The NBPTS was founded in 1987 as a central component in a comprehensive effort to reform the way public education was structured in the United States (Tucker, 1995). A Nation at Risk, a report issued in 1983 by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, had focused public attention on the need for a fundamental restructuring of the education system in this country. The charge to that commission, which was created by Secretary of Education T.H. Bell in 1981, was to examine the quality of education in the United States and make recommendations for its improvement. Citing a variety of indicators of poor student performance, including international comparisons of student achievement, the authors concluded that the United States was at risk of losing its economic edge in the world (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). The report’s grim prediction was accompanied by a forceful call to reform public education, and its recommendations included stronger graduation requirements, higher and measurable standards for students’ academic performance, a longer school day, and steps to improve the preparation of teachers and to make the field of teaching more rewarding and better respected.
As a follow-up to A Nation at Risk, the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy decided in 1985 to form a task force, which included policy makers, educators, leaders of the teachers’ unions, and business leaders, to study the quality of teaching in U.S. schools (see Box 3-1). In 1986, the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession released its report, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century. The report represented a hard-won consensus among this diverse group of leaders, who became convinced that improving the quality of teachers and the status of the field would be essential to the education reforms the nation was demanding (Koppich, Humphrey, and Hough, 2006; Tucker, 1995).
The Carnegie task force argued that to meet the demands of the 21st century, schools had to help students reach levels of achievement previously thought possible only for a select few (Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, 1986). Improving the quality of the nation’s teachers would be the key to achieving this goal, and teachers, in turn, would require more and better preparation than was the norm. They would need a deeper understanding of the subject matter they would be teaching and of how knowledge is developed in the disciplines, improved understanding of how children learn and develop in different contexts, a wider repertoire of instructional strategies for reaching a diverse student population, and more varied skills for assessing students’ understanding of the content and skills they had been taught. A certification program would identify those among the teaching force who had these attributes as accomplished teachers so they could be rewarded and mobilized to improve teaching and learning.