Friday, October 10, 2014

Confusion about National Board...So What Else is New? My First Response from OSDE!

The state of Oklahoma is in a teacher shortage crisis. We started the year 800 teachers short, and even today, there are classes being covered by substitutes, and some specialty classes have been dropped. Class sizes are rising, and the state wrings its hands about recruiting and retaining teachers.

While all the hand-wringing is happening, the Legislature apparently is quietly killing the best program in the state for retaining career teachers: the Education Leadership Oklahoma's National Board program. At one time we were in the top five in the nation in numbers of NBCTs. That was before the moratorium on scholarships and stipends...and before the passage of HB1660.

We believed, after reading and rereading, and parsing...that current NBCTs could renew their certification and continue to receive the $5000 bonus. The cost, out of pocket to NBCTs for renewal is $1250, and we pay that, go through the process, and we believed would continue to be rewarded. We understood that the Legislature would withdraw its support of new NBCTs to a measly $1000 salary increment, payable from state funding (with no increase from the state). The catch? If a district is paying above the state minimum, NBCTs may receive considerably less, and perhaps nothing at all.

With that background, I called the OSDE and asked for clarification. I left a message, and the next day I received a call from Joel Robison, the Superintendent's Chief of Staff...after some phone tag, we had a frank conversation about NBCT stipends and increments. Mr. Robison answered all my questions, even if I didn't like the answer...twice he said he was hearing feedback on the line, and even asked if I was recording the call. I assured him I was not, but I was taking notes. I found that interesting...that he would think I'd record it. For what purpose??

I asked him who made the ruling about renewing NBCTs. He said 'We believe, as a result of the Legislation,' and 'We discussed the intent of the bill with the authors.' His use of the first person pronoun left no doubt this was an OSDE decision. I pressed him on the authors of the bill, Representatives Denney and Coody. I said I would be contacting them next, and I have sent the email pasted below.

I was only rude once...when he said the stated rationale of HB1660 was to address the fact the NBCT program is too expensive. After the crippling moratorium, very few new candidates are stepping up. As for renewing NBCTs, no more than 40% even renew. Add to that, the attrition of NBCTs retiring, leaving teaching, leaving the state, and I would venture to say the costs of stipends is not growing. I did snort in a most unladylike manner when he said that. My bad.

He spoke of a ten-year commitment...of keeping their promise to NBCTs. That was not the intent of the original legisation that created the program...this is reniging on the commitment. Their attitude is, once the 10 years were up, they had no more commitment to NBCTs, and they would go onto the increment schedule. So, NBCTs who renewed last year, who are waiting for their scores will receive the bonus of $5000 until their original certification expires. It's confusing because we must renew in our 8th or 9th year of our current certification. But the state is willing to give us the bonus for the life of the certificate...ten years.

I asked him if he was aware of the fact that speech pathologists (who piggybacked on our bill, as they did all over the country) had received the full $5000 bonus, through the moratorium on our program, through the changes to our program from HB1660. New speech paths and renewing ones will continue to get the bonus that has now been ripped from NBCTs. He said, "We are aware, and believe that (the perceived special treatment of speech pathologists) to be unfair.' His office has maintained for three years that speech paths and NBCTs should be treated the same. He said the speech pathologists asked for an Attorney General ruling on this...and that the AG said the legislation does not apply to speech paths. I asked again, if there was any AG ruling on HB1660, and he said no. So, until further notice, NBCTs will continue to see their benefits reduced, and speech paths will have it all. I was not aware of the OSDE's attempts to amend the speech path's bonuses to align with ours...I appreciate that effort. Sorry the AG favored one group over the other...and that the Legislature did not include speech paths in HB1660.

We now have a three-tier, separate and unequal system of compensation: Current NBCTs will receive their bonus for only ten years now...the commitment from the state seems to have a shelf life. New NBCTs and renewing NBCTs will receive a salary increment of $83 a month, or close to $70 after deductions (to put this into perspective, renewal costs $1250. It will take a renewing NBCT 18 months to make up the cost of the renewal). New candidates will only receive partial scholarships as well. New and current speech paths will continue to receive the bonus for as long as they are certified...renewal, I believe, involves documenting 30 hours of professional development every three years. Separate systems. Unequal systems.

