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‘Master teacher’ applications up

But not enough; need incentives, educators say

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The number of Utah educators seeking national "master teacher" ranks has tripled since the 1998-99 school year.

Still, Utah's 13 applicants for National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification lags far behind two states brand new to the program.

Oregon and Nevada made their application debut in the 1999-2000 school year with 28 and 50 candidates, respectively. Utah had two master teachers in its classrooms as early as 1996, according to the national board's Web site.

State education officials would love to have more national board-certified teachers. But teachers here have zero incentive to do so, said Ron Stanfield, state teacher licensing coordinator.

"As word gets out, more will apply. It's just a really rigorous endeavor," Stanfield said. "We really need to recognize and reward these folks, or they'll go to other states."

The national board, whose standards of excellence are considered the strictest in the nation, believes a top-notch teaching force is at the heart of education reform. Teachers have said that certifying was the best thing they've ever done.

And more are coming into "master teacher" ranks. The national board has announced that a record 9,506 teachers across the country applied to undergo the rigorous process in 1999-2000 — a 55 percent increase from the 1998-99 school year.

The process is reflective and painstaking. Basically, applicants are asked to tear apart their teaching practices, which can take up more than a year.

Applicants must demonstrate excellence in commitment to students, subject and teaching knowledge, monitoring student learning, risk-taking and school contributions via committees or working with other teachers. They also have to create a portfolio, which takes about 120 hours, and submit letters from colleagues and a video of themselves teaching students to showcase their expertise. Testing consists of four 90-minute sessions.

Richard Aslett, a 10-year teacher education professor at Utah Valley State College, took a sabbatical from higher education to work on national board certification and teach first grade at Timpanogos Elementary in Provo last school year. He hopes the effort — he's still preparing for exams — will improve his own teaching and therefore, help prospective teachers become better.

"The national board certification was just an interesting way to reflect on your teaching. It was a challenge," Aslett said. "I think Utah is improving obviously, but there's no monetary incentive to get this national board certification.

"I hope Utah would look at and match other state's efforts."

North Carolina, which leads the nation with 2,253 national board certification seekers, gives applicants three days off work for exam preparation and a 12 percent pay raise for those achieving their goal, the national board Web site states.

Florida's 1,677 applicants will receive a 10 percent pay increase once they certify, plus another 10 percent bonus if they agree to mentor other candidates. And California's 755 applicants will receive a $10,000 bonus with certification.

Utah has secured a grant to fund about half the applicant's fees, now around $2,300, said Larry Peterson, a math teacher at Bonneville High in Weber School District and national board member. Without that financial aid, fewer Utah teachers last school year would have applied for certification, he said.

The 19,000-member Utah Education Association teachers union in the past has stepped in to fund part of the rest. Officials were at a Chicago conference Friday and could not be reached for comment.

Lawmakers in 1999 mulled a bill that would have given teachers a $2,000 bonus and a long-term incentive program to ensure teachers kept applying for national board certification, said Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park. The legislation failed, and Allen says he'll work with educators to determine what steps, if any, he'll take in the 2001 Legislature.

"It's great news people are signing up in Utah," he said. "The upside of that is we've always had people who love the job. . . . I hope we in the Legislature don't take advantage of that pride in teaching. We just need to do more so that they feel we know they're working hard."

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com