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LA leads nation with most new National Board Certified teachers. So move them to low-performing schools, school board member says

Mike Szymanski | May 25, 2017

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Teachers working together on national boards. (Courtesy LAUSD)

More new teachers in LA Unified are certified by a national teacher accreditation program than any other district in the nation, and it costs the district $12.6 million annually in salary boosts.

But, if they’re so good, those highly trained teachers need to be used better in the academically struggling school district and moved to help low-performing schools, board member Richard Vladovic said this week.

“If it’s true that our National Board Certified teachers are the crème de la crème, then they should be with the most-needy students,” said Vladovic, who is the chairman of the Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Committee that heard the report from the district’s human resources department on Tuesday. “To me, if you make more money, you need to go where we need you to go to help the children who need it the most.”

LA Unified schools lag the state in student test scores. In the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress scores, 39 percent met or surpassed English standards last year and 29 percent met or surpassed math standards, compared with 48 percent in English and 37 percent in math statewide. Last year, LA Unified had the most low-performing schools in the state — 20 of the 291 schools that received state School Improvement Grants were in LA Unified.

“We have the worst schools in the state, and those should be staffed by national board certified teachers. Those schools need the best we have,” Vladovic said. “I know I don’t want a brain surgeon who got a C to give me brain surgery.”

The average teacher salary is about $75,000 at LA Unified, so for those teachers who receive the full 15 percent bonus for completing the accreditation program, that means an additional $11,250 a year.

UTLA, the LA teachers union, negotiated some of the highest incentives in the country for teachers to get their National Board Certification, according to the authorizer of the certification program. And, according to UTLA, since they negotiated the deal in 1997, more than 2,600 educators have been certified. This is the fourth year in a row that the district leads the nation in newly certified educators.

The National Board Certification is a voluntary accreditation awarded by an independent nonprofit agency, the Virginia-based National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and is recognized as a gold standard for teachers. The one- to five-year process takes about 400 hours and is available only to instructors who have taught a minimum of three years. It helps them analyze their own teaching habits and develop successful educational standards.

This year, the district has 1,478 National Board Certified teachers, which is nearly 6 percent of the teachers in LA Unified. That is double the rate of 3 percent of all the teachers nationwide who have those credentials.

The accreditation is recognized in all 50 states and prevents out-of-state teachers from having to re-take classes or accreditation tests when they come to California. Teachers have to pay about $1,900 for the training and certification. Some schools help teachers pay for the fees or use professional development money.

LA Unified social studies teacher Daniel Jocz, who was nominated as a finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 2016, is an NBC certified teacher. Kelly Gonez, who was just elected to the school board, worked closely with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in her role with the Obama administration.

She said she worked “on issues like teacher leadership and teacher support and collaborated with many great National Board Certified teachers. Through this experience, I believe in the value of National Board Certification and think the research also suggests that NBCTs have a strong, positive impact on student learning.”

She said she is interested in Vladovic’s ideas and looks forward to exploring them.

Board certified teachers have been spread more evenly throughout different areas of the district over the past 15 years, said Peggy Taylor Presley, LA Unified’s director of Teacher Support and Development (see chart). “We are happy to say we have a greater leveling and greater equity. That is movement in the correct direction.”

Nationwide, incentives vary widely regarding what schools districts offer to help teachers get the credentials. North Carolina and South Carolina offer 12 percent boosts in salaries for teachers with the credentials, and Florida had high incentives too but cut back on them recently, Presley said.

Peggy Taylor Presley, LA Unified’s director of Teacher Support and Development

“We were hitting the skids in Los Angeles when the stock market tanked some years ago and some states pulled away their incentives, but LA Unified didn’t,” Presley said.

“Many school districts do not provide incentives (for their board certifications) and Los Angeles does provide some serious incentives,” said Richard Klein, communications director for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which awards the credentials. 

