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.”
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: