DADE CITY — Cox Elementary School first-grade teacher Jennifer Ackett had a goal when she set out to earn National Board certification.
She wanted to improve her teaching skills, and she planned to use the annual bonus that comes with the recognition to pay for a master's degree in education. Mission accomplished on both fronts.
Ackett has begun pursuing her advanced degree, and, she says, she has become a better teacher.
"I am much more reflective in my teaching and my thinking," she said, crediting the hundreds of hours she spent working with a mentor to examine her methods and lessons. "I did find it very rewarding."
Over the years, that has been the motivation for dozens of Pasco County teachers to go after the extra level of professional development and certification. And the state of Florida has valued the effort by paying their $2,500 application fees, plus giving bonuses of nearly $5,000 for being certified and another nearly $5,000 for mentoring other teachers.
Florida shot to the top of the charts in terms of numbers of teachers completing the program, second only to North Carolina in total National Board teachers.
Then Florida lawmakers removed much of the incentive. In 2008, they stopped paying the application fee and canceled the mentoring bonus.
Many teachers, facing increasing costs and no raises, bailed on the system.
In Pasco, just 11 teachers completed National Board certification this year, down from 34 in 2008 and 36 in 2007. That two-thirds drop mirrored the decline statewide.
"It is what we anticipated in terms of the impact," Pasco assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly said.
She called National Board certification a "wonderful professional development experience," but predicted it might give way in Florida to other alternatives if the funding does not return.
"In the Race to the Top, we are going to be looking at different ways of getting our high-level teacher leaders involved, and there will be some incentives for them," Reilly said, alluding to the federal dollars the Obama administration is offering for education reform.
"Teacher leaders are a critical part of how we move our system forward," Reilly said.
Karen Garr, regional outreach director for National Board, said she was pleased with Florida's results given the loss of state funding. She expected the certification numbers will bounce back, particularly because its requirements fit well with the national Race to the Top effort.
"It is appearing in the Race to the Top proposals in other states," Garr said. "Do I think this (Florida's dip) is irreversible? Absolutely not."
Ackett said she was able to get through the program because she entered before the state ended its financial support. She said it's worth it professionally.
"It's an intense amount of work," Ackett said. "I'm a much better teacher for it. ... I would highly recommend the process."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.