James Ford: The Toxic Racial Theory Poisoning the Country

Photo credit: Alvin C. Jacobs

*This piece was originally written in July, 2021.*

By now you must have heard about it. It is everywhere! And whether or not you’ve been paying attention, this insidious ideology has taken over the country and indoctrinated the populace for the last few years. It’s the toxic racial theory poisoning the minds of children and adults in our nation – Great Replacement Theory (GRT). 

‘You Will Not Replace Us’

GRT made headlines in 2017 during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, where a mob of torch-bearing white men marched around a recently-removed Confederate monument chanting “you will not replace us”. Attendees engaged in barbaric violence, injuring several people and ultimately killing activist Heather Heyer after a perpetrator drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters. This mantra is identified as a white supremacist slogan by the Anti-Defamation League and reflects a long-held fear of demographic change in America. In sum, Great Replacement Theory posits that a rising majority of people of color in the country is a plot to “replace” the shrinking minority white population, pushing them and their way of life into supposed extinction. The theory was popularized in 2012 by French author Renaud Camus who wrote a book of the same title. 

While originating in Europe as a response to increased Black and Muslim immigration, it has since gained a foothold in the United States. The ideology is typically not explicitly named, but the sentiments can be detected in the comments of politicians like former Rep. Steven King who in 2017 tweeted “you cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies” when discussing US immigration. Consider former North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest who during his failed gubernatorial campaign in 2019 stated “no other nation […] has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today” supposedly due to a “lack of assimilation”. Or the now-abandoned proposed America First Caucus in the US House of Representatives, which was intended to preserve the so-called “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” of the country while warning the “unique identity” of the nation is at risk. Perhaps worst of all is the decidedly more flagrant messaging of Fox News Correspondent Tucker Carlson who in April plainly stated that a law undoing racially restrictive immigration by limiting it strictly to free “white person[s]…of good character” was the biggest attack on democracy. 

Taking all these examples together, are we supposed to pretend we don’t notice a pattern? It’s no mystery, the common thread in all the discourse is the notion of a white or Western European cultural and political supremacy that must be protected at all cost – including circumventing democracy itself, if necessary. All the pretense is gone at this point. We are instead left with raw nativism, no additives or preservatives.

GRT versus CRT

You likely do not know about this theory or the threat it poses because nearly every bit of corporate media’s coverage of racial resentment is concentrated on “Critical Race Theory”. The general population now believes they have a sophisticated understanding of the 30+ year old academic analytical legal framework that looks at how racism functions at the structural level, particularly in the post-Civil Rights era. This is thanks in large part to a coordinated far-right disinformation campaign. The phrase has been laundered unquestioningly by news outlets simply repeating the bogus accusations it is being taught in K-12 classrooms across the country without much critique or investigations of merit. We now know that pseudo-intellectuals like Cristopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute and organizations like Parents Defending Education are behind this intentional misappropriation of the term. It now is a convenient stand-in for any investigation of systemic racism. 

Sadly, it has been effective in grabbing headlines, but also ineffective as even conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation reports many parents who know little about CRT have a neutral or favorable view. The backfiring of this propaganda should come as no surprise. The implication that examining systemic racism is somehow “un-American” isn’t landing so well after the racial reckoning of 2020. Nevertheless, conservatives seem to be banking on the idea that focusing on Critical Race Theory will somehow confirm Great Replacement Theory and trigger the historically reliable mobilizing force of white resentment. They are betting the house, better yet, the nation on the belief that a divided structure will somehow remain standing. The message is simple, “See! They are trying to replace you, your history, your worldview, your customs, etc. Be afraid!” Doubling-down and pushing all chips to the center of the political table. It’s hard to argue with their logic, for reasons they seek to prohibit from being included in US historical canon. But we know why. 

