Credit Where It’s Due

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R) has put a sensible teacher quality proposal on the table. He wants to better target funding for National Board Certified teachers (NBCTs) to struggling schools. This PPI paper (pdf) gives an overview of the issue.

Currently NBCTs get $7500 annually. Sanford wants to continue that incentive for NBCT’s in schools that are low-performing or those with critical needs. Other NBCTs would get $3,000. There is also a very fair hold harmless. Teachers already receiving $7,500 would continue to regardless of where they teach as would teachers who complete National Board certification in 2005. More details in his proposed budget (pdf).

Behind the scenes the National Board treats proposals like this as an attack on the program. That’s unfortunate because the data is abundantly clear that NBCT’s disproportionately teach in affluent schools.

NBPTS claims that about 37 percent of NBCTs are teaching in high-poverty schools, which they define as schools receiving Title I money. Yet Title I funding is an imprecise proxy for poverty. Fifty-eight percent of all U.S. public schools receive some Title I dollars. Thus, even this estimate of only about one in three is overly optimistic.

Better data is more sobering. A 2003 study (pdf) led by Dan Goldhaber found that NBCTs in North Carolina were disproportionately teaching in more affluent school districts, as well as districts with fewer minority students. A 2004 study (pdf) by SRI examined distribution in the six states with the most NBCTs — California, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Carolina — or about 65 percent of all NBCTs nationwide. The SRI researchers found that only 12 percent of NBCTs teach in schools with more than 75 percent of students receiving free or reduced price lunch; only 16 percent teach in schools with more than 75 percent minority student populations; and only 19 percent teach in a school in the bottom third of performance for its state.

Put plainly, you’re unlikely to find an NBCT in a school that is high poverty, high minority, or seriously struggling. That’s a pretty straightforward equity issue considering how important teacher quality is to student learning and the inequitable distribution of top teachers overall.

Of course, in an ideal world states would be able to offer larger differentials than just $3,000 or $7,500, but policy must be made based on the circumstances at hand, not the ones we might like. Sanford has the right idea (as do a few others, NY, CA, IL and in CT the AFT state affiliate there has its own targeting program) and more states should follow this lead.

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