Value of Teacher Certification Bonuses Is Questioned Again

Published March 1, 2007

As the number of teachers winning certification from the privately run National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) continues to grow, so do the doubts of some state government leaders about the program’s effectiveness.

The central question is whether the process has enough of a positive impact on student achievement to justify hefty financial awards for National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs).

Over the past several years, states and local school districts have paid more than $300 million in salary bonuses to teachers who have successfully navigated the complex certification process, which entails compiling portfolios of their work, videotaping their classes, and sitting for examinations on their methods and know-how.

With a 7 percent increase in NBCTs in 2007–bringing the total to more than 55,000–the cost of paying those bonuses is expanding briskly.

The NBPTS was founded in 1987 with strong backing from teachers unions and private foundations. On its Web site, the National Education Association (NEA) calls itself NBPTS’s “most active supporter.” Thirty NEA members sit on the group’s national board.

Proposed Phase-Out

The three states with the most NBCTs–North Carolina (11,325), Florida (9,238), and South Carolina (5,077)–all play a role in the latest focus on certification.

In his proposed 2007-08 budget, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) is seeking to halt the expansion of NBPTS bonuses while honoring the state’s existing commitment. The state has promised to pay its NBCTs annual bonuses of $7,500 for 10 years (at a current cost to taxpayers of $63 million per year).

Sanford proposes ending such bonuses with teachers who complete the certification process before June 30, 2008.

Thereafter, “rather than expanding the expensive bonus system,” Sanford proposes to “invest in raising teacher pay in a manner that has a real impact on student achievement.” School districts could use the money to develop merit pay plans that take into account improvements in student test scores.

“Plainly, the parents, policymakers, and taxpayers of South Carolina were defrauded,” said J.E. Stone, founder of the Education Consumers Clearinghouse, a subscription-based online forum headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. “There was never any credible data demonstrating the effectiveness of NBPTS certification, and as early as 2002 there was ample reason to question its validity.”

Florida Dissatisfaction

High-ranking education officials in Florida are considering either grandfathering current NBCT bonuses, which end in 10 years, or adding a student achievement requirement as a condition for receiving the rewards.

In a December 17, 2006 Orlando Sentinel article, Florida Education Commissioner John Winn, who will retire effective February 28, noted, “We should probably have some performance measure, if the state is going to invest in these teachers, especially when some folks are looking at whether they are the most effective teachers.”

The state gives NBCTs bonuses amounting to 10 percent of their base pay.

In Texas, the Dallas Morning News reported on January 15 that area school districts spend $20 million a year on NBCT bonuses.

Lack of Impact

On its Web site, the NBPTS contends, “research is consistently positive about the impact of National Board Certification on improvements to teacher practice, professional development, and areas of school improvement that are critical to raising student achievement.”

As for showing actual student gains, the NBPTS concedes some studies “reveal mixed effects.” However, it points to several studies showing small but statistically significant achievement advantages for students of NBCTs.

A 2002 study of Tennessee NBCTs by Stone found otherwise. It was the first of several showing NBCTs do not have a significant impact on student achievement.

A March 2005 study led by William Sanders, the originator of value-added assessment of teaching, reached a similar conclusion after looking at data for grades 4-8 in North Carolina. “Students of NBCTs did not have significantly better rates of academic progress than students of other teachers,” the authors wrote.

Further fueling doubts about the value of national certification is the latest of a series of 21 research studies the NBPTS itself commissioned in 2002 in response to criticism of the lack of a demonstrated link to improvement in student achievement.

The June 2005 study by SERVE–a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, College of William and Mary, and University of Virginia–looked at the academic achievement of fifth-grade students in three North Carolina school districts.

The researchers found “[N]o clear pattern of effects on student achievement based on whether the teacher was Board certified.”

Robert Holland ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute.

For more information …

State of South Carolina Executive Budget, Fiscal Year 2007-2008, January 3, 2007,

“Teacher Effectiveness, Student Achievement, and National Board Certified Teachers,” by Wendy McColskey et al., published in June 2005 by SERVE, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to and search for document #20601.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards analyses of studies on teacher effectiveness,

National Education Association’s position on NBPTS,

“Teacher bonuses may be put to test,” by Dave Weber, Orlando Sentinel, December 17, 2006,,0,5563941.story?coll=orl-news-education-headlines

“A degree of worth or waste?” by Andrew D. Smith, Dallas Morning News, January 15, 2007,