Culture War

In truth, the country has changed, but it’s not the existential crisis far-right extremists make it out to be. Change is an inevitable part of any nation’s evolution. Resistance to this shift in composition and culture – commonly called the “culture wars”—is about maintaining predominance, instead of plurality. The premise of the conflict rests on the idea that multiple things cannot exist harmoniously at once. That America will no longer be “America” without white social or cultural dominance. For them it’s zero sum, there is no power sharing to be had. You are either the oppressor or being oppressed, dominating or being dominated, there is no in-between. At a basic level, culture is connected to how people think, act and behave. For so long this has almost entirely been determined by white Americans and with all others (including Central and Eastern European immigrants initially) being forced to conform. However, after years of dependence on us – citizens of color as the mass producers of culture – it’s no wonder our influence and worldview is more widespread than ever. 

Just take a moment to consider the reactions to Beyonce’s halftime performance during the 2016 Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players kneeling in protest of police brutality and injustice, NBA and WNBA players donning shirts that say Black Lives Matter or weighing-in on electoral politics, or even race car driver Bubba Wallace leading the effort for NASCAR to ban the confederate flag from all events. Now add the 2020 Movement for Black Lives, the culminating global protests and the unprecedented multiracial coalitions, and anyone can see something is different. The faux outrage is a stubborn resistance to the changed power dynamic, one that permits historically excluded others to speak in their own voices and see the world through their own eyes. 

This was not supposed to happen. Those people are supposed to “shut up and dribble”. They are supposed to enjoy their immense financial rewards, huge platforms, and choose to remain mute on issues of societal import to their communities. If things are so bad, they should leave the country, right? But that ain’t us, in fact it never has been. The difference now is they no longer have the unilateral ability to silence us. Our perspectives are maligned as “woke”, “political” and “divisive”. But when one asks the simple question, “for who?”, deductive reasoning makes it obvious. Any shift of the national culture to reflect those who have historically been on the margins is seen as a lost battle in a sadistic war for cultural supremacy. This is GRT!  They’re crying about the sky falling when it’s actually just opening up.  

White Supremacy Manifestos

The danger of these disinformation campaigns cannot be understated. They signal desperation and a racially-primed panic that often plays out in violence. This is why for students of history, the armed insurrection of January 6th was no surprise. GRT themes are consistently captured in the manifestos of white supremacist terrorists like Dylan Roof, killer of 9 parishioners in the Charleston Church Massacre of 2016 and Patrick Crusius, the El Paso Shooter who killed 20 people outside of a Walmart in 2018. Both murderers seemed fixated on Black and Hispanic “invasions” of the country. While many politicians and pundits railing against antiracism are not terrorists, the substance of their rhetoric is nearly ideologically identical. The widespread voter suppression and rash of bills attempting to whitewash history are all connected. This should concern all of us if we consider far-right extremists as the greatest terrorist threat in the US and research that shows white Americans who hold racial prejudices are less committed to democracy and more supportive of authoritarianism. 

This is GRT, and it is the most dangerous racial theory being propagated in the country, not CRT. It is white identity politics in self-destruct mode, and if we do not work feverishly to name and eradicate it this disingenuous strategy may just succeed in preserving the America of the past while preventing it from having any foreseeable future. 

Department of Public Instruction admits new teacher compensation proposal is merit pay

Last month’s release of a proposal to move educators to merit pay has not been particularly well received by North Carolina teachers.

And who can blame us? 

We’ve borne the brunt of more than a decade of General Assembly policy that has made a career in public education in North Carolina deeply unappealing.  We’ve endured a two year pandemic which upended teaching and learning and spawned a massive teacher shortage that has vastly increased the burden on those of us who have chosen to stay.  

We are long overdue for some good news.

So you’ll forgive North Carolina’s teachers for being a little grumpy at the prospect of having our pay and career advancement opportunities based on effectiveness measures that are subjective or hold teachers responsible for factors beyond their control:

➢ Standardized test scores
➢ Principal evaluations
➢ Peer evaluations
➢ Student surveys

That grumpiness has translated to a whole lot of negative feedback being provided to members of the State Board of Education who will ultimately decide on the proposal as well as to members of the committees currently working on the draft.

