2001; Wilcox, 1999).
Johnson (2001) calls for the National Board to respond to this criticism of active learning approaches and to present evidence of the effectiveness of these practices. It is incumbent on the board to convince policymakers that their evaluations assess subject- matter knowledge as well as pedagogical content knowledge.
A recent review revealed no existing literature describing the standards development process. Information is needed about how standards committee members worked collaboratively to write documents and what guided their decisions when codifying teacher knowledge, skills, and dispositions in the field of early childhood.
The overall purpose of this study was to investigate the development process of the Early Childhood/Generalist standards. Thus, a phenomenological study was conducted in order to generate a description and interpretation of the experiences of standards committee members and to determine what factors guided committee members’ decision-making processes.
These research questions guided the data collection:
1. How did these groups of designated, accomplished early childhood educators and experts determine the standards that are codified in the document?
2. How did these members decide that these particular practices constitute the highest level of standards that accomplished early childhood teachers can reach?
Each National Board standards committee comprises members who are representative of well-respected professionals in their fields. Classroom teachers constitute the majority of committee members, and the remainder are typically researchers, higher education representatives, and child development experts (NBPTS, 2002c). Fourteen members served on the first Early Childhood committee, and 17 members served on the second. Each committee mainly included female public school practitioners. I selected nine participants in a purposive manner (Mills & Huberman, 1994) to obtain a diverse sample in terms of gender, ethnicity, geography, K-12 employment, and higher education employment. These 9 participants served as a representative sample of both committees; therefore, all committee members were not included.
I conducted a series of three telephone interviews with two members from the first committee, three members from the second committee, and four members who served on both committees. Of these nine committee members, two were white males, five were white females, one was an African American female, and one was a Mexican American female. One member lives in the Northeast, one in the Midwest, one in the Northwest, three in the Southwest, and three in the Southeast United States. Five members work with children in suburban areas, two members represent urban settings, and two members represent a rural perspective. Four members are public school practitioners, one is a public school administrator, two are teacher educators, one works at a state department of education, and one was a research scientist at the time of committee service.
I collected primary data, following a model that focuses on “in- depth, phenomenologically based interviewing” (Seidman, 1998, p. 9). Each participant underwent three tape-recorded telephone interviews that ran from 30 minutes to one hour. I collected primary data over a 9-week period. Each interview was transcribed and sent to the participant prior to the next interview cycle. Participants reviewed transcripts for accuracy, providing either confirmation or revisions.
The first interview focused on each participant’s life history. Guiding interview questions were:
1. Where were you raised? Tell me about your family and childhood experiences.
2. What were your experiences as a K-12 student?
3. What is your post-secondary educational background and employment experience in the education field?
4. How did you come to the teaching profession?
During the second interview, each participant was asked to recall the details of his/ her experience as a member of the standards development committee. Guiding interview questions were:
1. How and why were you selected to serve on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Early Childhood/Generalist Standards Committee? Why did you agree to serve on this committee?
2. What were your experiences as you collaborated with fellow committee members to develop and write this standards document?
3. What processes were used to reach group consensus?
4. What guided your decision-making as you and fellow committee members identified best teaching practices of accomplished early childhood teachers?
5. How did your knowledge of the following items guide your decision-making:
a. child development theories
b. educational research findings
c. personal classroom experiences
d. professional literature describing best practice techniques?
The third interview consisted of each participant’s reflection on the meaning of the standards development experience. Guiding interview questions were:
1. Upon reflection of your experiences as a committee member, what were the strengths/successes of this process and the ensuing document?
2. What, if anything, would you individually, or as a committee, do differently?
3. If you were a member of the first edition committee, was the second edition your original intent? Why or why not?
4. What impact did this experience and process have on your teaching practice and/or your philosophical beliefs about early childhood education?
Secondary data sources are minutes of standards committee meetings, meeting agendas, rough drafts of standards documents in progress, and public review feedback. These data were collected from Teresa (a pseudonym), who served on the second edition committee as well as from Kate Woodward, Director for Certification Standards, at the NBPTS. (Pseudonyms are used for the nine participants interviewed for this study.)
I collected and analyzed the data simultaneously using the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss, 1987). While I collected data, listened to recorded interviews, and transcribed the interviews, I began looking for recurring issues and patterns that would become categories of focus. Emerging themes were listed, as well as preliminary implications the data seemed to reveal.
I used content analysis to code the interview data and to develop a coding system. Coding categories were developed by noting common words, phrases, and sentences that were repeated by participants during their interviews and by noting the same words, phrases, and sentences in the secondary data.
The major assertions generated from the data analyses were as follows: 1) Despite the diversity and different perspectives of the committee members, discourse led to collaboration, and they easily reached consensus; 2) participants’ decision-making was heavily influenced by the National Association for the Education of Young Children; 3) constructivist and progressive ideology, as well as research studies, played an important part in discussions and decision-making; and 4) experiential teacher knowledge and expertise was highly valued by standards committee members and the National Board. As a qualitative researcher, I sought reliability or consistency by coding and analyzing the data in ways that other researchers could understand, allowing them to arrive at similar and not contradictory conclusions. Lincoln and Guba (1985) and Creswell (1998) describe several procedures qualitative researchers can use to ensure the validity or trustworthiness of research findings. The procedures I used were triangulation by the use of multiple data- collection methods and sources, clarification of researcher bias (since I am a NBCT), and member checking by sharing transcripts and findings with participants.
During data collection and analysis, I stayed continually alert to my own biases and subjectivity. My biases were partially addressed in the prologue, in that I described my support for the National Board certification program. Other biases included my questioning of the lack of references to theorists and research within the body of the standards document and my opposition to this omission. Throughout the research process I asked myself questions, such as, 1) If I were not a National Board-certified teacher, how might I view this program differently? 2) Although I am in favor of citations within the body of standards documents, am I objectively listening to participants’ explanations for why citations were omitted? and 3) Because I adhere to a constructivist and progressive philosophy, am I looking only for data that confirm the influence of these philosophical underpinnings and ignoring possible behaviorist influences?
Collaboration and Consensus
Early childhood/generalist standards development committee members were chosen to reflect gender, ethnic, geographical, and teaching context diversity. Steven, a white professor of early childhood education at a university in the southeastern United States, reported, “The composition of the standards committees was very balanced in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, so there were blacks and Hispanics and Native Americans. And people who worked with low socioeconomic kids.” Nancy, a Hispanic bilingual early childhood teacher in an urban Southwestern district, recalled that the board was concerned with the inclusion of minorities in the committees. They carefully selected members who represented a good balance of teachers and professors and other people from the education arena. What most impressed her, though, was that teachers were very well represented. All participants described varied backgrounds, education experiences, and teaching assignments.
Because of their diverse backgrounds and experiences, committee members approached the standards development tasks with different perspectives on early childhood education. However, all members interviewed saw this as an asset rather than a liability and valued the different expertise among all committee members.
Despite the diversity and multiple perspectives among committee members, participants reported a perception of likemindedness among members and, consequently, reaching group consensus was not difficult. Roberta, a white early childhood teacher in a suburban district, recalled how stimulating it was to meet educators from across the United States who shared similar thoughts about early childhood education; she was surprised how closely their philosophies aligned.
Committee members were able to reach consensus when developing or revising the early childhood documents through discussion and professional respect for each others’ opinions. Members shared a common goal-to develop or revise a document that would benefit early childhood teachers and students-and therefore worked collaboratively and respectfully to accomplish that goal.
The Influence of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Many participants discussed their involvement with NAEYC prior to their service on the NBPTS standards committee. Degrees of involvement ranged from long-term membership to leadership roles within the organization, at both the state and national levels. Secondary archived data revealed two standards committee members, Barbara Bowman and Jerlean E. Daniel, had served as presidents of NAEYC.
According to both primary and secondary data, NAEYC officers attended committee meetings during the drafting of the first edition and the revision of the second edition and collaborated with members to develop and revise the documents. The NAEYC representative for the first edition meetings was Sue Bredekamp, Director of Professional Development and primary author of NAEYC’s highly influential and best-selling publication, Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs (both the 1987 and 1997 editions). Marilou Hyson, Associate Executive Director for Professional Development for NAEYC, attended the second edition committee meetings.
