Teaching Profession

Bonuses for NBPTS-Certified Teachers at Risk in S.C.

By Vaishali Honawar — January 19, 2007 4 min read

In what would be a first among states, the governor of South Carolina is calling for lawmakers there to ax incentives for teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, arguing there is little evidence that board-certified teachers improve student performance any more than their peers without the credential.

The proposal, in Gov. Mark Sanford’s budget for fiscal 2007-08, bucks a national wave: All 50 states and the District of Columbia have endorsed national board certification, and more than half now offer financial rewards to teachers who get certified by the privately organized NBPTS. To date, 55,000 teachers nationwide have earned the credential.

Read more about South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s budget for fiscal 2007-08, posted by the state’s Office of the Governor.

Supporters of the South Carolina bonus program, started in 1998, say it has increased teacher retention and sent the number of nationally certified educators in the state soaring, from 1,291 in 2001 to 5,077 in 2006. South Carolina last year ranked third nationally, behind North Carolina and Florida, in the number of teachers who have received the credential.

But as that number has risen, so have the costs. The state has so far spent $222 million on the bonuses, and expects to spend another $52 million in the upcoming year.

Mr. Sanford, a Republican, said in his budget proposal released Jan. 3 that he would rather see the money go toward a “more responsive effort,” such as a merit-pay program for teachers who improve student performance.

No state that has adopted bonuses for board-certified teachers has entirely eliminated those rewards. California and Georgia have scaled back incentives offered to all board-certified teachers to reward only those working in high-need schools. Ohio cut back the reward amount for certified teachers from $2,500 to $1,000, starting in 2005.

Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for Mr. Sanford, cited a study commissioned by the NBPTS as he explained why the governor wanted to pull back from the teacher-bonus program.

“It is a question of being cost-effective,” he said. “We are spending millions and millions of dollars on a program” that is not getting the desired results.

The report commissioned by the national board and conducted by William L. Sanders of the SAS Institute in Cary, N.C., found last year that board-certified teachers were, for the most part, no more effective in improving student performance than those who were not similarly qualified. (“Study for NBPTS Raises Questions About Credential,” May 17, 2006.)

Gov. Sanford’s proposal is in line with a trend among state policymakers to embrace merit-pay programs that reward teachers who improve student performance. But proponents of national certification warn against using student scores as the only yardstick for teacher effectiveness.

‘A Good Thing’

Joseph A. Aguerrebere Jr., the president of the Arlington, Va.-based national board, called certification the “largest and most researched and supported performance-based system” available to states. “If this was not a good thing and if teachers did not see a value in it,” he added, “we wouldn’t see the numbers growing.”

Teachers who gain the certification, earned after passing a multistep assessment process, say they see student growth. For instance, said Buffy Murphy, a 5th grade teacher at Irmo Elementary School in Irmo, S.C., who earned her credential three years ago, she asks students to be more reflective about the work they do, and that in turn fosters pride in them.

“They take things more seriously, and talk about what they do well,” she said.

Gov. Sanford could face a tough fight persuading the legislature to agree with him. For the past two years, he has proposed cuts to the bonus program, asking that only teachers working in high-need subjects be rewarded. Lawmakers rejected the proposal both times.

South Carolina teachers who qualify for the 10-year credential receive an additional $7,500 for each year they hold it. The state also waives a $2,500 application-fee loan for successful candidates.

Sen. John E. Courson, a Republican and the chairman of the Senate education committee, said in an interview last week that he is against eliminating the bonuses.

“I feel it has helped our state in retaining teachers and it also more importantly helps students,” he said of the incentive.

“It allows school districts to award teachers for going the extra mile. Why would you take it away?” said Sheila Gallagher, the president of the 13,000-member South Carolina Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

Mr. Sanford’s proposal says that teachers who are already board-certified, and those who receive certification before June of this year, would continue to receive their bonuses for as long as they have the NBPTS credential.

Under the plan, as the program was phased out, the governor would redirect the money to award block grants to school districts that created merit-pay programs similar to those crafted by the Teacher Advancement Program of the Milken Family Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif.

The program, known as TAP, includes multiple career paths for teachers, ongoing school-based professional development, evaluations tied to student performance, and performance-based compensation.

A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2007 edition of Education Week as Bonuses for NBPTS-Certified Teachers at Risk in S.C.

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