One of those members happens to be State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, leader of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).  Truitt sits on the State Board of Education as well as the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) overseeing this work.

When teacher outrage about the plan erupted, Superintendent Truitt’s initial response was to deny the proposal was merit pay at all.  At the April 6 meeting of the State Board of Education, Truitt absurdly claimed that since the plan offers multiple ways to demonstrate effectiveness it can’t be considered merit pay.  

But last week DPI’s Dr. Tom Tomberlin disagreed.

Dr. Tomberlin serves as DPI’s Director of Educator Recruitment and Support.  He sits on all four PEPSC subcommittees and directs their work, and he has shaped the licensure and compensation model more than any other individual.

Tomberlin apparently decided it was time for DPI to stop denying the obvious:

“I can’t get away from the fact that, arguably this is… I mean, we’re saying we’re going to pay people based on their skills and their performance.  [laughs]

That kind of is the definition of merit pay.”

Dr. Tom Tomberlin

Tomberlin then went on to say the group needed to better explain how this version of merit pay differs from its past iterations in our state.  He said the difference is that, in the past, merit pay has been used more narrowly to award bonuses, but this proposal would change the whole organizational structure.

In other words, Tomberlin seemed to be saying, the difference is that this time merit pay will be the entire foundation of how we compensate teachers and determine their career trajectories.  

And that’s supposed to make teachers feel better about this plan?

Now that we’ve established that the proposal is indeed merit pay, it’s time for an honest and transparent conversation about whether it’s possible for a system of merit pay to be equitable to teachers.  

We also need to talk about how enacting a flawed licensure and compensation system in the middle of a pandemic and during the worst public school staffing crisis in recent memory would impact our teacher pipeline and our ability to put an excellent educator in every classroom.

That is our goal, right?

***

You can view the entire April 27 meeting of PEPSC subcommittee co-chairs below:

Member of NC committee working on merit pay proposal urges colleagues to listen to teachers and adjust based on feedback

Teacher Appreciation Week starts today, but this North Carolina teacher would like to direct some appreciation to Dr. Westley Wood.

Dr. Wood’s day job is Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Human Resources for Wilkes County Schools, but he also serves on the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC).

PEPSC is the group currently working on a proposal to scrap North Carolina’s experience-based teacher pay scale for a merit pay system that would compensate educators based on effectiveness measures such as standardized test results, principal evaluations, and student surveys.

Last week members of the PEPSC commission, subcommittee co-chairs and Department of Public Instruction (DPI) staff met to discuss the draft proposal.

DPI’s Director of Educator Recruitment Tom Tomberlin had just finished explaining that he was putting together a video to be shown at sessions of an upcoming teacher listening tour so there would be “completely consistent” messaging. (As an aside here, I’d like to note the fact that Tomberlin sees messaging as a primary focus of these sessions raises important questions about whether DPI intends to hold a listening tour or a marketing tour.)

After listening to his colleagues talk about teacher feedback collection, Dr. Wood spoke up:

“I think we as the PEPSC commission have got to listen to the feedback and take action as needed from the response of our teachers. They’re the ones impacted, in their eyes, the most at this time by this model, and we’ve got to listen and adjust and take action based on feedback we get, whether it’s positive or negative.

Dr. Wood is right that North Carolina’s teachers will be heavily impacted by any overhaul of licensure and compensation. We are also best positioned to shine a light on exactly how implementation of a merit pay system would play out at the school level. Our concerns should not be condescendingly shrugged off as “misconceptions.” Our feedback should be solicited in good faith and used in decision making.

But let’s not forget who is ultimately most impacted by North Carolina’s leaky teacher pipeline: It’s the students who have the constitutional right to excellent teachers.