Nancy stated that the NAEYC representatives, although they were not part of the committee, would regularly attend meetings in order to provide guidance and assistance with topics they considered important in early childhood education.
Geri, a white female serving as a suburban elementary school principal in the southwest region of the United States, revealed a recollection of NAEYC’s involvement that differs somewhat from other committee members’. She perceived “that sometimes they kind of wanted to take over the meeting and we pulled it back because we didn’t want it to be an NAEYC document. We just didn’t want anyone to say, ‘Well, that’s an NAEYC paper.’ We didn’t want that. We wanted it to be ours and ours alone.”
The term developmentally appropriate practice was mentioned frequently during interviews and also was contained in secondary data. This term was first coined by NAEYC with the 1987 publication of Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8 (Bredekamp, 1987); thus the term DAP is often synonymous with the philosophy espoused by NAEYC.
During the first standards committee meetings, Roberta stated that committee members looked first at what was happening in exemplary developmentally appropriate classrooms in their initial attempts to articulate standards. Vicky, a white early childhood teacher in a Midwest suburban district, recalled the goal was to “write a document that was developmentally appropriate for kids.”
Darlene, a white college professor at a public university in the Southeastern United States and also a second edition committee participant, recalled members discussed avoiding the term “developmentally appropriate practice.”"We had discussions about ‘developmentally appropriate’ because we knew it would be a sensitive issue among a lot of audiences.” Darlene’s previous statement mirrors others’ concerns about the misrepresentations and misconceptions of the DAP term (Bredekamp, 1991; Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1995; Kostelnik, 1992).
When articulating standards for what accomplished early childhood teachers should know and be able to do, and to help guide their decision-making, first edition standards committee members referred to the 1987 DAP document, and second edition standards committee members referred to the 1997 DAP document. Each time, the documents served as one of many resources, rather than as a blueprint for strict replication.
Teresa, an African American Head Start administrator in the Southeast, supplied secondary data. An analysis of this data revealed that in August 2000, members of the second committee included a direct citation of Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs, Revised Edition (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997), in a revised third draft of the document. Within the text of Standard I: Understanding Young Children, the statement “Accomplished early childhood teachers keep up to date in their knowledge of early childhood development, including advancements in cognitive science and other current research” contained a footnote with a reference to the DAP document. The next draft of the second edition was submitted to the Board of Directors for Public Comment Release in September 2000; although the previously quoted statement remained intact, the footnote and citation of the DAP document had been removed. None of the participants could recall any discussion as to why this citation had been removed.
Although neither NAEYC, its officers, nor its documents appeared to single-handedly steer the course for the drafting and revising the early childhood/generalist documents, this organization and its position statements clearly played an integral part in the decision- making process for standards development committee members.
The Influence of Theory and Research
Characteristics of constructivist and progressive teaching are interwoven throughout the participants’ recollections of their own elementary school experiences and descriptions of their instructional approaches. For example, Roberta spent 20 years teaching in an open classroom setting. Open education is rooted in Dewey’s progressive movement of the early 190Os and adopts his emphasis on long-term student projects. Great Britain adopted a widespread progressive approach during the Plowden Years, the 1960s and 1970s, in its British Infant Schools. American open education was an outgrowth of both Dewey’s lab schools and Britain’s Infant Schools (Coffin & Wilson, 2001; Katz, 1998).
Steven recalled, “When I went through elementary school, I had good teachers and good experiences and teachers who today we would describe as [being adherents of] John Dewey, progressive teachers, with a lot of constructivist teaching and learning that went on.” He described his first teaching assignment in a kindergarten class as “a very constructivist classroom.” Early in her teaching career, Darlene had the opportunity to work with the open classroom concept and the British Infant school philosophy. Vicky, a white female early childhood teacher in a suburban Midwestern district, has been responsible for a program based on the British Primary School Concept, which was described earlier as having its roots in Dewey’s progressive education movement. Vicky described visits to New Zealand and observations of the country’s education system as a major influence in her teaching career. New Zealand researchers and educators have influenced practitioners throughout the world, primarily through clay’s work with beginning reading (clay, 1991) and Reading Recovery programs (clay, 1993). The work of New Zealand’s Cambourne (1984, 1988) is strongly associated with a psycholinguistic approach and wholelanguage theory (Wilkinson, Freebody, & Elkins, 2000).
Committee members recalled discussions of specific constructivist and progressive theories and theorists that contributed to the development and revision of the documents. Two members recalled that the committees discussed Piaget more than other theorists. Steven also believed the standards “are grounded in current theories, including constructivism, as represented by Vygotsky and Piaget and others, such as Gardner.” Vicky stated Piaget and Erikson were discussed, and, “there were a lot of discussions of a lot of theories because we were familiar with them, and a lot of us based our teaching on either their theory or a combination of theories.”
Teresa’s notes taken during second edition committee meetings are headed “Topics for Discussion” and include direct references to theorists (e.g., Piaget’s Stages of Development and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development). This list of discussion topics also contains terminology associated with constructivist and progressive thought (e.g., inquiry, themes, projects, integrated curriculum, multiple intelligences, the whole child, making connections, prior knowledge, social interaction, and inquiry processing).
Although committee members discussed constructivist theories and secondary data reveal numerous references to the works of Piaget, Vygotsky, and Gardner, neither document contains any citations or references to these theories or theorists. Committee members stated they received instructions from the National Board to purposely omit references to theories, as well as deciding among themselves to avoid direct citations. Nancy, who served on both committees, recalled the rationale for omitting references was that theories are always changing.
As with theories and theorists, participants discussed and read educational research findings but did not include citations in the standards documents. Roberta and Steven both recalled discussing research and that the National Board staff, as well as committee members, would frequently bring different articles for distribution and discussion.
Nancy recollected reading, reviewing, and discussing the research of Chomsky and Vygotsky and said that most of the research was brought by committee members. The explanation she remembered receiving from the National Board staff for omitting citations was to proactively avoid dissension in the education field and to make the document and the certification process as inclusive as possible. Geri believed the omissions were mandated, stating, “Research changes all the time and I think that was one of the things that they had mentioned. This document was written for a long period of time, so we didn’t want to tie it down with certain research.”
Vicky also stated that members were instructed to omit specific references to researchers: “I vaguely remember a conversation about the fact that research can be slanted in all different ways, depending on if you have two groups. They felt if we cited one, then we would have to cite other references, and so it was just best that it came from our expertise, but our expertise was based on some research, too.”
Frank, a white male college professor in the Southeast, surmised, “I suspect the lack of references to research was in part to make it more palatable and acceptable to people so that if some group’s research wasn’t mentioned, it wouldn’t get lambasted in Education Week. It was a political process too, and I think there was a general belief that this was a novel and different way to bring recognition and some stamp of approval, different from state licensure, and I think people thought that was a good idea.”
Another second edition committee member, Darlene, a white female college professor in the Southeast, stated that the research of Clements, Sarama, Greenes, and Ginbsurg guided her decision-making, but only in conjunction with experiential knowledge and judgment. A review of these researchers’ works reveals a Piagetian and Vygotskian orientation toward mathematics instruction for young children (Clements & Nastasi, 1999; Clements, Swaminathan, Hannibal, & Sarama, 1999; Ginsburg, 1997; Greenes, 1997). As with theories and theorists, much discussion of research occurred in committee meetings, yet committee members were asked to refrain from quoting specific studies and researchers.
An analysis of the secondary data revealed no written statements or mandates from the National Board to refrain from including references and citations of theorists or research, although the numerous statements from the majority of the committee members interviewed for this study appear to confirm this verbal mandate did indeed occur.
The Wisdom of Practitioners
In addition to discussion of theory and research, interview analysis revealed that committee members drew extensively from their own practitioner experience when developing and revising early childhood standards. Not only did committee members rely on their own experiential knowledge, they also relied on the collected expertise of the committee at large. Steven stated that “a broad array of classroom teachers” was selected to explicitly capitalize on the perspective of practitioners. Geri felt most of their best practice decisions came from “working with children and seeing what’s best for them.”
