States Anteing Up Supplements To Teachers Certified by Board
Karen Huff has agreed to put her teaching skills under the microscope this school year.
Before it's over, the teacher at Virginia Shuman Young Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will have put in long hours keeping journals of her instructional practice, submitted to being videotaped while leading her class, and prepared for a comprehensive, daylong exam covering both pedagogy and subject-matter content.
If successful, she'll join the elite corps of her profession as an educator certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. And, thanks to legislation Florida passed last spring, she'll also enjoy a yearly bonus from the state, currently worth up to $6,800.
"Initially, I was interested just because I thought it'd be a good learning experience for me, but the money also makes it worth it," said the 28-year-old educator. "It's definitely going to bring in better teachers and keep them in the classroom."
As education policymakers increasingly turn their attention to the linchpin issue of teacher quality, such incentives have given the national board a big boost. The private, nonprofit board designed to recognize outstanding teachers announced late last week that the number of nationally certified teachers has more than doubled since last year, from 912 to 1,836. And with at least 13 states now offering salary supplements to educators who win such certification, many observers are predicting that rate of growth will continue.
Alabama: $1,500 a year for 10-year life of certificate.
California: $10,000 one-time bonus.
Delaware: $1,500 a year for 10-year life of certificate.
Florida: pay increase equal to 10 percent of average teacher's salary in the state for life of the certificate.
Georgia: 5 percent pay increase.
Iowa: $10,000 a year for five years.
Kentucky: Approximately $2,000 in one-time bonus.
Mississippi: $6,000 a year for life of certificate.
North Carolina: 12 percent annual bonus for life of certificate.
Ohio: $2,500 annual bonus for life of certificate.
Oklahoma: $5,000 annual bonus for life of certificate.
South Carolina: $2,000 one-time bonus.
Wisconsin: $2,500 one-time bonus.
SOURCE: National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, state education departments.
In Florida alone, the Southfield, Mich.-based board reports, some 475 teachers had officially begun the certification process by last week--up from just four teachers at this time last fall. And the deadline for candidates isn't until the end of December.
"There has been a very encouraging and obvious quickening of the pace," said James A. Kelly, the board's president.
A task force of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy first proposed that teachers, like doctors, should have their own voluntary process of national certification in its influential 1986 report, "A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century." Founded a year later, the NBPTS endorsed its first 81 teachers in 1994. Since then, individual states have gradually upped the ante in their quests to secure more certified educators.
Initially, the incentives included paying all or part of the $2,000 certification fee and offering to accept the board's endorsement in place of state licensing requirements. Yet, even without the promise of extra pay, hundreds of educators sought board certification as a way to gain professional recognition and to improve their teaching skills.
"There's no way you can go through this process without experiencing some growth," said Rona Wolfson, a Broward County, Fla., teacher who became one of the first in the country to earn board certification.
But to encourage even more teachers to undergo the intensive, year long certification process--which typically requires candidates to put in more than 200 hours of work--more states are turning toward salary supplements. ("Pioneers in Professionalism," April 20, 1994.)
"It will bring back some esteem to the profession, and I think it will encourage those who've thought about teaching but have passed on it because the compensation is so low," said state Sen. Jim Horne, the Republican who led the push for the new incentives in Florida. The state allocated $12 million this year for its initiative.
While paying 90 percent of the certification fee for any teacher who completes the process, the Florida measure also awards a bonus currently worth about $3,400 to any educator who wins certification. The certified teachers will receive another $3,400 on top of that if they agree to spend at least 90 hours a year mentoring other teachers going through the certification process. The bonuses last for the entire 10-year life of the certificate.
"It's a wonderful piece of legislation," said Ms. Wolfson, adding that more than 90 teachers are now seeking certification in Broward County, which has its own $2,000-a-year bonus for certified teachers. "The interest has been amazing."
Interest has similarly skyrocketed in Mississippi, where the state last year doubled its annual pay supplement from $3,000 to $6,000. About 45 teachers had applied for NBPTS certification by last November; that number has grown to 425 so far this year, according to the national board.
"Mississippi has a crisis right now--a statewide teacher shortage," said Peggy A. Swoger, who directs a support program for certification candidates at Mississippi State University in Starkville. "So this is intended to keep veteran teachers in the classroom and in the state."
Supporters attribute the board's success to the attractive mix of independence and rigor it offers.
With fewer than half of all candidates achieving certification on their first try, many state policymakers see the board holding teachers to a high standard. But because those standards are written by educators themselves, teachers tend to trust them more than evaluations based on their students' test scores or on reviews by school administrators.
"We've been looking for a way to remove all the politics, and this is about as objective as you can get," Mr. Horne, the Florida lawmaker, said. "It was a way to reward quality teachers with a system that they can buy into."
As a tool for raising the quality of instruction, the appeal of board certification also often defies political partisanship.
When California lawmakers this year approved a one-time, $10,000 bonus for teachers who become nationally certified, the plan enjoyed the support of both Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and the California Teachers Association, a National Education Association affiliate. Disagreement between the union and governor is more often the norm.
"National-board certification has pretty much established itself as a way to identify teachers who can demonstrate accomplished practice," said Susan Carmon, a senior policy analyst for the NEA. "So the appeal is very wide-ranging."
At its annual meeting this past summer, the NEA pledged to help 100,000 more teachers seek certification in the next five years, a goal President Clinton endorsed in his 1997 State of the Union Address.
Although the NEA once viewed new proposals to differentiate teacher pay with caution, the union and its affiliates have joined the American Federation of Teachers in lobbying states and districts to adopt salary supplements for board-certified teachers. The national board also figured prominently at the first joint NEA-AFT conference on teacher quality, held this fall, and the two unions are together educating their members about the certification process.
The board itself urged more teachers to try to become certified last year when it agreed to let candidates "bank" their scores, giving them up to three years to retake sections they failed.
'Support Is Key'
But the mounting interest brings with it new challenges for the teaching-standards board, which now has a staff of about 50 and a budget of about $26 million. Although that budget will increase to an estimated $36 million next year, based on the projected growth in the number of candidates, Mr. Kelly said it will be two or three more years before the board is collecting enough in certification fees to cover its operating expenses.
Then there's the expense of drafting new standards and designing new assessments, which have cost as much as $2 million per certification area.
The board's progress in creating new areas of certification appeared in doubt last spring after the House education committee, led by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., approved a plan that would have wiped out $16 million in federal support for its research-and-development efforts.
But the funds were spared, ensuring that next year the board can offer certification in 17 specialty areas, enough to cover four-fifths of all teachers in the United States, Mr. Kelly said. The board expects to start offering certification next fall in special education, vocational education, and English as a second language.
More candidates also will mean a need for more people to evaluate them. Each teacher's performance is reviewed by 16 different assessors, all of whom must work in the candidate's certification area and must receive board training.
"We spend as much time recruiting assessors as we do candidates," said Barbara Kelley, an elementary school physical education teacher in Bangor, Maine, who chairs the board.
Along with the financial incentives states and districts offer, she said, they also must expand their support and mentoring programs for candidates. But one of the biggest adjustments the board will have to make is cultural, Ms. Kelley added.
"When we first started, we virtually knew every candidate by name," she said. "They could call us and we'd know them. But as we move into a year when we anticipate more than 5,000 candidates, that's just something that will be very different for those of us who've been there from the start."