If we enact a sweeping merit pay system based on subjective and inaccurate measures and throw open the classroom doors to unprepared teachers, our pipeline crisis is going to get worse.

And, as usual, North Carolina’s children will lose the most.

***

(You can listen to the entire PEPSC meeting below. The section with Dr. Tomberlin starts at approximately 48:00)

“Massive” Texas educator shortage a cautionary tale for North Carolina policymakers overhauling teacher licensure

Like many states, Texas is currently facing a massive teacher shortage, with more than 10,000 classroom vacancies.  But this state is unique in that its deep deregulation of teacher preparation has made the crisis even worse. Texas’s school staffing woes provide an important cautionary tale for North Carolina as our decision makers craft a complete makeover of teacher licensure and compensation.  

***

In Texas, most new teachers don’t enter the classroom through traditional university educator preparation programs.  Instead, more than half the state’s newest educators go through alternative certification routes.  Such programs offer more flexibility and lower costs than universities, and to some extent they’ve helped diversify the teaching corps.  

However, limited state oversight of such programs means quality control is nearly nonexistent. As a result, they often produce teachers who aren’t well prepared for the realities of life in the classroom.  Those educators rarely stay in the profession for long.

The largest alternative certification program in Texas is the for-profit “Texas Teachers of Tomorrow,” a company which has expanded into a number of other states including North Carolina.  (More on the North Carolina franchise later.)  

The company advertises its product as a speedy path to becoming a classroom teacher:

Of course faster doesn’t always mean better.

A recent audit by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) found numerous problems with the Texas Teachers of Tomorrow program, including misleading advertising, failure to provide new teachers with mentors, and lack of research to support training materials.  

The agency is now considering whether to place TTOT on probation while it works to get its act together or revoke its right to operate in Texas entirely.  The state is so far down the alternative certification road that revocation could make teacher shortages even worse than they already are.

In order to better understand the impact of Texas’s deregulation of teacher preparation, the University of Houston’s College of Education took a deep dive into trends in the state’s public school staffing, conducting a decade-long study which culminated with the 2021 release of the Texas Teacher Workforce Report.  

Researchers found that after 10 years 57% of teachers prepared through traditional university programs remained, while only 46% of those who came through for-profit programs like Texas Teachers of Tomorrow were still in the classroom.

Back to North Carolina

In the 2017-18 session, North Carolina state legislators passed a law called “Excellent Educators in Every Classroom” which opened up teacher preparation to entities that are not universities.  (The same bill created the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, the group that is currently working on a proposal to reform licensure and compensation by moving to a system of merit pay.)

The legislation was sponsored by then-state senator Chad Barefoot, and eyebrows shot up when news emerged that Teachers of Tomorrow president and frequent Republican donor Vernon Reaser had contributed to Barefoot’s campaign.  

After the bill passed, Teachers of Tomorrow was authorized to operate as an educator preparation program in North Carolina.  The company’s billboards began popping up along the state’s highways, again selling the quick path to the classroom:

North Carolina Teachers of Tomorrow now refers to itself as “the largest North Carolina teacher license program” and, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Educator Preparation Program Dashboard, has a current enrollment of 1,326.  

The company’s website boasts a number of glowing endorsements by “teachers” who have completed the program in North Carolina.  

Oddly enough, not one of them is listed in NCDPI’s License Verification database, indicating none of those being used to sell the North Carolina Teachers of Tomorrow program actually holds a teaching license in this state.  

Perhaps the misleading advertising flagged by the Texas Education Agency wasn’t an anomaly.

The North Carolina officials who are promoting the state’s new merit pay proposal keep talking about the need for additional “on ramps” for educators.  State superintendent Catherine Truitt recently said, “Opening these doors into the profession for our teachers can turn into opening the doors of opportunity for our students.”

