Teachers Flood New Program 1,762 Work toward National Certification

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- Denise Harbin, a teacher at Jacksonville's Robert E. Lee High School, likes the idea of making thousands of dollars a year in extra pay.

But when Harbin decided to seek a national teaching certification that could bring bonuses of about $7,000 a year, she said she was motivated by more than money: Harbin wanted to go through the challenging process to become a better teacher.

"I'm in my 13th year of teaching, so I have a long way to go," Harbin said yesterday. "And I don't want to become stale."

Banking on a new state law that promises extra pay if teachers prove their talents, Harbin is one of 1,762 teachers throughout Florida who have poured into a national-certification program in recent months.

The level of interest has stunned state officials such as Sen. Jim Horne, R-Orange Park, who helped push the law through the Legislature last year. During the 1997-98 school year, before the law took effect, only 13 Florida teachers applied for the certification.

"We anticipated maybe 500 to 1,000 [applications]," Horne said. "So we were extremely excited."

Lawmakers, who set aside $12 million for the program, passed the law after years of debate about whether teachers should be paid based on their skills and performance. In the program, teachers apply to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a Michigan-based non-profit group, and go through months of performance reviews.

Backers of the program said it will lead to better teachers in the state's schools, at least in part because of the rigorous review that applicants must undergo. Among other things, they have to take written tests and submit portfolios that include videotapes of their classes.

"Truly, only the best actually achieve the award," said Andy Ford, president of Duval Teachers United, a union that has tried to build support for the program with its members.

With the huge number of applicants, however, a House committee this week questioned whether Florida has budgeted enough money for the program. The $12 million is targeted for the 1998-99 fiscal year, which ends in June.

But Horne said the state will spend far less than $12 million, in part, because it won't pay the bonuses until after the fiscal year ends. He said he is confident lawmakers will set aside another $12 million for 1999-2000, an amount that could be combined with this year's leftover money. …