Over 2,200 North Carolina teachers received National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification in 2010. The addition of this year’s class of teachers brings North Carolina’s number of NBPTS-certified teachers to 17,957; by far the largest number of NBPTS certified teachers of any state in the nation.
North Carolina has spent nearly $400 million in government support and foundation grants on NBPTS main teacher certification program, a 20-year old national initiative to improve teaching as a means to boost student learning and achievement. To date, about 30 states have financial incentives to encourage teachers to obtain NBPTS certification.
Obtaining the NBPTS certification credential is a time-consuming and expensive process. Typically a teacher can spend anywhere from one to three years obtaining certification. In addition, teachers pay a $2,500 assessment fee and often must use release time to complete projects related to certification.
North Carolina furnishes teachers with considerable financial incentives to teachers who pursue NBPTS certification. These include: three paid professional release days to work on NBPTS assessment exercises, and a $2,500 low interest loan to cover costs and fees associated with the certification process. Once NBPTS certified, teachers receive an immediate 12 percent salary differential that will be paid for the length of the 10-year certification. The salary supplement is one of the most generous in the nation.
According to the Fiscal Research Division of the North Carolina General Assembly, in 2009-10 North Carolina spent approximately $67.5 million on salary differential and applications costs for the NBPTS program.1
Certification: Is it Worth It?
NBPTS is the largest national effort to improve teaching. It has created new standards for teaching, a new system to assess certification and promoted the awarding of financial incentives by states to NBPTS-certified teachers. Has the policy worked? Has it improved teaching?
North Carolina continues to emphasize the importance of licensure, advanced degrees and additional professional certifications such as NBPTS. According to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) data, in 2009-10, 99.8 percent of all teachers had some license (i.e., vocational, bachelors, masters, doctorate or sixth year).2 However, there is little evidence in the research to suggest that licensure or certification guarantees quality teaching and improved student performance.
According to the NBPTS Web site, certification “improves teaching and student learning.” The site also mentions that NBPTS certification has been recognized as “having a positive impact on student achievement, teacher retention and professional development.” In addition, the NBPTS Web site states students of NBPTS-certified teachers do better on standardized tests than students of non-NBPTS-certified teachers.3
NBPTS proponents point to several studies that tout the benefits of NBPTS certification. A study by Goldhaber, Perry and Anthony (2003) of the Urban Institute found that on average, North Carolina students in grades 3 through 5 whose teachers were board certified scored 7 to 15 percent higher on tests than students whose teachers attempted but failed to gain certification.4 Other studies by Clotfelter, Ladd and Vigdor (2007 & 2009) appear to say NBPTS teachers are more effective but stop short of saying NBPTS improves teacher performance.5
While the results seem to support the goals of NBPTS advocates, the studies were not without their critics. According to some, what Goldhaber and Anthony really measured was effectiveness – not achievement; that is the study measured the impact of certification, not the change in student learning. Moreover, critics of the study are quick to point out that while there was a difference in results between certified and non-certified teachers, the actual difference was quite small.
Those differences are what the National Research Council (NRC) examined in a famous 2008 study. While researchers indeed detected a difference in student learning between groups, the NRC hardly offers a glowing endorsement of NBPTS when it writes in its final report:
Our review of the research, however, suggests that there is not yet compelling evidence that the existence of the certification program has had a significant impact on the field, teachers, students, or the education system6.
Why did NRC stop short? After looking more closely at the data, researchers said the actual difference on test scores for North Carolina teachers and students came down to only one point on a test with a mean score of about 150.7
Today’s budget environment underscores the need to make every budget dollar count. That said: Can North Carolina afford to spend $67 million on a program whose costs rise annually and has little to show in the way of results?
One of the continued criticisms of NBPTS is the program’s lack of focus on student learning outcomes. NBPTS focuses entirely on quality teaching and fails to establish any linkage between certification and improving student achievement.
While we agree about the importance of quality teachers as a means to boosting student achievement, NBPTS certification lacks focus on student learning outcomes. The research simply fails to show a strong, consistent linkage between NBPTS certification and improved student achievement.
These findings along with the current economic climate are causing many states to rethink their support of NBPTS. Last year Education Week reported the number of states offering incentives to earn national board certification fell from 38 to 31, a 20 percent decline. Other states are still deciding whether to scale back financial incentives. 8
North Carolina lawmakers may want to consider the following options:
- Eliminate the NBPTS program and use money to develop teacher merit pay program that is incentive tied to student performance.
- Limit the number of new NBPTS certifications.
- Reduce the 12 percent salary supplement the state currently provides to new NBPTS-certified teachers. The supplement continues throughout the extent of the 10 year certification process.
- Make teachers responsible for a larger percentage of loan costs. Currently the state provides low interest loans for teachers to cover the costs associated with certification.
- Continue to pay salary supplement, but link it to student performance on achievement tests.
Source: Fiscal Research Division, North Carolina General Assembly
1See: NBPTS Application Costs, Kristopher Nordstrom, Fiscal Research Division of North Carolina General Assembly, December 2009. Available at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/fbs/resources/data/factsfigures/2009-10figures.pdf
2 See: North Carolina Public Schools: Facts and Figures: 2009-2010. Available at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/fbs/resources/data/factsfigures/2009-10figures.pdf
3National Bureau of Professional Teaching Standards web site. Information available at: http://www.nbpts.org/resources/research
4 For an expanded version of research on NBPTS see: http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/1/4/2/7/7/pages142776/p142776-2.php
5 See:Teacher Credentials and Students Achievement Longitudinal Analysis with Student Fixed Effects, Clotfelter, Ladd and Vigdor. (2007), Sanford Institute of Public Policy, October 2007.
6 See: National Research Council Study, Assessing Accomplished Teaching: Advanced Level Certification Programs, 2008
7 For information on how researchers interpreted NRC Study see National Board Teachers Found to be Effective, Education Week, and June 11, 2008. Subscription required.
8 States Rethink Policies on National Board Teachers, Education Week, February 10, 2010. Available by subscription at: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/02/10/21nbpts_ep.h29.html?qs=NBPTS