Show them the money. That’s what 30 states are doing to entice more teachers to earn certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

North Carolina is one of them. By offering a bonus equal to 12 percent of a teacher’s salary, it has more board-certified teachers—2,409—than any other state. Florida is a close second, with 1,267 board-certified teachers, who earn 10 percent more than their peers without the credential.

Incentive pay for board-certified teachers is on the rise as policymakers seek ways to pay good teachers more money without antagonizing powerful teacher unions that oppose so-called merit pay, which is based on principals’ evaluations, student test scores or other measures of performance.

“Policymakers are looking all over to increase teacher salaries,” says Michael Allen, a policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States. But they don’t want to pay the political price for getting “enmeshed in a pay-for-performance system,” he adds.

By comparison, Illinois pays successful candidates a one-time, $3,000 bonus. Like other states, Illinois also picks up some of the $2,300 application fee. So far, the state has 185 board-certified teachers.

Combined with the many candidate support programs available here, these incentives put Illinois ahead of many states, says Nancy Schwartz, a regional liaison for the National Board.

Chicago teachers who become board-certified are also eligible for money from other sources. CPS teachers who get certified this year will receive additional one-time bonuses of $2,500 from the district and $3,000 from the Chicago Public Education Fund. Teachers who agree to mentor new candidates for National Board Certification will receive an additional $5,000 stipend.

Still, board-certified teachers in other districts can reap much higher financial rewards. In 1997, Los Angeles had only one board-certified teacher. The number grew to 413 after the district offered a 15 percent bonus—half for earning the credential, and the rest for agreeing to mentor other candidates. The state of California also gives board-certified teachers a one-time bonus of $10,000.

“The incentives got everyone’s attention,” says Diana Cotter, coordinator of a Los-Angeles-based candidacy support network. “We are not paid well in Los Angeles considering the standard of living. The increase in compensation was enough to make everyone lift up their heads.”

Some high-poverty states, where teacher salaries are very low, offer board-certified teachers a flat fee rather than a percentage of salary. Board-certified teachers in Mississippi receive an extra $6,000 per year for ten years; in Arkansas, the annual bonus is $2,000.

Critics charge that incentives water down the candidate pool and increase the likelihood of cheating. “If there are no incentives, then people are doing [National Board Certification] for non-pecuniary reasons,” observes Michael Podgursky, a labor economist at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “Once you get the pull of financial incentives…you have the potential for fraud.”

Some support providers concede financial incentives may draw less qualified teachers to the process. However, they insist that successful candidates need more than money to motivate them to complete the grueling application process.

“The people who came before incentives were a different set,” observes Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, director of the Chicago Teacher Union Quest Center’s candidate support program.

Cherkasky-Davis and Quest Center director Allen Bearden insist that professional development comes first. “We certainly don’t disagree that teachers who accomplish this should be paid more, but it’s not the motivating factor,” says Bearden.

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