He said that LA Unified has 785 candidates for the board this year, while the next largest group in the state is in San Francisco with 220 teachers.

“The governor of Mississippi is very supportive of our program and offers a $10,000 stipend to teach in high-need areas along with their other incentives,” Klein said.

That’s exactly what Vladovic wants to see with the credentialing program at LA Unified, and he called for more structure and controls by the district. He said the credentialed teachers should be part of a “strike force” that is assigned to underperforming schools for a few years. He said he will be asking for a study to see if NBC credentialed teachers actually get better test scores for their students.

Klein cautioned against equating standardized test scores with NBC teachers “because there are many things that factor into those scores.”

Vladovic said he didn’t mind spending the extra money on certifications and even suggested that all LA Unified teachers become board certified. But he is frustrated by the lack of structure or direction in the program.

“There is no consistency, but we’re paying millions of dollars for it,” Vladovic said. “We are spending a lot of money but we are not getting the results. I want to know why aren’t we utilizing the teachers differently and why are the results so bad?”

Nationally, studies have shown that NBC teachers get better test scores for their students. A Harvard University study of LA Unified showed that students of board-certified teachers gained the equivalent of two additional months of instruction in math and one additional month in English.

Two other school board members, Ref Rodriguez and Scott Schmerelson, are on the curriculum committee and listened Tuesday to Vladovic’s concerns about the board-certified teachers, but they didn’t weigh in on any of his specific suggestions. Any changes in policy would have to be taken up at a full board meeting and brought up at labor negotiations.

“There is such passion with this group and I also see ambition to do more, and that is important with the teacher shortage coming and hard-to-serve areas,” said Rodriguez, who sits on a state credentialing board. “I see from a statewide level that LA Unified is exemplar” at having teachers credentialed.

Of the NBC teachers in the district, 738 support special programs in the district, 651 work with new teachers, 303 provide professional development and 150 deal with parent engagement, and some of the teachers do multiple tasks.

“We have some incredibly strong teachers,” Presley said. “LA Unified has consistently led the country in teachers aspiring to get their national board.”

The board teachers are required to do 92 hours of other work which can include organizing school-wide events, family math nights, academic activities, and arts festivals. Presley said LA Unified’s dual-language program depends heavily on board-certified teachers, as does the mentoring program.

Julie DeVercelly, math teacher at Carson High

Independent charter schools generally honor the same agreement with the 15 percent incentives, Presley said.

New teachers can’t become nationally board certified, but LA Unified offers teaching intern programs and mentoring for beginning teachers. The district partnered this year with 20 universities for 238 interns. Presley said there are far more applicants than the district can handle at this point in the program.

“I saw the district intern program work firsthand when I was a principal,” said LA Unified board member Schmerelson. “I don’t know how anyone could not choose that, it’s free, real live teachers and a wonderful program.”

The district also has more than 1,400 new teachers this year, and 792 are in a Beginning Teacher Growth and Development Induction program that helps them with classroom management and teaching skills, said Janet Peaks, the administrative coordinator of the district’s Teacher Training Academy. The program is also providing support to 2,243 teachers in 434 schools throughout the district.

Among those teachers is Julie DeVercelly, a math teacher at Carson High School who graduated from the beginning teacher program this week. Hired from a charter school in 2014, she said she heard horror stories about mandated induction programs like this.

Armin Dane Isip, a special ed teacher from Anatola Elementary.

“I found out it was not a cookie-cutter program and it really helped in my success in the classroom,” DeVercelly said at the meeting Tuesday.

Another teacher, Armin Dane Isip, started as an intern in special education at Anatola Elementary School and said, “I fell in love with special education, and without the guidance and career help I would never have made it through the necessary tests.”

Vladovic also pointed out that the district should not hire out professional development trainers when the district has NBC teachers who are leaders among their peers.

“I know we are in a crisis with our budget, but the number one goal is to teach and so we should spend the resources there and maybe go light in other areas,” Vladovic said.

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