A private board of classroom teachers is launching a system of voluntary national certification for vocational education teachers, whose qualifications have increasingly been questioned by school administrators and parents.
The independent National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, now in its fifth year of offering certification for teachers in academic subjects, will add vocational education from the autumn.
Many states have encouraged teachers to get the certificate by offering higher salaries to those who acquire it. Of the 50 states 13 now pay such bonuses, while 32 subsidise the $2,000 application fee (pound;1,245). In North Carolina, teachers with the national board certification receive a 12 per cent salary bonus.
A teacher shortage at a time of spiralling enrolments has sparked fears that unqualified candidates are being hired to fill vocational education jobs, often considered the lowest positions on a faculty. There is particular concern that even applicants with skills in vocational areas have little or no education training, a contention that professional associations angrily dispute.
"The people on the standards committee are very aware of that misconception, and hope this will help to dispel it," said Chuck Cascio, vice-president of the teaching standards board and himself a former longtime classroom teacher. "It's a way of verifying their performance at the highest level as identified by the best practitioners in their field."
To get the certificate, vocational teachers will be required to pass an essay test about their field and submit a six-part portfolio, including videotapes of themselves teaching, documentation of their accomplishments in the community, and evidence of involvement in professional development.
The process will take about one school year. Only teachers with at least a bachelor's degree and three years' experience will be considered. So far, about 500 vocational education teachers have applied to begin taking pilot certification tests. Those who fail will have three years to try again.