Saturday, April 14, 2012

A thank-you letter to Legislators

In Oklahoma we have enjoyed one of the most forward-looking support systems for National Board in the country. Education Leadership Oklahoma has been given the charge of selecting candidates for scholarships, for training and support of the candidates, and for continuing the work of networking for NBCTs. As a result of all this dedication, Oklahoma is a national leader.

For the past few years we have seen the public support erode and the political rhetoric heat up. The State Department of Education Superintendent shorted payments as one of her first official acts, and the next year failed to request any funds to pay the $5000 stipends to the nearly 3000 NBCTs. It literally has taken an 'act of Congress' to reinstate the stipends.

This year, the Legislature has considered several bills, and one, SB1879, is still alive, in a third or fourth iteration. For me there were always two sticking points: a fixed amount of money was to be allocated each year for stipends and any left over would revert to the SDE, the very leaders who tried to kill the program, for its teacher merit pay scheme.

The other issue I had with the original bill was while there were scholarships (100, down from 400), none of these new candidates would be eligible for a stipend when he or she attained NBC. 

Last week, in the House Appropriations Committee, two amendments were offered: one limits stipend payment for the original ten years of NBC, and the second offers the stipends to new NBCTs. 

This is my letter that I sent the Appropriations Committee members involved. I will revise and send to all the Education Committee, my own Representative, who's stopped talking to me. Then, I will send it to the Appropriations and Education Committee members in the Senate when it goes back to those Committees.

The fight is not over; the fight is not won. But there is hope, and I've had precious little of that for the past few years.

Here is my letter:

I am a teacher…a National Board Certified Teacher…a trainer of National Board candidates, a proud Regional Coordinator providing support for candidates. I have spent over ten years immersed in the world of National Board, and Education Leadership Oklahoma. I have attended national conferences and seen that other states don’t measure up – to our system of professional development, and to our level of legislative support of candidates and NBCTs. I have been so proud to be an NBCT in Oklahoma. Until recent developments put our entire program in terrible jeopardy.

I was excited by much of what I read in the original SB1879 and saw the Legislature's sincere intent to solidify and strengthen the ELO program, a true national leader in NBC. There were areas I had grave concerns about as well. I wrote to Senator Ford and shared my support and my concerns. As I've watched and listened to the discussions, I'm more and more excited about the product you're finalizing.

All along my support hinged on continued support of new NBCTs: scholarships to go through the process and stipends when teachers attain National Board Certification. The scholarships are the first gesture of support, an initial investment in strong teachers who want to become even stronger. The NBC journey is arduous and challenging for a teacher; the financial burden of paying his or her own way adds more stress. So, scholarships will insure the continuation of our program.

But, in the initial versions of 1879, these teachers would not have received a stipend after attaining NBC, and I could not support a bill that would deny recognition to new NBCTs – a $500 ‘pat on the back’ is not the same support  NBCTs have enjoyed for the past ten years. I want the NBC and ELO program to flourish in Oklahoma, and it won’t until our new NBCTs also earn the same stipend. In our program we focus on the elements of equity, access and fairness. In every lesson, in every Entry, we need to address these concerns in our classroom. The way this bill was originally written, new NBCTs would be afforded NONE of these, and I could not support the original SB1879.

Another troublesome element in the original bill was the fact that any funds left over from paying stipends would revert to the SDE. Believe me, the TLE program in no way resembles the NBC process, and investment in TLE over NBC and ELO was a slap in the face of all NBCTs around the state. I was grateful to see that provision of the bill is gone.

But I still had deep issues. With your continued work this week, you've addressed my exact concerns, and I'm feeling so much more hopeful about this legislation.

Rep. Coody, I met you at the NBCT reception and sent you a couple of emails with some suggestions for revising this bill.

At the NBCT reception, I learned about a study by the Gates Foundation – a study that looked into the effectiveness of NBCTs in improving student test scores. While NBC does not narrowly focus on just test scores, an NBCT in a classroom can make that kind of impact. I'm including the link to the chart for you to use in discussions with skeptics. NBCTs DO make a difference – even Bill Gates sees this.

With Rep. Dorman's amendment, extending stipends for new NBCTs, I can now whole-heartedly support SB1879. Rep. Denney's amendment limiting stipends to the original ten years is also a concept I agree with. To continue to provide Oklahoma's students with the very best teachers, having new, younger teachers cycled into the NBCT family, bringing their enthusiasm and expertise, will energize our profession and our schools. Experienced NBCTs would be there to mentor and guide, and Oklahoma will profit.

I often talk about the 'happy teacher dance' when describing those moments in the classroom when a student 'gets it' or exhibits deep learning or makes a connection I've been working on. The 'happy teacher dance' is that payoff for all the hard work, the long hours, the belief in teachers' and students' partnerships.

I am doing the 'happy teacher dance' right now! You've strengthened this bill, you've shown us NBCTs that we are valued, that the work we do is valued. You've shown us all you believe in our power to educate.

I will personally, publicly support this bill as amended. I will write and speak whenever I can, giving my approval of your work.

I want to know what else you need from me, from my fellow NBCTs. 

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