Utah has 50 percent more "master teachers" heading classrooms this school year than it did last.
But the cadre of educators certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards remains small.
Utah has 77.
North Carolina has nearly 8,300.
And the country boasts 40,200.
With research showing National Board Certified teachers give kids a big boost on standardized test scores, some leaders say it's in states' best interest to encourage teachers to go through the process.
But Utah is perpetually in the nation's cellar in terms of cash for schools. More money to offset $2,300 in certification fees could be hard to come by let alone greenbacks to replace what in some areas amounts to a pat on the back with an actual pay raise.
Then again, the state is expected to rake in $370 million in new tax revenues that could be budgeted in the coming year.
"I would love to get money, or see a lump sum for 100 teachers to get in the program," said Kaye Chatterton, director of teaching and learning for the Utah Education Association. "But we're going to need a major sugar daddy."
National Board Certification is a rigorous, 200- to 300-hour process in which teachers reflect on, tear down and then rebuild their teaching methods. They have to create portfolios, videotape and critique themselves, take several tests and prove how they know their students are learning.
Certification fees amount to $2,300, according to the National Board Web site.
Just over half the candidates fail the first time around, the Utah National Board Commission reports. Test retakes are $300 a pop.
Teachers say it's all worth it.
"They become more an artist of teacher, rather than just a practitioner. It takes teaching to a higher level," said Becky Hatch, Granite District teacher quality specialist and National Board Certified teacher in social studies. "It's about the highest level of achievement a professional teacher can achieve."
Students of National Board Certified teachers have been shown to edge peers on standardized tests, according to research by Arizona State University and the University of Washington and Urban Institute posted at www.nbpts.org.
Often, the teachers going after National Board Certification are at the top of their class. Newly certified Anna Smith of Midvale Middle School, for instance, was named 2002 Secondary Reading Teacher of the Year by the Utah Council of the International Reading Association.
But Utah as a state doesn't provide rewards for teachers achieving that certification.
Granted, the State Office of Education offers competitive scholarships to cover certification costs; so do some districts. The UEA provides a candidate support program and recognition dinner. And some districts, including Jordan, Granite, Davis, Park City and Washington, offer a stipend upon completion, said Pam Su'a, Jordan District social studies specialist and co-chairwoman of the Utah National Board Commission.
Jordan's incentives, including a support group, fee waivers and an annual $1,000 stipend for 10 years (the life of the certification) is considered the Cadillac of Utah district incentives.
"It's an excellent investment," Jordan Board of Education President Peggy Jo Kennett said.
Other states, by comparison, invest far more. South Carolina gives a $7,500 raise; North Carolina hikes salaries by 12 percent for National Board Certified Teachers.
Those states have thousands with the certification. South Carolina has 3,864; North Carolina has 8,283.
Still, some states with fewer National Board Certified teachers than Utah do offer incentives, according to information gathered by the national board. (See www.nbpts.org/about/state.cfm for more information). Montana extends a one-time $3,000 stipend. South Dakota offers fee reimbursement upon certification and a $2,000 annual increase for five years.
Still, teachers involved in the National Board Certification movement believe incentives would encourage more Utah teachers to enter the process.
"Just the fact that better teachers produce better learning, there should be more incentive," said Travis Lemon, a newly National Board Certified math teacher at American Fork Junior High. "Most people aren't motivated as much by inner values as they are by monetary values."
The UEA will attempt to secure some one-time money for National Board Certified teachers, Chatterton said.
It could be a natural fit for lawmakers, who are big on competency-based education and helping people become teachers based on life skills, not how many hours they've sat in a college classroom.
"This just seemed like a lot more application directly to my practice," said newly National Board Certified Matheson Junior High teacher Joanne Fraser, who has taught English 19 years. "Very little of what goes on at the university level is about that. It's more about theory and studying what has been done."
But if more money came, it's uncertain whether Utah school districts would put National Board Certified teachers on a new rung on the salary ladder.
National Board Certified teachers' licenses are on par with Ph.D.'s under Utah law. But school districts aren't catapulting those professionals to the top of the pay scale.
"You're not paid anywhere close," said Lemon, who got the equivalent of six credit hours for getting National Board Certified. That didn't even launch him out of the second of a seven-level pay scale.
Hatch believes catapulting National Board Certified teachers to the top of the pay scale would douse their fire for professional development.
"Part of being a professional is that continued learning," she said. "If they went to the top, what's the incentive to do more?"
Hatch believes a stipend would allow teachers to feel honored all the same.
Rebecca Anderson, state educator licensing specialist who coordinates the national board program in Utah, suggests paying National Board Certified teachers more to teach in low-performing schools, as New York and California do.
Either way, schools ought to do something, Fraser said."In other areas of professional life, there are rewards for being the master of your craft," she said. "Young teachers look at the things districts and the state want them to do, but are not willing to pay for . . . I think that's really hurting our profession. It's difficult for people with a lot of talent and energy entering the field to stay there."