Since the nation plunged into economic turmoil, a handful of states have scaled back pay bonuses and subsidies for teachers who earn certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
But factors other than the economy have also played into the cuts, too. Officials in Georgia, for instance, contend that the state wants to turn its teacher-quality focus toward output-based measures of teacher effectiveness, rather than credentials.
Both phenomena are leading some experts to urge districts, teacher associations, and the NBPTS itself to think strategically about how to structure incentives so that board-certified teachers’ expertise is used effectively in school systems, and thus recognized by a wider cross section of stakeholders.
“We see some national-board-certified teachers leading as a collective and spreading their expertise, but it’s more as a result of accident, as opposed to a policy framework,” said Barnett Berry, the president of the Center for Teaching Quality, a Hillsborough, N.C., research group. “As a result, states have lost a bit of their commitment and passion to this strategy for improving teaching and learning in this country.”
Despite the downturn in state and local support for national-board certification, some districts continue to compensate teachers for seeking, and getting, the credential, especially those that have it in collective bargaining language.
Columbus: $1,500 annually, additional $4,000 for teaching in high-need schools*
Toledo: $2,900 annually, eligibility for 10 percent or more increase in base salary through local alternative-compensation system
Chicago: $1,750 annually
St. Charles: NBCTs with master’s degree advance to Ph.D. level on salary schedule
Park Hill: $6,000 annually
Francis Howell: $5,000 annually
Rockwood: $5,000 annually
Hazelwood: $3,000 annually
Independence: $3,000 annually
Springfield: $3,000 annually
Maplewood-Richmond Heights: NBCTs with master’s degree advance to Ph.D. level on salary schedule
Madison: $1,500 annually
Green Bay: $2,500 annually
Manitowoc: 10 percent addition to base salary annually
Two Rivers: 10 percent increase to base salary annually
*High-need incentive includes but is not limited to board-certified teachers.
Sources: National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; Wisconsin Education Association
Board certification is an extensive, 10-step process that includes the submission of a portfolio and an analysis of a videotaped recording of teaching. It can take up to three years to acquire the certificate and costs $2,500 to apply.
Surveys conducted by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center for Education Week’s 50-state Quality Counts report found that between 2007 and 2009, the number of states that reported offering incentives for teachers to earn national-board certification fell from 38 to 31, a 20 percent decline.
In Georgia and Ohio, where incentives for national-board certification had been supported through a specific line item in the states’ budgets, funding for several initiatives has been combined and sent to districts to determine how it is spent.
Such cutbacks don’t necessarily mean a lack of state commitment to the program. Though Illinois cut bonus funding by half for 2010, the certification is an important part of the state’s bid for part of $4 billion in federal Race to the Top competitive funds. Still, some say that rolling back the incentives could reduce the number of applicants—and breaks faith with teachers, who typically earn the bonuses over the 10-year life of the credential.
“Many of those incentive programs were funded at the state level and were used to get it going, said Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association. “What’s sad is in this budget crisis, those are beginning to go away. I think states are reneging on a contract or a promise made to teachers.”
Finding a Balance
New registrations are down in some states such as Florida, which in 2008 eliminated a stipend to cover the cost of the $2,500 application fee to earn the credential. The situation is still in flux in other bastions of board-certified teachers.
In South Carolina, legislators had resisted efforts by Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, to cut bonuses for board-certified teachers, and had compromised by capping the number of new recipients of the credential at 1,100, said Karen D. Garr, an NBPTS regional outreach director for several Southern states.
But last week, a state legislative subcommittee gave initial approval to a proposal to halt the state’s $7,500 bonus for successful new candidates.
“It’s understandable that states are looking at their budgets and perhaps scaling back on program services in their jurisdictions, and the national board shouldn’t be exempt from those decisions,” said Joseph A. Aguerrebere, the president of the Arlington, Va.-based NBPTS.
“Whatever kind of policies you put in place, on the front end or back end, ... have to be reasonable within the parameters of what districts and states can reasonably afford,” he said. “Trying to get those proportions right is what we’re dealing with right now.”
Not all the news for NBPTS backers is bad. The state with the most board-certified teachers, North Carolina, has so far staved off cuts. Its program grants a 12 percent annual salary increase for teachers who earn the certification, although there are murmurs that officials might try to require teachers to cover more of the credential’s application cost.
And 15 states saw increases of 20 percent or more in the number of teachers to achieve certification in 2009 compared with the previous year, Mr. Aguerrebere said. Overall numbers, he added, remain steady.
The state cutbacks are increasingly highlighting the role of local support in preserving incentives for teachers to earn the credential.
Nancy Schwartz, a regional NBPTS director for states in the Northwest and the Midwest, said there is still robust support for established programs such as those in Columbus and Toledo, Ohio, that have been broadly supported by the community as a whole.
In particular, bonus language in local bargaining contracts has been crucial for sustaining programs when funding has disappeared at the state level, said Keith B. Geiger, an nbpts project director and a former NEA president. He has not heard of a single district with bargained incentives trying to pare back the bonus.
“People just don’t bargain things out of contracts—which is why we ask them to put them into the contract,” he said.
But it is less common for the contract incentives to be tailored to teachers in high-poverty schools. Mr. Geiger added.
That issue, along with a federal teacher-quality dialogue that is increasingly dominated by an emphasis on teacher effectiveness and equitable placement of good teachers in high-need schools, have raised questions about whether the way state and local bonuses are now structured adequately underscore the potential benefits of supporting the board-certification process.
After much debate and several conflicting studies, a 2008 National Research Council report found that teachers who had earned the credential were more effective at raising student scores than those who don’t hold the credential. (“Credential of NBPTS Has Impact,” June 18, 2008.)
But some policymakers continue to argue that the program isn’t focused enough on student-learning outcomes.“It’s difficult to recommend funding a bonus when we’re having trouble affording regular salaries for teachers, so that’s one issue,” said Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue, a Republican. “And then you have the issue of the state moving toward more of a merit-pay, performance-pay-type system, as opposed to a certification-, training-, input-based kind of system.”
Mr. Berry of the Center for Teaching Quality added that board certification is still widely conceived of as something that individual teachers do to improve practice, rather than something that could affect school or district culture more broadly.
Crafting incentives that use board-certified teachers, or BCTs, to improve professional development for less-effective colleagues and foster more wide-reaching change isn’t an easy task, because of the strongly egalitarian norms of the profession and the working conditions necessary to help teachers, said Julia Koppich, a San Francisco-based consultant who has studied board-certified teacher distribution.
Teachers, that research found, want to work with others who share their interest, in schools where they can take on additional roles and responsibilities, and with a principal who is supportive of, not threatened by, those prospects, she said.
“We never had the sense that a single BCT could turn around a school,” Ms. Koppich said. “In the absence of these teachers’ being able to move in teams, there was no incentive for them to move into these highly challenging schools, confronted with cultures that were not welcoming of teachers’ taking on other than traditional roles and responsibilities,” she said.
Mr. Aguerrebere said the national board is committed to thinking through how such incentives might be structured. He highlighted its plans to undertake a new leadership credential and teacher-leadership component, as well as an increasingly popular “Take One!” program that allows teachers—particularly those in schools with little exposure to board certification—to participate in the taped analysis of teaching practices.
“The direction we’re trying to move in is to approach this in a way where districts can understand that there can be schoolwide benefits to certification,” he said, “particularly when you have groups of teachers go through it together.”
Some evidence supports the notion that more-targeted incentives might be more attractive to states, too. The EPE Research Center data, for instance, show the number of states offering incentives for board-certified teachers to take positions in high-need schools increased from 10 to 12 between 2007 and 2009.
On the other hand, Florida has effectively canceled one of the few tailored incentives that now exist. Until 2008, legislation in that state guaranteed teachers a 10 percent raise for holding thecredential, and an additional 10 percent bonus for those who performed 20 days of mentoring for other teachers.
But now, depending on the state appropriation, the mentoring bonus is financed only after the first component has been paid out.
Carolyn Guthrie, the executive director of the professional-development office in the Miami-Dade County district in Florida, said that keeping the quality of mentoring consistent was a challenge, but she hopes that funding for the state mentoring piece will be restored.
“I would love to see something come back,” Ms. Guthrie said. “I always thought that the certification bonuses are wonderful, but the mentoring bonus is where the program had its greatest impact.”
Library Director Kathryn Dorko and Library Intern Jessica Cain contributed research to this report.
Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/Education.
A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Recession Drives States to Rethink Policies on National-Board Teachers