Worthy of an Encore

Master Teacher Act an Investment,Say National Board Certified Teachers

For a teacher to acquire National Board Certification requires a deep dive, a hard look at his or her teaching skills, methods and philosophies.

It also takes a fair amount of time and cash – $450 for each of four components in the certification process.

Yet those who gain certification believe the effort and expenditure is worth the sacrifice. The value of improved teaching skills and enhanced student learning cannot be measured.

NSEA supports National Board Certification as a way to improve teaching and boost student learning. That is why NSEA pushed for funding of the state’s Master Teacher Act two years ago. The program puts state support of nationally certified teachers into statute and provides an annual stipend of $5,000 to those teachers.

The reasoning for the program is sound, says NSEA President Nancy Fulton.

“This is about improving teaching skills and knowledge, and about improving student learning,” said Fulton. “It is also about keeping teachers in the classroom.”

Lincoln teachers Sherry West and Nila Jacobson agree. Both testified in favor of funding the Master Teacher Act before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee two years ago.

“Kids deserve teachers who really know their stuff, teachers who are reflective,” said West, chair of the mathematics department at Lincoln Southeast High School.

“Certification has helped me to help students be the best they can be,” said Jacobson, a Lincoln Southwest High School Spanish teacher with four different teaching credentials from the State of Nebraska.

Funding for the Master Teacher Act, however, is threatened. OK’d by the Legislature in 2015, it faces potential elimination before a Legislature staring at a $900 million budget shortfall over the next two years.

Strong Teacher Leaders

NSEA Organizational Specialist Jay Sears said the Master Teacher Act improves instructional skills for all teachers. Nationally certified teachers become leaders in their departments, buildings and school districts. Some schools use these teachers as instructional coaches.

“When a school district has two or three of these teachers in their system, there is an expertise in instruction that is available to all teachers in the system,” he said. “That skill builds on the ability of all teachers in the district, if you use it correctly.”

Lincoln Southeast’s West holds a certification in adolescent and Young Adult Mathematics. Jacobson holds a certification in Early Adolescent through Young Adult World Language-Spanish.

West told senators in 2015 that Nebraska schools need teachers with strong content and pedagogical knowledge.

“A student’s chance for success is affected by the quality of his or her teachers. Providing money to help teachers improve skills is money well spent,” said West.

Jacobson said accomplished teaching must become the norm, not the exception. Not only would the Master Teacher Act encourage teachers to grow and learn, it would be an enticement as for Nebraska’s best and brightest to consider teaching as a career.

“In today’s marketplace we must have talented individuals entering the profession,” she told senators. “(It) would create an additional financial incentive to do so.”

Research supports the fact that student outcomes are enhanced by teachers with national certification. According to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, more than a decade of research confirms students taught by National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) learn more than students taught by other teachers.

Worth the Funding

For 15 years, the Master Teacher Act languished in state statute, ensconced in formal wording and intent, but without funding. Passed by the Legislature in 2000, the appropriation of funds that would have put the program in action was never approved.

In 2015, Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz introduced LB185 at NSEA’s urging, proposing a $1 million allocation for both 2015-16 and 2016-17. Legislative wrangling amended LB185 into LB657, and cut funding to $470,000 each year.

Sharon Katt administers the Master Teacher and other programs for the Nebraska Department of Education. Katt reported that 68 of the 117 Nebraska teachers who have held National Board Certification were actively teaching in 2015-16, qualifying them for the $5,000 annual award.

Katt said her office anticipates 70 teachers will qualify for the $5,000 award this year, and as of Dec. 1, there were a dozen more in the pipeline who may qualify for reimbursement of registration fees. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards reports that 29 Nebraska teachers are at some stage of working toward certification. But Jacobson laments that number, noting that North Carolina, for instance, rewards teachers with a 12 percent salary increase in the year they receive certification. That may be why nearly 21,000 North Carolina educators have national certification.

In fact, Nebraska has just 120 teachers with national certification, a number that lags far behind every adjacent state with the exception of South Dakota.

 The truth is that Nebraska will continue to lag in that regard – and fall even further behind – if funding for the Master Teacher Act is cut.

“Some programs are just worth the funding, even when budgets are tight,” said Fulton. “This is one of those programs!”