Teacher Pay: Five Reasons to Factor in National Board Certification

Our guest author is Erin E.H. Austin, a National Board Certified French teacher in Fort Collins, CO, and the 2023 CCFLT Teacher of the Year. She is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Original World Language Resources and Going Global in the World Language Classroom (Routledge, forthcoming). Follow her on Twitter @Erin-EH-Austin.

“We as a country have minimized the teaching profession so much that we are okay with teachers needing a second job to survive. I am not okay with it, our teachers deserve better and at @usedgov we are working to make better happen.”

The quote above is from an April 6, 2023, tweet by U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona. Similar tweets, media statements, and advocacy have been ramping up for months, spanning the Department of Education, Secretary Cardona, and other education-invested adults around the country. Teachers are no exception to this advocacy work, though for many teachers, it has, indeed, been a life-long pursuit falling largely on deaf ears.

Statistics that support the need for increased teacher pay abound. The National Education Association reported in 2019 that almost one in five teachers holds a second job at some point during the year, though the percentage of teachers who do have a second job is often dependent on age. Typically, the younger/newer the teacher, the more likely they are to have a second job. EdWeek reported similar numbers in 2022. The Teacher Salary Project surveyed 1,200 teachers in 2021 and found that 82% of the teachers surveyed held a second job either at the time of the survey or in previously during their teaching career.

Interestingly, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that approximately 50% of teachers in the United States hold master’s degrees. Comparatively, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 13.1% of American adults have attained the same degree level.

In short, what does this tell us? First, teachers in the U.S. are highly educated. Second, despite that education, a high percentage of teachers need supplementary income.

The call to raise teacher pay is not new, but it has seen a resurgence in recent years, particularly with Dr. Jill Biden being a vocal proponent in the White House. Though modest gains have been made in some individual districts, it has yet to happen on a national level. What, then, can be done? What’s an outside-of-the-box proposal that could have “legs” enough to gain momentum and increase teacher pay on a national level?

Including National Board Certification into teacher pay initiatives hasn’t historically been a part of the discussion, but the time is right, and the evidence is strong.

Making the Case
  1. Board certification is an indicator of excellence.
    The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) homepage opens with a bang: “National Board Certification is the most respected professional certification available in education.” Unlike any advanced degrees, National Board Certification is largely about one’s effectiveness in the classroom and with kids. This is a clear distinction that stakeholders of all backgrounds can understand and, hopefully, support.
  2. Board certification has a direct impact on students.
  3. According to the NBPTS website, “There is a decade of research to support the impact that Board-certified teachers have on students. Students of Board-certified teachers learn more than their peers without Board-certified teachers. Studies have also found that the positive impact of having a Board-certified teacher is even greater for BiPOC and low-income students.” National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) make a quantifiable difference in student achievement.

  4. Board certification supports U.S. Department of Education initiatives.
    Raise the Bar: Lead the World is the Department of Education’s call to action. There are three areas of focus: 1. Achieve Academic Excellence, 2. Boldly Improve Learning Conditions, and 3. Create Pathways for Global Engagement. NBCTs can make a greater difference in focus area 1, and area 2 directly cites promoting better pay and professional development.
  5. Board certification is first-rate professional development.
  6. Again, the NBPTS has meaningful data: “‘National Board Certification is often cited as an indicator of effective teaching. For me, it wasn’t just a certification, it was the most impactful professional development I have ever taken on, and my students still benefit to this day.’ Mark Gardner, NBCT from Washington. Mark is not alone. A national survey of effective teachers’ views on [professional development] found 96% of respondents shared that National Board Certification was among the top three most impactful [professional development] experiences for advancing their practice.”

  7. Taxpayers respond to tying dollars to excellence.
    Calls for merit pay abound in discussions on teacher compensation. Teachers and teachers’ unions have often fought against it for a variety of reasons that vary from state to state, district to district. In some places, different forms of alternative compensation have been negotiated as a middle ground. Achieving National Board Certification and getting paid for it is a form of alternative compensation that may appease some of the pro-merit-pay crowd, but it also clearly benefits students and teachers in ways that other forms of merit pay may not. It also tends to be more enticing to teachers because of its value as professional development.

What Could this Look Like?
There is an array of ways to attach National Board Certification to a national teacher salary increase. For example, if the government approved funding for a nationwide salary boost, there could be two tiers with two different amounts: Tier 1 for all public educators, and Tier 2 for NBCTs. Another route may include federal funding for teachers working on certification. Currently, each of the four required components costs $475, plus an additional $75 registration fee for each year of active candidacy. The Department of Education may also see value in providing federal stipends for current NBCTs who lead support groups in their district or state to assist new NBCT candidates in the process.

Working Out the Kinks
Few proposals—if any—can boast perfection from the starting line, and this proposal is no exception. There are clear kinks that need to be worked out before including National Board Certification into a national teacher pay boost could happen. For example, what would stop individual states and districts from dropping their own stipends if a national stipend was in place? That would defeat the purpose and would need to be safeguarded. The NBPTS also has its own work to do. Namely, it would have to create certification pathways for all teachers to make this type of initiative equitable. Currently, for instance, the only world language teachers who can certify are Spanish and French teachers, despite efforts by teachers of lesser-taught languages such as German, American Sign Language, and Chinese.

Past proposals haven’t had the power needed to make meaningful, lasting change in teacher pay, and it’s time to take a more creative route. Integrating NBPTS certification into the dialog is a strong step. Your move, Secretary Cardona.