To be clear, we do need to ensure there are viable alternate pathways to the classroom and that our licensure system is resulting in a healthy, diverse teacher pipeline.  But we must be sure that when we open those doors we do so with the understanding that teaching is a highly skilled profession.  Our North Star must be our constitutional obligation to provide excellent teachers for every student.  

If we open North Carolina’s doors to shoddy operators and poorly prepared teachers, there’s no reason to think the results will be any different from the mess that’s playing out in Texas.

Some thoughts on North Carolina’s teacher merit pay proposal…

There is a proposal underway that would eliminate the compensation model that pays teachers based on their years of experience and instead move all North Carolina educators to a system of merit pay.

Here’s what you need to know:

You can direct thoughts on the process and draft proposal to Dr. Thomas Tomberlin here: Thomas.Tomberlin@dpi.nc.gov

State Board of Education members will eventually vote on whether to approve the model, which is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks. If you’d like to share feedback with State Board members, their email addresses are:

eric.davis@dpi.nc.gov
alan.duncan@dpi.nc.gov
olivia.oxendine@dpi.nc.gov
reginald.kenan@dpi.nc.gov
amy.white@dpi.nc.gov
James.Ford@dpi.nc.gov
Jill.Camnitz@dpi.nc.gov
Donna.Tipton-Rogers@dpi.nc.gov
JWendell.Hall@dpi.nc.gov
john.blackburn@dpi.nc.gov
mark.robinson@dpi.nc.gov
dale.folwell@dpi.nc.gov

NC state superintendent puts lipstick on the merit pay pig

Today the Department of Public Instruction presented the State Board of Education with a draft proposal that would move the state’s teachers from an experience-based pay scale to a system of merit pay. 

Or would it?

When the presentation concluded, Board Member Jill Camnitz asked the following question:

“I’d like to ask you to address something that we’re hearing around this table in terms of the emails that we’re receiving mostly from teachers across the state and that is a fear that this is merit pay…What’s the difference?  Is this merit pay?”

DPI’s Dr. Tom Tomberlin then launched into a rambling history lesson that didn’t answer the question.  When he was finished, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt jumped in.

Superintendent Truitt started by reading a definition of merit pay which she had apparently Googled in preparation for the meeting:

Here’s how she attempted to explain away teacher worries about moving to merit pay:

“I find it interesting that some of the concerns that have been raised in emails are around this concept of merit pay.  The Department of Labor defines merit pay as ‘pay for performance based on a set of criteria established by the employer.’  I think in education there is a–and perhaps it’s because of some of the history that Dr. Tomberlin just shared in our own state–there’s a thinking that merit pay means tying teacher compensation to test scores.  And I want to be very clear there’s been some kind of incomplete and sometimes erroneous reporting in the media this past week about this model, and thank you for Dr. Tomberlin for kicking us off by reiterating that this is a model, that we are not voting on this at this time.  

This is something that if it were to be implemented, it would be two to three years away from implementation.  We’ve got a long way to go with this.  However, I want to be very clear that this is not a model that ties teacher compensation to test scores.  So while EVAAS could be one way to move up in the model, move up the ladder so to speak, it is one way.  There are multiple ways for teachers to move up via effectiveness, and effectiveness has many definitions and there are many ways to demonstrate effectiveness.  

So I want to be very clear that EVAAS is not a required pathway to advancement.  For each step on the ladder there are multiple ways to advance outside of EVAAS.  I think it’s also important to highlight on, if we could go back to the graphic please, I think it’s important to note that when we look at License III, where the star is, that is where the majority of our teachers are coming from now.  They graduate from a traditional EPP, and this is where they would start, which means that their starting salary, if we have our way, will be higher than it is right now.  

I would also point out that we are trying to solve three challenges with this model.  And I think that when we get feedback from the field right now, which I’m really happy even when the feedback is negative and even sometimes misinformed, it’s good to get that feedback because it helps all of us, and those in PEPSC, understand where the miscommunication is and how we need to do a better job of communicating this to our teachers.”