Darlene stated, “I think that, ultimately, a good deal of the decision-making was based upon experiential knowledge, and I think that was legitimate because the people that were at the table had been chosen very carefully and had demonstrated some higher levels of understanding as well as application in their practice.”
Practitioner members perceived the board staff members treated the classroom teachers as professionals, honored their training and experience, and listened to their ideas of what accomplished teaching should be. The National Board demonstrated respect for teachers by allowing them to develop the standards independently. Betty, a white kindergarten teacher in the southeastern United States, reflected, “The committee members made all the decisions regarding the document. They (the board) didn’t put their hand on it in any way, shape, or form, in terms of’You have to include this.’ ” Nancy perceived that the committee members were always the decision- makers when articulating the standards, and Darlene concurred, saying, “I felt like the ownership of the document belonged to the committee, that it was not something that was mandated.” Although these statements directly contradict the assertion in the previous section where committee members were told by NBPTS staff to avoid specific references to theorists and researchers, no committee members apparently expressed a lack of ownership in the development process.
Conclusions and Implications
The findings of this study challenge the current criticism that the standards and assessments are culturally biased and cater only to white, suburban classroom contexts (Delpit, 1999; Irvine, 1998; Viadero, 2002). The early childhood standards committees included African American, Mexican American, Native American, and white educators, as well as members from all geographical regions of the United States, representing suburban, urban, and rural teaching contexts. Several committee members were members of a low-income class during childhood and thus could relate to the minority children they taught.
Teresa addressed the subject of these specific criticisms. “With these standards, we had a public comment period and they (the critics) didn’t say anything,” she said. “Then when it was finally released, somebody’s not going to be satisfied. I think the standards touch all children. This is not geared just to white kids or urban kids.”
The data in this study support the suggestion that the standards are firmly grounded in a theoretical and research-based foundation, even though citations were not allowed. These standards adhere to a constructivist and progressive philosophy and appear to be influenced by the personal experiences of participants, the matriculation they received in teacher education programs and clinical experiences, and the curricular and instructional choices they make in their classrooms that have resulted in improved student learning. Critics have denigrated the constructivist underpinnings of NBPTS standards documents and argued that only traditional, teacher-directed instructional practices should be articulated (Finn & Wilcox, 1999; Stone et al., 2001; Wilcox, 1999). This criticism can be challenged. The research literature abounds with studies that support constructivist learning and teaching both in language arts (Barone, 2003; Clarke, 1988; ElIy, 1991; Freppon, 1991; Kasten & Clarke, 1989; Manning, Manning, & Long, 1989; Ribowsky, 1985; Stice & Bertrand, 1990; Taylor, Pearson, Clark, & Walpole, 2000; Wharton- McDonald, Pressley, & Hampston, 1998) and also mathematics (Baroody, 1987; Campbell, 1996; DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987; Ginsburg, 1977; Hickey, Moore, & Pellegrino, 2001; Kamii, 1985, 1994; Labinowicz, 1985; Schifter & Fosnot, 1993). Much of this research, however, has been ignored by the No Child Left Behind Act, because it does not meet the current gold standard of experimental or quasi- experimental methodology.
There is ample evidence in this study to support the suggestion that NAEYC and its understandings of developmentally appropriate practice provided a strong constructivist and progressive foundation for the early childhood/generalist standards document. Since the developmentally appropriate practice documents are so widely respected among early childhood educators, it is only logical that these documents and this professional organization should have been so influential.
In response to criticism that the theoretical underpinnings of National Board standards are unfounded, the positive impact of developmentally appropriate practices can be supported through research. Dunn and Kontos (1997) reviewed research on DAP and concluded that children in DAP settings demonstrate higher levels of cognitive functioning, increased motivation, and less stress. Charlesworth (1998) also reviewed DAP studies and concluded that DAP classrooms are effective for all children in a diverse society. Long- term follow-up studies of DAP programs indicated the importance of high-quality early childhood contexts (Campbell, Pungello, Miller- Johnson, Burchinal, & Ramey, 2001; Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2000).
