In what organizers hope will be a model for other states, more than 500 highly credentialed teachers from across North Carolina gathered here to give policymakers their ideas on how to get more accomplished teachers like themselves into the schools that need them most.
The Aug. 17 event generated recommendations for bringing more resources to the most troubled schools, giving teachers a greater voice in how their schools are run, and increasing the role nationally certified educators play in training both new classroom teachers and principals.
With such measures in place, the teachers suggested, more skilled and experienced teachers would sign on to work at low-performing schools, and more teachers already in those schools would achieve certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The Arlington, Va.-based NBPTS was started in 1987 as a way to foster and reward high-achieving teachers.
With the importance of skilled teaching widely acknowledged, and growing evidence that nationally certified teachers outstrip their peers in raising student achievement, the stakes for closing what policy experts call the “teacher-quality gap” have risen.
No place is the problem more striking than in North Carolina. As the teachers were often reminded at the daylong meeting, the state boasts the largest number of nationally certified teachers in the country.
And yet even with nearly 8,000 such teachers, this state has done no better than others, and worse than some, in making sure that schools with the greatest needs get their share of such classroom expertise. Half the state’s nationally certified teachers work, for instance, in the 20 percent of public schools with the smallest proportions of disadvantaged students, and only 6 percent of them serve in the highest-poverty schools, where 11 percent of the state’s public school teachers work.
Teachers in North Carolina with national-board certification offer a number of rec-ommendations to entice such educators to low-performing schools.
• Allow nationally certified teachers to serve as full-time mentors or in other school-leadership positions without losing their 12 percent salary incentive.
• Require university programs that train educational administrators to use nationally certified teachers.
• Give nationally certified teachers in high-needs schools the freedom to use research-based practices that go beyond scripted curricula.
• Target funds for reducing class size in high-needs schools.
• Provide two additional teachers per low-performing school to allow time for collabora-tion and planning.
• Explore an array of incentives to attract teachers to high-needs schools, including retirement credit, more money, and college-tuition waivers for their children.
• Provide on-site second-language training for teachers in schools where more than 20 percent of the students do not speak English as their first language.
• Guarantee that every teacher’s staff-development time is allocated as follows: 20 percent related to department or grade-level assignment, 20 percent determined by teachers, 50 percent related to the needs of the school.
• Allocate to every high-needs school 1.3 teacher positions for every new nationally certified teacher hired or “grown” in that school.
SOURCE: North Carolina Policy Summit on Supporting and Staffing High-Needs Schools
A 2003 study found that by supporting the program, North Carolina is shifting significant resources to well-to-do schools. The state pays the $2,300 application fee, then awards a 12 percent pay increase each year for the 10-year life of the voluntary national certification.
Doing ‘Tough Things’
Those who convened the conference were not shy about appealing to the teachers to consider a change of assignment or to find other ways to put their skills to work for the neediest schools.
“We need to figure ways more of our [NBPTS teachers] can and want to teach in those schools,” said former Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, a one-time chairman of the national board. The eponymous Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was one of the event’s sponsors.
“You may say it’s tough,” he added, “but other people have done tough things.”
Mr. Hunt told the teachers that the imbalance in the placement of accomplished teachers has led states to think about “drastic measures.” As an example, he cited a new Georgia law that requires such teachers, for the first time, to work in low-performing schools to receive a bonus.
Skilled Principals Needed
But Mr. Hunt acknowledged, too, that having nationally certified teachers on staff was unlikely to make much of a difference unless the school was headed by a “super principal.”
The theme that even accomplished teachers can’t work to their potential without a skilled principal in their corner surfaced throughout the event.
“We cannot do what you have asked us to do, because of leadership in some of these schools,” declared Annette Beatty, a nationally certified elementary teacher in Winston-Salem, N.C., triggering a round of standing applause. Ms. Beatty went on to suggest that state universities underwrite tuition for nationally certified teachers to earn administrator credentials, so they can lead schools in a way that realizes the talents of accomplished teachers.
Other recommendations, produced by the 10 discussion groups that met during the day, will form the core of a report to be circulated to policymakers throughout the state, said Melinda Anderson, a spokeswoman for the teacher-quality program of the National Education Association, another sponsor of the event.
The 2.7 million-member teachers’ union expects to sponsor two or three more such gatherings in the coming school year, she said.
John Wilson, the executive director of the NEA, said the union has a strong interest in encouraging states to make policy around teacher quality, which could then help leverage what the union sees as needed changes in the No Child Left Behind Act. The federal law will be up for reauthorization in 2007.