So, to sum up:

Merit pay is when you’re paid for your performance based on criteria set by your employer.

But this isn’t that, because your merit can be measured in more than one way.

Also, it wouldn’t happen for 2-3 years.

By the way, teachers will hopefully get paid more.

And finally, teachers who don’t like the model don’t understand it.

Let’s agree on Truitt’s Department of Labor definition as a starting point.

Here’s a slide from the draft proposal:

Truitt is absolutely right that there are multiple pathways under this proposal.  In other words, there are multiple criteria available to evaluate a teacher’s performance.  But all of those pathways measure the teacher’s merit in order to determine their compensation and advancement.  

I can opt out of EVAAS as that measure and instead go with the Practical Educator Evidence Review, for example.  My merit as a teacher would then be determined through principal observation, colleague observation, and student surveys.

That’s merit pay.

And you can put lipstick on a pig if you want to, but it’s still a pig.

Our current system compensates teachers based on their years of experience, just as every other state in the country does.  The experience-based approach, if adequately funded, rewards long term commitment to a career in education and recognizes the importance of veteran educators. Under this system, the tools which Truitt and her folks want to use to determine teacher pay can help teachers grow in their practice as educators. But their subjectivity and other limitations cannot harm the educator’s livelihood.

Last of all, to the point that the significant educator pushback against this proposal is rooted in poor communication, teachers are perfectly capable of reading this new plan–which is definitely merit pay–and thinking about how it would apply to their professional practice.  Dismissing their concerns as “those teachers are just misinformed” is insulting and disingenuous.  

North Carolina teachers deserve better.

****

You can direct thoughts on the process and draft proposal to Dr. Thomas Tomberlin here: Thomas.Tomberlin@dpi.nc.gov

State Board of Education members will eventually vote on whether to approve the model, which is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks. If you’d like to share feedback with State Board members, their email addresses are:

eric.davis@dpi.nc.gov
alan.duncan@dpi.nc.gov
olivia.oxendine@dpi.nc.gov
reginald.kenan@dpi.nc.gov
amy.white@dpi.nc.gov
James.Ford@dpi.nc.gov
Jill.Camnitz@dpi.nc.gov
Donna.Tipton-Rogers@dpi.nc.gov
JWendell.Hall@dpi.nc.gov
john.blackburn@dpi.nc.gov
mark.robinson@dpi.nc.gov
dale.folwell@dpi.nc.gov

Meeting records reveal significant disagreement, botched vote over use of student surveys to determine North Carolina teacher pay

Today the NC Department of Public Instruction will present the State Board of Education with a draft proposal that would move the state’s teachers from an experience-based pay scale to a system of “merit pay.” 

Much of the pushback from educators thus far has centered around the use of EVAAS, a computer software which the SAS corporation claims can accurately measure teacher effectiveness based solely on students’ standardized test results.

Educators are rightly concerned about the proposed use of this data, among other reasons because of how many factors go into student test performance that are beyond the teacher’s control.

But what about the 60% of teachers who don’t have EVAAS scores, or those teachers whose scores are low?  

According to the proposal, those educators would have the option of being evaluated via something called the “Practical Educator Evidence Review” (PEER).

PEER would use principal observation, observation by a Level IV+ colleague, and student surveys in order to gauge teacher effectiveness.

There are four PEPSC subcommittees currently working on the licensure and compensation reform proposal: Prep and Entry, Advancement and Development, Budget and Compensation, and Licensure.

Discussion at the March 31, 2022 meeting of the Licensure subcommittee revealed significant disagreement among members over whether student surveys should be used to determine teachers’ compensation and career advancement.

Dr. Chris Godwin, Assistant Dean and Chair of Professional Education at Campbell University, was the first to raise concerns about the use of student surveys at this meeting. Multiple other members then chimed in as well to say they did not support that part of the proposal.