An important implication of this study is the National Board has established an efficient and effective process for developing and revising standards documents. This process is worthy of continuation as additional certifications are developed. Another component of the standards development process worthy of replication is the formation of committees that reflect diversity among its members and their teaching contexts. The National Board honors differing perspectives of a wide range of educators, thus lending credibility to and acceptance of the documents they produce.
Another implication is NBPTS could consider a formal partnership with NAEYC and issue the next revised early childhood/generalist document as a joint NBPTS/NAEYC position statement. In a NAEYC publication, the organization stated, “The Early Childhood Generalist standards relate closely to NAEYC standards for professional preparation, especially at the advanced level-not surprising, as NAEYC leaders have been involved in National Board standards development and assessment” (Gundling & Hyson, 2002, p. 60). Developmentally appropriate practice can be substantiated by research, and the board could lend further credibility to their early childhood documents by clearly acknowledging a close partnership with NAEYC. Also, since the major disciplinespecific professional organizations all develop and publish standards, the board would be well-served to form partnerships with the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Mathematics Teachers, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the National Science Teachers Association, to name a few. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which partners with all the above organizations as well as NAEYC and the Association for Childhood Education International, could serve as a model for a standards development partnership.
These findings support the value of a constructivist and progressive approach to early childhood education and Johnson’s (2001) argument that the board defend the standards’ inquiry-based orientation. Rather than avoid the obvious, the board must support the standards’ constructivist and progressive underpinnings and present evidence of the effectiveness of this instructional approach. Criticism of the standards’ philosophy could escalate unless the board addresses the critics’ arguments directly and begins to build a case in favor of constructivist practices. Considering the No Child Left Behind Act’s emphasis on research- based decision-making, the board would be well-served to assume a proactive stance and substantiate their claims with references to theorists and quantitative, specifically experimental and quasi- experimental studies, as well as qualitative research in future standards documents.
The current political climate and the No Child Left Behind Act’s emphasis on teacher-centered, direct instruction approaches could pose a possible threat to the future of the NBPTS. The National Board may need to build a case for the legitimacy of its standards or possibly risk losing substantial funding from the federal government.
Also the findings from this study support the value of practitioner knowledge and judgment. Just as curriculum is best decided by teachers, the people who are closest to the children (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2000), teachers standards must also be decided by those who work directly with students. Practitioners’judgment and experiential knowledge must be honored when developing standards.
Future research could address the alignment between the standards and how most practitioners teach or are allowed to teach, especially in the current climate of intense standardized testing and educational accountability. How well are the NBPTS early childhood/ generalist standards aligned with actual teaching practices of most early childhood practitioners?
In a similar vein, how well are teacher education programs aligning their graduate program policies and practices with National Board standards and assessments, as dictated by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education? How well do graduate programs instill in their master’s level students an understanding of DAP and constructivism?
Future research, such as those studies currently funded by NBPTS and supervised by the RAND Corporation, must continue to seek a positive relationship between student achievement and National Board Certification. Researchers should explore methods other than teacher- reported perceptions and beliefs to evaluate the effectiveness of National Board Certification (Serafini, 2002). Again, today’s current policymakers could demand empirical evidence that the millions of dollars funneled to the NBPTS are indeed making a difference in the performance level of students in the United States.
Author Note: While pursuing National Board Certification in 1996 and 1997,1 engaged in an intense examination of my philosophical beliefs, instructional choices, and interactions with my students, their parents, and my colleagues. I discovered my basic philosophical beliefs were reflected in the standards document for my respective certification area and I was implementing many of the suggested teaching practices. I also discovered, however, I had improvements to make, not only to satisfy the requirements of achieving board certification, but also for the children who were in my charge. The assessment tasks were rigorous and at times overwhelming, but the National Board experience remains, to this day, the most meaningful professional development engagement of my career. The purpose of this study is to commend and affirm the work of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the standards development process. In addition, I hope to strengthen the National Board Certification program by examining and scrutinizing certain policies and procedures just as intently as when I analyzed my students and myself during the candidacy process. It is only through such questioning and reflection that practitioner knowledge and practice will improve, and that true education reform will occur.
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