La. teacher certification declines

Just 54 teachers in Louisiana achieved certification in 2012 from a well-regarded national teaching organization, a fifth as many teachers as when the program was at its peak in this state.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced the results Monday. The totals are down from 102 in 2011 and 148 in 2010.

Louisiana’s peak for nationally certified teachers was 250 teachers in 2005.

Nationally, the trend is similar. A total of 4,930 teachers earned the certification in 2012, compared with 6,266 in 2011 and 8,600 the year before that.

The downward trend is likely to continue, at least in Louisiana.

Michelle Accardi, director of state policy and outreach, said the number of new Louisiana applicants for certification for 2013 is down 60 percent from where it was a year ago.

Accardi noted that the poor economy has probably made it harder for teachers to afford the $2,500 fee associated with national board certification. Also, she said Louisiana has made many changes in public education, including a new teacher evaluation system, and many teachers may lack the time to participate.

“It would be hard to have to carve out that kind of time,” she said.

Individual teachers learned in late November whether their year’s worth of effort — the average is 400 hours per candidate — has paid off. The public release of the 2012 results was delayed in deference to the Newtown, Conn., school shootings on Dec. 14, said April Jones, a spokeswoman for the certification organization.

As the numbers have declined, the Louisiana Department of Education has ceased promoting the annual numbers as it used to through its public affairs office.

In response to a request for comment from The Advocate, the department issued a short statement, saying it was proud that “these dedicated professionals teach in our state’s classrooms” and that Louisiana has “learned from the principles set forth by the National Board to implement performance standards and merit compensation in every school in our state.”

In 2011, in response to a similar trend, a department spokeswoman linked the decline to the state’s shift to rewarding “highly effective” teachers rather than those with certifications.

The National Board certification is considered a high honor among teachers. Teachers have to demonstrate to their peers through videotaped lessons, student work and reflection papers that they know what they’re doing. Only about half of the teachers get the certification on the first try. They have two more years to get across the finish line.

Besides prestige, national board certification comes with higher pay, though it’s not as lucrative as it used to be.

In response to the economic downturn, many states, including Louisiana, have cut back their support for the program. An Education Week survey in 2012 found the number of states offering a stipend for the certification declined from 39 to 24.

In 2010, Louisiana quit paying its annual $5,000 stipend, instead shifting that expense onto school districts.

In 2008, a dozen school districts offered complementary stipends, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, to national board-certified teachers but most of those have been cut back or eliminated since.

The leading Louisiana school district this year was East Baton Rouge Parish with 10 new nationally certified teachers, down from 18 a year ago.

St. Tammany and Caddo parishes were next with just four teachers each.

A total of 102,327 teachers have earned the certification since the program began in North Carolina in 1987. Louisiana has contributed 1,838 of those teachers.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is trying to highlight the success its teachers have on academic achievement.

“In today’s environment, the impact on student learning and achievement is the coin of the realm,” David Haselkorn, senior vice for institutional advancement for the organization.

On Monday, the organization highlighted a new Harvard University study of teachers in Los Angeles. It said students taught by National Board certified teachers in elementary schools showed two months more growth in math and one month more in English than their peers on California standardized tests.