I’ll post complete minutes at the end, but the relevant section is here:

A few minutes later Dr. Kimberly Evans, who serves as DPI’s Education Preparation Coordinator, returned to the point on student surveys to clarify that the Licensure committee had in fact voted to approve student surveys, albeit not unanimously. Another committee member replied in the chat:

“I personally don’t think using qualitative assessments for licensure is a good idea b/c it opens up too much subjectivity into the process.”

The subcommittee members’ conflicting accounts over whether or not the group had chosen to use student surveys in the model made me curious, so I did some digging and found the meeting where the decision was made.

At the November 2021 meeting of the Licensure subcommittee, the decision to move forward with student surveys was taken up despite the fact that more than half of the voting members were not in attendance–a point noted by subcommittee member and NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly.

Others who were present appeared confused about whether they were eligible to vote or should abstain because they work for the Department of Public Instruction.

The use of student surveys was approved by a one vote margin, 8-7.

Giving students power to determine teachers’ salaries and professional path is not a decision to be made lightly. It’s one that deserves rigorous dialogue by all stakeholders (committee members and public alike) as well as clearly established parameters for how the decision will be made.

At least from these two Licensure subcommittee meetings, it appears that those things are not currently happening.

You can direct thoughts on the process and draft proposal to Dr. Thomas Tomberlin here: Thomas.Tomberlin@dpi.nc.gov

State Board of Education members will eventually vote on whether to approve the model, which is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks. If you’d like to share feedback with State Board members, their email addresses are:

eric.davis@dpi.nc.gov
alan.duncan@dpi.nc.gov
olivia.oxendine@dpi.nc.gov
reginald.kenan@dpi.nc.gov
amy.white@dpi.nc.gov
James.Ford@dpi.nc.gov
Jill.Camnitz@dpi.nc.gov
Donna.Tipton-Rogers@dpi.nc.gov
JWendell.Hall@dpi.nc.gov
john.blackburn@dpi.nc.gov
mark.robinson@dpi.nc.gov
dale.folwell@dpi.nc.gov

Complete minutes from the November 2021 PEPSC Licensure subcommittee meeting:

Nov-2021-Licensure-subcommittee-minutes

Complete minutes from the March 2022 PEPSC Licensure subcommittee meeting:

Mar-2022-Licensure-subcommittee-minutes

North Carolina proposal would scrap experience-based teacher pay scale and replace it with “merit pay”

A draft proposal coming before the State Board of Education next week would transition all North Carolina teachers to a system of “merit pay” as soon as 2023.

The proposal represents the culmination of the work of the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, which was directed by state legislators to make recommendations on licensure reform.

The proposed change would make North Carolina the first state in the country to stop paying teachers on an experience-based scale that, at least in theory, rewards long-term commitment to a career in education and recognizes the importance of veteran educators (if adequately funded by the state–but that’s a topic for another post).  

Instead, compensation would be based on teacher effectiveness as determined through measures like EVAAS, a computer algorithm developed by the SAS corporation which analyzes standardized test scores. Teachers who do not have EVAAS scores would receive salaries based on subjective metrics such as principal observations, observations by colleagues, and student surveys.

This plan is problematic in a number of ways.  It would increase “teaching to the test” by offering a handful of larger salaries to those educators whose students do well on tests.  Competition over a limited number of larger salaries would lead to teachers working in silos rather than collaborating and sharing best practices as cohesive teams.  Teachers of subjects with no standardized tests are raising concerns that observations and student surveys are highly subjective, and basing salaries on them would be unfair.

Dr. Tom Tomberlin, who serves as the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Director of Educator Recruitment and Support, has justified moving away from an experience-based pay scale by claiming that teacher effectiveness plateaus after the first few years in the classroom.

It’s an argument which shows a major disconnect between DPI and those of us who actually work in schools and experience first hand how important veteran teachers are to overall school operations.

Veteran teachers often work as mentors, run athletic departments, coach sports and deliver professional development for peers.