My last line of questions was about who will pay the salary increments...did the state allocate money to send to schools, as it does for the current NBCT bonus. Guess what? No allocation. No money to schools. NO FUNDING. NO MONEY. NONE. NADA. Their budget requests did not include any money for salary increments. I said, 'So this is another unfunded mandate for schools?' He bristled...and did not answer.

The actual increments will be paid IF a district can afford to pay, and IF the district pays at the state minimum. If the district pays above the state minimum, it gets murky and complicated. Can you say 'unfunded mandate?' I surely can.

Here's the reality. Now NBCTs are expensive to districts...they will take more funding than entry-year-teachers with no experience. In this time of teacher shortages, the state Legislature has made accomplished, career teachers costly to retain. Even the bragging rights of being able to list all the NBCTs in a district will wither under the added funding requirements.Districts will no longer hire NBCTs, knowing they'll be more costly...We will lose a generation of amazing teachers through neglect.

He gave me the names of three Senators: Halligan, Ford, and Jolley, who would be able to answer questions about the allocation of funding.

I thanked him for his return call, and told him this was the first time anyone from OSDE had ever responded to a call, a letter, an email...We agreed I didn't hear the answers I hoped for, but I heard answers...

Then, I wrote to the authors of HB1660, Ann Coody and Lee Denney. I have a sneaking suspicion that the OSDE might, just might, have exaggerated their intent. Always best to get information from the source, huh?

So, I wrote to them:

I just got off the phone with Joel Robison, chief of staff for Superintendent Barresi. I was deeply concerned about the OSDE ruling that renewing NBCTs, including those awaiting their scores, will not have their bonuses extended, and will, instead, be placed on the increment salary schedule.

He repeated over and over that 'we', meaning OSDE, had consulted with the legislators who wrote the bill, and this interpretation reflects legislators' intent. If that was so, why didn't anyone know anything until the beginning of the year when OSDE told superintendents? 

I am asking you if that was your intent? I'll be honest, HB1660 creates a separate and unequal climate for NBCTs, and we are already seeing the growth of the program come to a screeching halt. But to include renewing NBCTs in the mix now exacerbates the two (three?) tier of inequality and inequity. 

When I asked Mr. Robison about funding for these increments, he said the state would not be funding them...that the OSDE did not receive funds for NBCT increments.

He made it clear to me that the AG had not ruled...that OSDE, in partnership with authors of the bill, made this ruling.

I also asked him about speech pathologists, who have not seen the same consequences of their 'national certificate' program. He said OSDE attempted to change their benefits to match our diminished benefits, but the AG ruled that speech paths would continue to receive the bonuses. So, now there are multiple tiers of inequity. NBCTs have seen a moratorium, have seen scholarships cut, have seen bonuses withdrawn. Speech paths? Full speed ahead. 

I am writing to you today, for a reply to Mr. Robison's words, and to beg you to reconsider this's the best way to retain career teachers -- to reward them for staying in the classroom. 

I would love to be involved in such legislation.

I will be sending you a comparison of NBC and the speech path certification, in an effort to convince you to restore our benefits to match speech paths. 

Please let me know if I can provide any other information...please help us restore our program to national leadership.

So, now I wait hear from the legislators. They were in the interim study last week when I spoke about the NBCT program in Oklahoma...they never flinched when I said we had just recently learned of the new ruling...I will be interested in their reply

I ended my conversation with Mr. Robison the same way I ended my presentation: If the state is really committed to retaining accomplished career teachers, we have the program right's on a respirator, and fading fast...but it's here. We could continue to help teachers become NBCTs, to hold their practice against rigorous standards, to find the best of their professional selves. 

Now the question is, do the Legislature and other state policy makers care? DO they want to retain career teachers? Do they care about the quality of the educators in the classroom, or do they just want a warm body to read a script?

I'm watching.

No comments:

Post a Comment