Sunday, November 11, 2012

How Well Do We Value National Board Certified Teachers?

Recently-named Tennessee Teacher of the Year Allyson Chick is a National Board Certified Teacher ("NBCT").  School districts often mention how many NBCTs they have as a point of pride.  In order to become board-certified, candidates engage in an intensive, expensive process that may take as long as three years to complete. 

posted about Ms. Chick first so that I wouldn't clutter her "Kudos" with this discussion.  And really, the title is misleading - there's a local debate on this subject (referenced in the title) and a national debate on this subject.  The national debate would be better described as "Should We Value National Board Certified Teachers?"

As part of the TPC work, BCG compiled the "current state" of teacher selection, staffing, compensation, benefits, evaluation, tenure, dismissal, and promotion.  On Page 41 of this 84-page report, BCG summarizes how MCS and SCS compensate teachers for achieving the NBCT designation, along with several other non-classroom activities.  Turns out that there's a big difference between how the two districts compensate their NBCT's.

SCS has about 10 NBCT's, and pays them an additional $2,000/year.

MCS has about 170 NBCT's, and pays them based on their years of experience.  Teachers with five years or less are paid an additional $5,000/year.  Teachers with 6-10 years of experience receive an additional $6,000/year.  Teachers with more than ten years of experience are paid an additional $10,000/year.

So that's one way to figure out how well we value NBCT's - you know, with actual money. 

Since it costs $2,500 for the "Assessment Fee" after the $565 for an "Initial" fee and an "Application" fee, an SCS teacher would have to work for two years before they see that money reimbursed in their additional pay.  MCS teachers see more than a return on their investment in the first year that they are certified.  And, of course, there's a disparity between MCS and SCS - a disparity that means that a MCS NBCT with 4 years of experience gets more than double the increase as an SCS NBCT with ten years of experience.

Another way to figure out how well we value NBCT's is to compare the additional compensation that NBCT's receive with the additional compensation that teachers receive for other activities.  Like, say, coaching.

If you are an athletic coach in MCS, you receive between $179 and $3,563 per year.  However, if you are an SCS athletic coach, you receive between $470 and $4,100 per year.  Both districts base their ranges on the sport and the teacher's years of experience.

In summary, an SCS athletic coach for the highest paid sport with the most years of experience will make more than twice in additional compensation as a NBCT than an SCS NBCT with 11 years of experience.  In MCS, all NBCT's make more in additional compensation than any coach.

Consider that the "how well we value NBCT's" discussion is against the backdrop of increasing student achievement, and basing teacher evaluation on student achievement scores.  Ms. Chick is an NBCT and has received the highest teacher rating (a "5") in her evaluations.  Without getting into a whole thing about the evaluation system, in order to get a "5", Ms. Chick's students are making more than one year's progress in an academic year (well, at least as predicted by a proprietary, secret logarithm based on student performance on a standardized test).  We, as a community, are trying to make sure that every classroom in MCS and SCS has a highly effective teachers.  Based on the selectivity of the process and the rigorous assessments that must be passed by the candidates, my guess would be that NBCT's are among the most highly effective teachers in classrooms.

Which brings us to the second, national debate.  The national debate has to do with whether achieving NBCT status is so desirable that it should merit additional compensation - against the background of proposed new compensation structures based on student achievement.  That is, whether NBCT's increase student achievement, and at a higher rate than non-NBC teachers.  This article from March 2011 touches on the debate - mentioning a 2008 study that found that the certification process successfully identifies good teachers, while noting mixed evidence that the process itself actually improves a teacher's practice.  The article discusses a debate in Washington state about NBCT's, but comes out squarely on the side of the certification being a desired credential worth additional compensation.  The debate was about how to make sure that "challenging" schools had equitable numbers of NBCT's.

If you extrapolate out the proposed new compensation structures (and I'm really talking about the national movement on that front, though the TPC does have some local thoughts about teacher compensation, generally) - the idea would be that NBCT's would not receive additional compensation from completing the certification.  Instead, where NBCT's actually increase student achievement, they would be receiving increased compensation anyway.  But the NBCT status would not lead to a bump on its own.

This 2011 John's Hopkins study found that "[a]lthough the process of NBC is an expensive, demanding, and time-consuming process for the teachers who undertake it, it appears that the benefits for our school systems, and thus for our students and communities, outweigh the costs. Given that our results suggest that the percentage of NBCTs has a campus-wide effect on student achievement, future studies should investigate this pattern further."  Here's a summary of the opposing position - in an article cheekily titled "Defrocking the National Board" from 2000.

Here's where I come out:  I think the national board certification process is a useful exercise.  In fact, calling it a "useful exercise" is kind of disrespectful to my friends that just about killed themselves for more than one academic year in order to obtain the certification.  My friends are obviously biased, but I think the process has made them better professionals.  They can talk and critically think about their practice in the classroom in a more analytical way that can only benefit the students they teach.  In terms of student achievement, I don't believe that standardized tests measure much of anything other than how well a student knows (or can guess) (or can regurgitate while not "knowing") a particlar concept - not how well that concept was taught by the student's teacher, or even whether it was taught.  So I'm not convinced that the student achievement measures - and particularly, the value-added measures that are currently so in vogue - are really a fair measure of teacher achievement (at teaching) in the classroom.  All of that said, my belief is that going through the NBC process and successfully achieving certification is an appropriate and desirable result on its own, and worthy of additional compensation on a yearly, go-forward basis.

My sense is that SCS is too low, but that MCS may actually be too high on a sustainable, ongoing basis (though I'm happy to entertain the position that even MCS is not paying enough, if anyone would like to make the argument).  The district could consider just reimbursing (or paying outright) for the process, with lower additional compensation/year.  But because of the importance of a teacher's practice in the classroom, the academic education of students being the primary goal of the compulsory attendance rules for elementary and secondary school - under no circumstances should an athletic coach receive more additional compensation than a teacher with a National Board Certification.

So maybe the merged district would start with how much it values its most experienced football and basketball coaches at its schools with the most prominent programs.  Put a dollar value on that for additional compensation per year.  That should be your starting point for your least experienced National Board Certified Teachers.  You know, if better classroom practice and more highly qualified professionals are your goal.

For any NBCT/athletic coaches, THAT could be some serious coin . . .

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