Three important things happened in Olympia last week.
First of all, the lawmakers passed a budget bill that made tough cuts everywhere, especially in education. School administrators and classified employees had their salary reduced by 3%. Teachers, who already lost 1.1% to the previous legislative session, lost another 1.9% this time around, in order to even things out.
Secondly, when it came down to the end, the Legislature rejected the Tom/Zarelli RiF reform bill that would end the practice known as Last In-First Out. They may have decided that the carrot works better than the stick; we’re better off supporting teachers in their efforts to improve than making it easier to fire those that haven’t improved. Either that or they decided to wait until we actually have a four-tier teacher evaluation system in place before passing a law that’s predicated on the use of that system. Or they may have decided that passing a law that almost every teacher hates while cutting the salaries of those teachers might just be a bad idea. Who really knows what they were thinking.
The third important thing, though, is what’s truly remarkable: Washington’s National Board stipends survived the budget axe. Granted, they did move the payout date to July, effectively eliminated the 2011 bonus, but the fact that the program wasn’t suspended entirely surprised a lot of us, even those of us who worked hard to keep it off the chopping block. The non-elimination of the National Board stipend represents a long, exhausting , and ultimately successful effort by NBCTs to convince the Legislature that it was right to promote National Board Certification ten years ago, when the state had money, and it’s just as right to promote it now, when the doesn’t have money.
This is remarkable because it signifies the emergence of the NBCT community as a major player in education policy in our state, both within the teachers’ union and beyond. It’s been building steadily over the past decade, driven by a unique and coordinated collaboration between the Washington Education Association (WEA), the state’s education office (OSPI) and the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP), a non-profit focused on amplifying the voice of teachers and teacher leaders in education policy. OSPI has focused on National Board candidate support and the training of candidate facilitators. The WEA has focused on National Board pre-candidacy support and pro-National Board lobbying efforts.
That’s right, the WEA. The teachers’ union. For the past ten years, the WEA has devoted an enormous amount of energy and resources to promote National Board Certification, for no other reason than because the organization values good teaching. It has also actively recruited NBCTs to leadership positions within the WEA. And for obvious reasons: NBCTs have proven their capacity to complete a complicated project, but most importantly, as accomplished teachers, they have the credibility to lead. There are now a significant number of NBCTs serving as local association presidents, including Tacoma's, one of the largest district in the state.
And now we see the consequences of that agenda. Thanks to the WEA, OSPI and CSTP, the Accomplished Teacher community, which represents about 5% of the total teachers in Washington State, has become a real player.
So now what?
I think the true test of any movement is what happens after and beyond self-promotion. And off the top of my head, I can think of three important things that the NBCT community should focus on. (and yes, I realize that “focusing on three things” is an oxymoron.)
1. Become involved in the implementation of our new teacher evaluation system. It was piloted this year, which means now we get to work out the kinks and make it work throughout the state. This is important work; work that needs the talents and credibility of our most accomplished teachers. And having the WEA on board won’t hurt, either.
2. Help restore an effective and sustainable mentoring system. At some point we’re going to start hiring new teachers, and when we do, they’ll need mentors. This is an area that’s taken more than its share of financial hits, to the point where in many school districts there really isn’t anything left. That’s a shame, and it’s something the Accomplished Teacher community is in a perfect position to address.
3. Other stuff. Education thrives on innovation and hard work, both of which take time. Time beyond the school day. If the talk in my faculty room is any indication of the general mood among the teaching force, well... let's just say there's some angst in Washington's classrooms. People are talking a lot about "working to contract" and very little about "taking on new projects." That's not helpful. Some of us will need to step up and carry a little extra for the next couple of years. Accomplished teachers will need to do a little more than their share of accomplishing until things get back on track.
So congratulations, NBCTs. We’ve arrived as a real force. Cool. Now get busy.