They have long-standing relationships with school families and community members that position them to be excellent advocates for the needs of their schools.  

None of that value is reflected in a veteran teacher’s EVAAS score.

Brenda Berg, CEO of pro-business education reform organization Best NC, has been a vocal proponent of scrapping the experience-based pay scale.  Berg, who serves on the compensation subcommittee that helped develop the plan, said this week that it’s clear our current system isn’t working and it’s time to be “bold” about change even if it’s “scary.”

I’d like to note that anyone who claims educator pushback to this plan is centered in fear of change is completely out of touch with what it’s like to be a professional educator.  We are the most flexible and resilient people on the planet, and the last two years have illustrated that fact like never before.  We also know what it means to be treated fairly.

It’s true that North Carolina is facing a major pipeline crisis, with enrollment in UNC education programs down drastically over the past several years.  It’s true that if we aren’t bold about change we will soon have nobody left who’s willing to work in our schools.

But we also need to be bold about acknowledging the reason for this crisis.  It isn’t because the licensure process is too cumbersome.  It isn’t because veteran teachers are ineffective and making too much money.  It isn’t because our teachers lack accountability.

The reason North Carolina’s schools are suffering from a lack of qualified educators is because for the last 12 years our legislature’s policies have made it deeply unappealing to be a teacher in this state.  Those policies include cutting master’s pay and longevity pay, taking away teacher assistants, eliminating retiree health benefits and many, many others.

The solution to North Carolina’s teacher pipeline crisis isn’t a system of merit pay which devalues long term commitment to public schools and ties salaries to standardized tests and subjective measures.

The solution to the problem is comprehensive policy change that makes a teaching career in North Carolina an attractive proposition.  That’s the kind of change that will allow us to put an excellent teacher in every classroom. 

This proposal ain’t it.

You can share feedback on the proposal with Dr. Thomas Tomberlin here: Thomas.Tomberlin@dpi.nc.gov

State Board of Education members will hear Dr. Tomberlin’s presentation at the April 6 board meeting. Their email addresses are:

eric.davis@dpi.nc.gov
alan.duncan@dpi.nc.gov
olivia.oxendine@dpi.nc.gov
reginald.kenan@dpi.nc.gov
amy.white@dpi.nc.gov
James.Ford@dpi.nc.gov
Jill.Camnitz@dpi.nc.gov
Donna.Tipton-Rogers@dpi.nc.gov
JWendell.Hall@dpi.nc.gov
john.blackburn@dpi.nc.gov
mark.robinson@dpi.nc.gov
dale.folwell@dpi.nc.gov

Mississippi–yes, Mississippi–just raised the bar for teacher pay in the southeast. North Carolina’s General Assembly needs to pay close attention.

This week Mississippi legislators passed a law raising educators’ salaries by an average of more than $5000 per year. It’s the largest educator pay raise in state history.

Mississippi’s compensation for educators has traditionally been one of the lowest in the country. Starting teachers will now earn $41,638–above the national average.

The $246 million bill passed Mississippi’s Senate unanimously and cleared the House by a vote of 118-4. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, and the state’s GOP governor has indicated he will sign it.

This dramatic salary increase goes into effect for the 2022-23 school year. It comes as Mississippi faces more than 3000 teacher vacancies statewide.

North Carolina legislators need to pay very close attention. Our state’s schools are also experiencing massive staffing shortages after a two year pandemic. A state budget passed last fall gives North Carolina educators raises of just 1.3% over each of the next two years–not even close to keeping pace with inflation.

It’s now likely we will see a repeat of the targeted efforts to lure North Carolina educators away that occurred a few years ago when Texas recruiters took out classified ads promising massive raises to teachers willing to relocate.

The teacher exodus North Carolina has seen this year will only increase if lawmakers don’t take significant action to stop it. And while an abrupt change in state legislators’ priorities seems improbable, Mississippi has just proved it’s possible.