I love doing the Park Rag for a number of reasons but perhaps the most important is because I am always learning. A case in point is the letter I received from the co-chairs of the Park City Education Association (PCEA). I had written an article about teachers contracts that contemplated whether we should pay teachers with master’s degrees more (when research says the same teacher with or without a masters degree is just as effective at teachings kids) and asked whether we should be looking for a better way to figure out how we pay the best teachers what they are worth. Ed Mule and Jim Fleming of PCEA wrote a very nice letter that concluded the “Park City School District’s new licensed employee contract may not be perfect but it is a good compromise between a more traditional teacher contract and an incentive based contract.”
They also point out that while research doesn’t support master degrees as a means to ensure more effective teachers, the National Board Certifications do. I always like to fact check statements (as best I can) and in this case what Mr Mule and Fleming said is spot on (per research). Consistently research finds that National Board Certified teachers perform better than average in schools with a higher than average socioeconomic class. In less advantaged areas, that’s not necessarily the case. Yet, we are talking about Park City, which has higher incomes on average, so the research would support the national board certification as a way to define teachers that are more effective.
Yet, I delved into a 2015 study from Washington State which seems to further support my previous “Moneyball article” on figuring out a different way to compensate the best teachers. While the study begins by providing an overview of previous research on National Board Certifications, it dives deep into the fields where the certifications produce the most effective results. For instance it says, “we estimate that NBCTs [National Board Certified Teachers] produce annual learning gains that are about 4-5% of normal learning gains at the elementary school level, about 15% of annual learning gains in middle school math, and about 4% of annual learning gains in middle school reading.” They later talk about the 15% gain in math effectiveness and equate that to an additional 1.5 months of learning. Holy crap!
What this tells me is that Park City should compensate not only for National Board Certifications but we should be compensating more for national board certifications where there is so much more learning by students — and that gets into the Moneyball aspect of being strategic about how we compensate teachers. Therefore, middle school math teachers should see larger gains in salary based on passing the certification than middle school English teachers (who should still be compensated more, but maybe not at the level of math teachers taking the test). There may be other research based ways to determine how to incent English teachers who are more effective.
Further delving into this study, it marks a difference between teachers who pass the National Board Certification on the first try, rather than subsequent attempts. They say, “Except in middle school mathematics, we do not find evidence that teachers earning certification through a retake are more effective than non-NBCTs [non National Board Certified Teachers” So, except in middle school math, if a person doesn’t pass the certification on the first try, they aren’t generally found to be more effective. That appears that it should be factored in as well.
I understand that what I am suggesting isn’t easy — in negotiations or practice. It’s hard to tell a language teacher who has passed a National Board Certification on the first try that they aren’t getting the same incentive pay as the math teacher but appears to be what the science says. I suppose it’s not that different though than a state like Utah telling it’s teachers to teach Darwinism instead of Intelligent Design. Sticking to research is often harder than appeasing the masses.
In this case, though, it’s important. While the subject we are discussing are teacher salaries, the impact we are really considering is educating our children. Mr. Mule and Mr. Fleming said in their letter to Park Rag, “You will hear us argue that they [higher degrees and endorsements] can’t hurt and should be encouraged in the teaching profession.” I’m not sure if that’s true. If we pay one dollar extra for things like masters degrees that don’t seem to have any impact on student outcomes, that is one dollar less that can be paid to teachers that pass their National Board Certifications on the first try. I believe those decisions do matter.
It really is a zero sum game. Every dollar we spend on something that doesn’t matter, is a dollar less we spend on something that does. I hope in two years, when the next round of salary negotiations take place, both the school administration and teachers focus on the one thing that really matters. RESULTS. Perhaps passing the National Board Certification isn’t the end all and be all, but it seems like the most scientifically proven piece of data that indicates whether a teacher will better educate our children. I think that’s something that Mr Mule, Mr Fleming, probably the school board, and I would agree on.
I hope on the next teacher contracts, we can take a different approach and focus less on the things that sound good and more on what provides the best results for our children…. even if the process is a little painful.