A Nationally Board Certified Teacher on Merit Pay and SB 5

This is a guest column from a Nationally Board Certified Teacher.

Ten years ago I undertook the daunting task of applying to become a Nationally Board Certified Teacher. I wanted to prove to myself that I had what it takes to be an outstanding teacher. According to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), fewer than 3,000 out of the 100,000+ teachers in Ohio have attained this status. It is the pinnacle of achievement for a teacher. As ODE states, “National Board Certification is the highest credential in the teaching profession.”

This is what merit pay is all about, right?

Originally when I started the process, the state of Ohio supported these tasks. The assessment fee to submit your materials for consideration is $2,500. I was able to have the state pick up all of the costs for applying by attending some professional development sessions ODE provided.

Today the State of Ohio provides ZERO funding for teachers wishing to prove their ultimate teaching merit. There is now a federal subsidy that is available for Ohio teachers, but it covers only half of the assessment fee. Ohio lawmakers turned their backs on teachers seeking to prove their merit.

The process I undertook was indeed rigorous. I have heard others aptly describe the National Board process as considering all the work for Master’s Degree that may take three or more years and compressing it into a semester. It was very true.

  • I had to submit lesson plans, but not simple sketches of the day’s activities. Lesson plan submissions included detailed descriptions of objectives, processes, activities, sequencing and assessment.
  • I had to submit video tapes of these plans in action. This was not a few minutes of a lesson that an administrator might wander in and observe, but full period lessons in action.
  • Student sample work was also submitted, but of all types of learners and not just cherry-picked straight-A student work.
  • I submitted reflective writings that showed that I not only delivered a lesson, but reviewed how it went and how I would make it better.
  • And finally I took a lengthy examination over the content of my teaching field that took several hours to complete.

Notice that at no time was my candidacy for the highest achievement in education based upon student results of a single two-hour standardized test. This does not prove teacher merit. I can personally attest to how socio-economic factors play greatly into student test results and why the state should NEVER consider this for teacher evaluation.

In 1997 I taught in a school were my students were struggling learners from homes that generally did not support the school through activities, PTA (there wasn’t one) or tax levies (11 failed levies in 7 years). That year I was fortunate enough to be selected as the Outstanding Educator of the Year, but my state test results were not very much different than my colleagues in the same area.

The following year I changed school districts, thanks in part to a resume that now included Teacher of the Year. My new district is a wealthier, suburban school that has not failed any levies in my time and has active parents in the schools. Essentially I taught the same content in my final year at the old school and first in the new, but the test scores of my students went up by dramatically large percentages. Did I suddenly become an excellent teacher? No. Ohio’s standardized testing simply does not assess the merits of teachers in the classroom.

Regarding Senate Bill 5 I have had a few people say to me: “I would think you would love this idea because you could make so much money being such a great teacher.” While nice to hear, I have no trust that Ohio really wants to “reward” their best teachers through a merit system. Why do I feel this way? Because Ohio lawmakers turned backs on me several years ago.

One of the incentives for attaining National Board status is that Ohio was one of several states that rewarded their NBCT’s with an annual stipend. When I applied for NBCT status, Ohio said they would give NBCT’s a $2,500 stipend each year of the 10-year certification. A few years after becoming an NBCT, Ohio reduced that amount for any new NBCT’s to $1,000. Two years ago Ohio completely de-funded the program, removing all stipends for all NBCT’s at the same time they quit subsidizing the application process.

So when I hear TV ad’s that say that Ohio wants to get rid of the bad teachers and to “reward” their good teachers, I shake my head. By their own standards, I am supposed to be one of their best teachers. So how will they reward me?

By removing experience (seniority) as being important to salary, it will encourage my school – or any other school – to disregard my degrees and certification. Ask yourself, if you were going into surgery would you prefer your doctor was experienced with this procedure or not? Will it matter to you if the doctor is excellent, but has little experience with this procedure? So why is acceptable then to ignore experience with your children’s education?

Issue 2 proponents like to argue that SB 5 does allow for negotiating salary. This is deliberately misleading, because while my union can make an offer on salary in whatever form it likes, SB 5 mandates that if the two sides disagree that the Board of Education’s final offer becomes the contract. Why would any school then take any salary negotiations seriously? Consequently, don’t look for the salaries of “best” teachers to rise. They may be the best salaries within their schools, but SB 5 allows a local Board of Education to reduce salaries by whatever they please. 10%? Yes. 25%? They could. 50%? SB 5 doesn’t stop this.

The Governor is contending that all SB 5 is really about is getting us to pay 10% of pensions and 15% of insurance costs. I have paid 10% of my pension costs for as long as I can remember. My health care contributions have gone up well over 15% from the first contract I signed in my current school district. So campaigning on these two accounts are deliberately misleading as to what the entire bill does.

But the bottom line is really this. If we want the best teachers in our classrooms, there is already a process to do that with National Board Certification. If we want premier teachers in the classroom, then we need to provide evaluations that mirror what the best system does.

Despite a resume that looks really good, I only became a Nationally Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) by less than 5 points. A colleague that I considered my mentor and an incredible teacher failed to meet this mark three times, coming as close as within two points. There are only seven National Board Certified teachers in my district and only three in my building. I was the last to attain this honor, nearly 10 year ago. My district does not reward NBCT’s with supplemental. Only 36 of the 600+ school districts in Ohio offer “merit” rewards for their NBCT’s, with only 11 (less than 2%!) offering continuing stipends. If SB 5 passes, do you really think schools will include such incentives for their best teachers? I doubt these 11 schools would keep what financial incentives they have now for NBCT’s.

So when you hear the ads that SB 5 would reward the best teachers, remember this. Ohio has already neglected their best teachers and few local districts have stepped in to provide real “rewards” for the best teachers they have now. What trust do you have that suddenly now they will live up to their word?

Jay Wise, NBCT (2002-2012)