Board certification makes better teachers – isn’t that enough?
PETER CALLAGHAN; STAFF WRITER
The timing couldn’t have been worse for those with slim hope of saving the state’s only means of rewarding its best teachers.
An analysis of bonuses for teachers who have earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards suggests the extra cash might not accomplish all that was envisioned.
The study by the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell was released last week, just as legislative budget writers are saying the bonuses are no longer affordable.
Gov. Chris Gregoire championed them – $5,000 a year to all board-certified teachers and another $5,000 to those who teach in high-poverty schools. She was supported by a 2006 survey of Washington’s board-certified teachers showing 83 percent said they would be “very willing” or “somewhat willing” to make the move.
But in the four school years since the second bonus was offered, “less than 1 percent of NBCT’s have switched each year to challenging schools,” the report stated.
“I didn’t see what I expected,” said lead researcher Jim Simpkins, who admitted being conflicted by numbers that call into question some of the justification for the bonuses.
The results could help budget cutters rationalize cutting them and their $50 million annual price tag.
Proponents argue the intent wasn’t necessarily to get top teachers to change schools but to increase the percentage of board-certified teachers in the struggling schools. That has happened, with 30 percent now getting the second bonus for teaching in schools where the achievement gap begins.
Simpkins attributed the higher percentage to teachers already working in struggling schools when they won certification or because their school was classified as high-poverty after they were certified.
To that, supporters say: So what. The second bonus was aimed at correcting the tendency of certified teachers being in top schools, said Jeanne Harmon, executive director of the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession.
“There are many aspects of schooling that need to change in challenging schools,” Harmon told me via email. “However, the additional stipend DOES help great teachers who might be lured away to ‘easier’ assignments have a motivation to stay in a challenging school and contribute their expertise to the kids who need it most.”
True, Simpkins found. But they are staying at rates similar to rates of all teachers, suggesting the bonus itself isn’t a retention tool.
While some aspects of the bonus program are challenged by the research, the core justification remains: More teachers are pursuing the rigorous, three-year certification. Most who have achieved it (and only about half who try succeed) say it made them better.
“I know I’m a better teacher,” said Katie Taylor, an instructional coach at Clover Park High School. She said the presence of certified teachers in challenging schools like hers encourages others to pursue certification.
“When I started 10 years ago I wasn’t aware of any teachers in the district who were board certified,” she said. Now there are 90 in the district; with nine at her school alone, and 12 more in the process at the high school. Taylor fears the numbers of applicants will decline if the state goes back on its commitment.
Simpkins’ report also challenged the common understanding that the process itself made teachers better. Several studies have shown that students with board-certified teachers improve at a faster rate than students in other classrooms. The effect is even more noticeable among struggling students.
But other analyses say teachers with board certification had better-than-average results before they won certification. In other words, they were good to start with.
Now it is my turn to ask so what. If nothing else, the certification identifies the best teachers, something the state has struggled to do. (And something new evaluation systems are supposed to correct.) The bonuses are all we have to reward teachers for talent and performance, not just longevity and college credits.
And that is at the core of school reform: Identify the best teachers and pay them more; and identify struggling teachers and help them get better or find another job.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics