Teacher Appreciation Week provides an opportunity to recognize what so many of us are keenly aware of every day: teachers’ dedication, expertise and life-changing impact on students and communities. But inevitably the question arises, why is the widespread appreciation for teachers not reflected in their pay? This past year, our country witnessed walkouts in eight states and a Time magazine cover story spotlighting teachers struggling to fix their car or buy their child a bed and selling their blood plasma to pay their bills. Presidential candidates have lamented their teacher-spouse’s low pay and called for nationwide, five-digit teacher pay raises, while a majority of 2019 governors’ State of the State addresses mentioned teacher pay. Meanwhile, a widespread teacher shortage debate makes a raw economic case for higher pay. If ever there were a time to revisit this issue in earnest, it is right now.
Increasing teacher pay has broad support. A recent NORC poll shows nearly 80 percent of the public believes teacher pay is too low, and an Education Next survey finds significant public support for raising teacher pay. The question is how best to do so and how to pay for it. Indeed, this is one of the longest-standing and divisive third-rail issues in the field of education.
There is a better way: Incent teachers to invest in improving their practice and retain those who do through financial incentives for National Board certification.
National Board certification is the profession’s voluntary advanced credential, created by and for teachers — with the goal of recognizing mastery of the body of knowledge behind accomplished teaching, encapsulated in Five Core Propositions. National Board-certified teachers currently receive financial incentives in 25 states, with 10 states trending toward higher incentives for those in teacher shortage areas. But beyond this salary boost for individual teachers, the movement toward a Board-certified profession elevates teaching by signaling to the public that, like leaders in other fields, teachers are highly-qualified experts and accomplished professionals who have mastered a complex craft. Teachers are seen burning the midnight oil to pass a rigorous exam, much like in medicine and law, and the public esteem for and willingness to pay these professionals rises.
To be sure, with a 4.5 percent decrease in teacher pay over the past decade — resulting in record-low teacher pay penalty of 13 percent — and with the knowledge that mid-career teachers heading a family of four qualify for public assistance programs in all but eight states, higher pay across the board merits serious consideration. But, by simultaneously investing in financial incentives for becoming Board-certified, state policymakers can create a future where, as in the case of top-performing countries, the political will exists for even more fully professional salaries for teachers.
As we appreciate teachers this week, let’s invest in a majority National Board-certified profession and, in turn, a majority highly-paid profession sustained by a majority highly supportive-taxpayer-base that respects, appreciates and invests in teachers every day.