Picture via www.arkansased.gov

Picture via www.arkansased.gov

By AR Fellow Kathy Powers

National Board certification has a positive impact on student achievement, teacher retention, and professional development for educators.  Encouraging teachers to pursue National Board Certification is a key strategy to strengthen teaching and ensure that every student has access to effective classroom teachers.  However, recent budget constraints in Arkansas threatened to reduce the number of National Board Certified Teachers in a state where more are desperately needed.

In 2014, Arkansas was ranked fourth in the nation for new National Board Certified Teachers, which is something to celebrate.  Every student deserves to be taught by accomplished teachers who have proven to be dedicated to a career in education and believe in pushing themselves professionally to better serve our most vulnerable students.  Although the process for becoming a NBCT is very rigorous and lengthy, achieving National Board Certification is not only good for student achievement, it is rewarding both professionally and monetarily in Arkansas.  In a state that ranks a low 13th out of 17 Southern Regional Education Board states in average teacher salary, having that avenue to increase your own teaching salary is an added incentive for dedicated teachers to begin or renew the process. However, legislators recently proposed changes to the rules reducing and removing financial incentives for NBCTs in our state, which would serve to discourage teachers from seeking or renewing their National Board Certification.  

Removing the financial incentives for renewal NBCTs sent a negative message to Arkansas teachers that their efforts to improve their practice are not valued.  National Board Certification was one of the few ways teacher leaders like me could remain in the classroom and still achieve an elevated level of professional growth and financial advancement.  Accomplished teachers may now leave the classroom or even the profession to seek opportunities for advancement elsewhere, and we need them in the classroom with students.

National Board Certification was one of the few ways teacher leaders like me could remain in the classroom and still achieve an elevated level of professional growth and financial advancement.

When the proposal came up in a recent state school board meeting to reduce NBCT incentives for teachers, our current Arkansas Teacher of the Year, who is serving a year on the board, sent me a message asking if I had heard anything about it, and that and the window for public comment on the issue was just two weeks away.  I immediately went to work mobilizing my networks. 

I began by crafting a message outlining my position on the legislation and sent it out to the forum for public comment.  Next, I sent a copy of my message to every NBCT network in my state and every NBCT teacher in my district asking them to add their voice to the fray.  Then I sent individual emails to every state school board member, every legislator with voice on the issue, and my state Commissioner of Education, Johnny Key.

I heard back from three state board members, two legislators and Commissioner Key. Commissioner Key was well aware of the issue, and replied, “I appreciate your thoughts on the issue.  The ALC Administrative Rules and Regulations committee will be the first committee to consider the proposed revisions… Please don't hesitate to contact me if you need any additional information.” The state board members and the legislators had not heard much and wanted more information. The board members who responded were supportive and happy to hear from so many classroom teachers. The legislator representing my district, David Meeks, replied that I still needed to monitor the issue because  “Any legislation proposed would most likely come up in the 2017 General Session, although it there is a small possibility it could come up during a special session this year. This is something I will watch and continue to get feedback on.”  He said he was grateful for the information, and he even accepted my invitation to visit my classroom. 

In the end, our efforts paid off.  The rules were pulled and the proposed revisions to the bill eliminating incentives for NBCTs were dropped.  We found out when we read the headline in the major state paper the next day, “State drops bid to limit bonus to nationally certified teachers.”  

I met with Commissioner Key the next week, and he said that the battle was won this time, but that the issue will come up again the next budget discussion.  We will be ready!

Kathy Powers is a reading and language arts teacher at Carl Stuart Middle School in Conway, AR, and was Arkansas Teacher of the Year in 2011.