For the past month, I have been writing about Rewarding Great Teaching. How do we attract, develop, retain and especially reward Great Teachers? (See my series intro here.)
The step and lane pay system rewards masters degrees and experience. But research in the last 15 years has repeatedly shown that neither additional degrees nor more years of experience (beyond the first 5) lead to greater student achievement. So if we want to financially reward Great Teachers , step and lane is not the answer. Perhaps there is a different credential that does reliably signal high quality teaching?
One option embraced by some districts, including all districts in the states of North Carolina, Washington, Florida and Mississippi, is to reward teachers for becoming National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs). The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards awards this certification to teachers who complete additional training and demonstrate proficiency in their chosen subject area, as well as in teaching practices.
To become certified, applicants must take tests, submit lesson plans and other evidence of their teaching methods, and provide two videos of their classroom instruction. Roughly half the applicants receive certification. Achieving certification is a long process, requiring strong commitment from teachers to get through it.
Some states, like North Carolina, believe in the value of NBCTs. North Carolina (which has a state-wide pay system and is non-union) dropped master’s degree pay in lieu of additional pay for National Board Certification.
However the evidence from North Carolina and Florida is mixed on the efficacy of Board Certification. Research indicates:
- National Board Certified Teachers are indeed more effective teachers than non-certified teachers.
- Applicants who succeed in obtaining their board certification are more effective teachers than those who apply but do not pass.
- However, NBCTs were also more effective teachers than other non-certified teachers before they started on the certification process.
- Applicants who did not pass board certification were worse teachers than those who did pass before the certification process was started.
- Applicants who pass and are certified do not become materially better teachers after certification.
- So the certification process itself does not lead to improved practice.
Certification is a large investment of time and energy from teachers, and costs approximately $2,300 for the examination. The benefits to student achievement, if any, are small. However, as a credential it appears to be an effective signal of good teaching (even if the good teaching was present prior to receiving board certification). That might make it a useful screening tool for new teachers who apply to the District.
However, certification does not seem like a very useful way to raise the effectiveness of current teachers. Of the two large scale studies that compared teacher performance before and after certification, one found no change in teacher performance, and one found a very small impact, but only in certain grades and subjects. So there might be some benefit of encouraging teachers to undergo certification, but that benefit seems quite small.
Private schools have not embraced national board certification. This should also give us some pause in embracing national certification. If the certification process truly creates better quality teachers, then one would expect to see it make its way into all corners of the profession. The fact that it has only made it into public schools, and almost exclusively into districts where teachers are financially rewarded for obtaining the credential, is a sign that it may not be a useful tool in the quest for creating excellent teaching.
As North Carolina, Florida, and other states push national board certification, it will be interesting to see whether the credential retains its value as a ‘signal’. It is possible that national certification, rather than measuring teacher skill, is instead measuring something else that correlates with teacher skill, like motivation and organizational skills. The certification process requires some doggedness and persistence on the behalf of applicants, who must jump through each of the certification hoops. Maybe those who pass the exam are not better teachers per se, but just highly motivated teachers. So the early adopters of certification might just be the go getters. And go getters may also make better teachers.
- Paying teachers extra for Board Certification would be a small improvement over paying teachers extra for Master’s degrees. Board certified teachers do achieve better results in the classroom.
- Paying our existing teachers to get Board Certified is unlikely to drive up teacher quality, since the credential recognizes pre-existing quality much more than it creates improved teaching practice.
- Board certification may be a useful screening criteria for applicants for teaching positions, since NBCTs are more effective teachers on average.
Links for those who are interested in reading more: