Supporting Teacher Certification

Professor Travis J. Bristol elected Board Chair of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

Efforts to increase the number of accomplished teachers across our country and particularly those working at under-resourced schools just got a boost with the election of the GSE’s Assistant Professor Travis J. Bristol as Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

Bristol, an expert in education policy, and in implementing systemic practices for attracting and retaining K-12 teachers of color, will lead the 29-member NBPTS Board beginning Nov. 1.

“The task is daunting, but I'm excited because it’s a new leadership opportunity and a new platform to continue the work I care deeply about,” said Bristol, who co-published an article in the Harvard Education Review with GSE doctoral student Joy Esboldt examining how schools and districts could better support teachers seeking their National Board certification.

Currently about 3% of teachers nationwide have National Board certification. Additionally, research shows that students taught by National Board Certified Teachers have greater academic success than those who don’t; and National Board Certified Teachers are concentrated in suburban and wealthier school districts.

“If we want to continue to make national board certification relevant, and if we want to increase access for more teachers to become nationally board certified, we have to understand the conditions in which they are pursuing that certification. Because the best laid plans to get people to become certified can go awry if the curriculum that they are required to teach is in direct contradiction to what the NBPTS expects,” Bristol said.

He becomes the sixth Board Chair for NBPTS, which was established in 1987 as an independent, nonprofit offering an advanced certification for teachers, similar to a medical board certification for physicians. K-12 public school teachers across the country must be licensed in their state, and National Board certification is voluntary.

Current NBPTS board members include teachers such as Juliana Urtubey, the 2021 National Teacher of the Year; presidents of the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers; faculty in higher education; and people with an interest in education such as former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who was the first Black woman to travel in space.

“Dr. Bristol brings an approach that will prove to be both timely and timeless. I know he will help steer us into the future with an important perspective that is critical for today’s education landscape,” Peggy Brookins, a National Board Certified Teacher and President and CEO of the National Board, said in a statement.

“I’m excited to partner with Dr. Bristol. He brings a broad range of experiences and also deep expertise to this work. I think back to when I first met him and knew that we’d find ways to work together. I’m sure that along with our staff, we’re going to have a profound impact on the teaching profession,” she said.

Bristol’s 3-year term signals an evolution of sorts for the NBPTS, as he is many “firsts” for the organization’s Board Chair: former K-12 teacher; teacher educator; higher education professor; youngest; and African-American.

“All of those firsts really make my selection important because of the direction the organization wants to go in,” he said, adding that his research shows teachers who want to pursue National Board certification face obstacles such as little or no district support; and competing or contradicting education standards between the district-level curriculum and what the NBPTS requires.

“It's not enough just to tell teachers to become National Board certified, particularly teachers in rural and urban settings where they’re needed the most because of what the research says about the impact of a National Board Certified Teacher on historically resilient youth,” he said.

“We have to be intentional around having conversations with state and district partners and school leaders to create the conditions to get more of our country’s teachers access to this opportunity.”

For its part, the NBPTS is also examining its rate of certification and how it can build into the process a greater understanding and consideration of the context in which teachers are teaching.

The state of California is taking steps in that direction by offering monetary incentives. The state’s most recent budget has earmarked $250 million toward supporting National Board certification for teachers who work in schools where 55% or more students are classified as an English language learner, foster youth, or eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Bristol’s 3-year term as NBPTS Board Chair also affords him some insights into how to improve teacher preparation programs.

“NBPTS is the gold standard of certification,” he said. “For those of us who study teaching and teacher education, we can bring closer alignment, and embed some of those elements into our program; and, importantly, reflect on what it means to be an accomplished teacher.”


PhD, Teachers College, Columbia University
MA, Stanford University
AB, Amherst College

Recent Publications

Bristol, T. J. & Esboldt, J.  (2020). Curricular contradictions: Negotiating between pursuing national board certification and an urban district’s direct instruction mandate. Harvard Educational Review. 90 (3), 474 - 496.

Bristol, T. J. (2020). A tale of two types of schools: An exploration of how school working conditions influence Black male teacher turnover. Teachers College Record.122 (3),1-41.

Bristol, T. J. (2020). Black men teaching: Toward a theory of social isolation in organizations. Race Ethnicity and Education. 23(3), 288-306.

Bristol, T. J., Wallace, D. J, *Manchanda, S., & *Rodriguez, A. (2020). Supporting ethnoracially diverse male preservice teachers of color: Evidence from an alternative teacher certification program. Peabody Journal of Education, 95(5), 484-497.