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:

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

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

  1. What they want is for veteran teachers to quit. This will do it. It’s brilliant if that is the goal. I know I probably will.

  2. I just want to point out that in NC, veteran teachers are NOT rewarded by that salary scale. Please note that from year 15 to year 25, there are no step increases or raises of any kind. At 25 years, there is a bump, and then never again for the career. I agree that basing pay on EVAAS is a horrible idea, but be aware that you are incorrect in your statement “The proposed change would make North Carolina the first state in the country to stop paying teachers on an experience-based scale that rewards long-term commitment to a career in education and recognizes the importance of veteran educators. “

    • Thank you for making this important point. I’ll reword that part. Would you agree that keeping an experience-based structure in place but improving steps would be better than this proposal?

      • Absolutely! I just left the profession after 30 years- I kept hoping for that veteran raise. I live in SC now and would make $15k more here since they do a $1000 step increase every single year. NC doesn’t care a bit about veteran teachers.

  3. Thank you for writing this informative article. In addition to the points made in the article, and the comments, I have a few I would like to point out.

    1. The observation form is set up for teacher failure. Admin can only include data they observed in one 45 minute session. This does not include all the other lessons, duties, and achievements of a teacher.
    2. There will be a mass exodus of GREAT teachers if this is passed.
    3. This system will cause areas with “well-behaving” students to receive more teachers. Because the less we have to deal with behavior the more content we can teach and more money I can make. This will leave areas with troubled students, the ones that need the better teachers, in serious need.
    4. Yes, teachers teach because we love it and we love our students. But we still want to be prosperous and respected.
    5. If paying based on merit, pay me for my graduate degree. Pay me the overtime I work EVERY week.
    6. NC already has merit based pay. Teachers just have to pay thousands into it and maintain it. It is called National Board Certification.
    7. Pay us what we deserve and treat us with respect and each classroom will have a great teacher.
    8. NC needs a teacher union so we are not bullied by law and policy makers. There needs to be qualified educators that are still in the classroom included on committees that involve policies regarding our NC education system.

      • You may not have the right to strike, but if teachers would work together across the state and not show up to work, what would happen? You can’t get subs now, people would have to take off work etc. However, people are fearful and this would never happen in NC.
        Think of the message that would send across the state.

    • For number 8, each of the sub-committees does include qualified educators who are still in the classroom. NCAE also has representation on at least the licensure and advancement & development sub-committees (and possibly on others, but I’m not sure if all the classroom teachers who serve on the sub-committees are NCAE members)

  4. Please help the veteran teacher by raising their pay, the are hard workers and don’t get the pay they deserve for all they put up with.

  5. I’d like to start by saying that I am not a teacher. I am a physician with a daughter about to become an elementary teacher. Her entire life has been about achieving this goal. She truly has a heart for children and for education. We have discussed many times that our current broken system devalues and disempowers our teachers. Clearly this proposal for a new “merit” based system proves that point. As a product of excellent teachers in our public education system I believe this is a catastrophe in progress. We need to return to a mentality that values teachers. A system that rewards and empowers these professionals who have sacrificed financial incentives , family time and at times their personal professional pride. We need seasoned leaders from actual classroom experience making future decisions about education and policy. I implore our teacher to become more unified than ever and push back against policies that they know firsthand do not work. As a state we do need to move to higher standards for the benefit of our kids and the state. However, programs such as the one is this article are not the way. Only those who have made the sacrifice of being in the classroom for extended periods of time are qualified to move us in the right direction. Let’s choose well for our kids futures

    • America would rather reward sports stars millions to play a game so they can be entertained than invest in our children. To do that requires an investment in the people responsible for educating them. I think I just became ashamed of my home state. I am a teacher of 37 years. I am also a product of NC schools and their kind and wonderful teachers.

  6. 1) Is this a Laban plan where wages can be repeatedly changed based on a student’s ability to do well on tests?
    2) Does this plan also take into consideration children who are exposed to regular or situational toxic stress, which could affect a student’s ability to do well in school?
    3) Teachers are already not compensated for the extra expenses and many hours put in outside school hours. Will teachers be expected to do even more without being paid in order to try to get paid? There’s nothing like more stress to help stressed-out teachers “do better.”
    4) What happens to special needs teachers under this plan?

    • Hi Jane,
      For Q1, EVAAS would be one of many artifacts that a teacher could submit as evidence of their impact on student learning if they choose to, but it would not be the only option. If your EVAAS score does not reflect your effectiveness, you could choose from a menu of other evidences that do (this is where the PEER, QGR, portfolios, etc would come in). Under this model, teachers will have the latitude to submit evidence of their effectiveness that demonstrates what they are actually doing with their kids and the teacher will be the one who decides which evidence option is the best representation of their impact on students. EVAAS/standardized test score results will not be the center of this model, it will simply be one of the artifacts that a teacher can use if they choose to submit as evidence of their effectiveness. If you choose not to submit it as an artifact, your EVAAS scores would not be considered in your ability to grow students. So, if your EVAAS demonstrates you meet or exceed growth, you can choose to use it. But if your EVAAS score doesn’t accurately reflect your ability to grow students, you can ignore it and use one of the other options as evidence of your positive impact on your students.

      Right now the model is a draft that is being developed by four Professional Education Preparations and Standards Commission (PEPSC) sub-committees (Advancement & Development, Licensure, Budget & Compensation, and Preparation & Entry). Nothing in this draft has been finalized and the sub-committees have the latitude to modify the draft based on continued conversations, feedback, research, etc. Once the sub-committees finalize the draft, it will go to PEPSC for approval. If PEPSC approves the model, then it would go to the SBOE for approval. This means that the draft model you see today will go through a lot of modifications and improvements before it goes to the SBOE for a vote. It is critical to get feedback and input from educators while changes and modifications can still be made. Thanks for your questions/feedback. I’ve documented these questions so I can share them with the sub-committee chairs to discuss in their meetings.

      • There are still questionable practices, not in a particular order:
        1. All these assumptions are based on the belief that principals are unbiased and don’t rely on cronyism to keep their jobs. I’ve worked with principals who grouped students based on which teachers she was friendly with. Some teachers had no difficult students and others had multiple.
        2. Are principals also being judged by student test scores? I thought the mark of great schools were great leaders?
        3. Will teachers get to choose the method of merit-pay measurement? Will the statistical analysis take into account IEP goals and second language status? Will PE teachers also be judged on test scores?
        4. Will effectiveness be based on how well teachers connect with students and families? If a teacher is able to move a student from having temper tantrums in September to cooperatively learning in December – even if academic scores don’t increase substantially, will this positive change be noted positively for merit pay? What about helping students and their families access services?
        So many questions.
        I have seen way too much abuse by admins of teachers who work so hard to then be told they didn’t ‘merit’ the extra money.

  7. Merit pay has not been show to be an effective mechanism for incentivizing complex cognitive behavior, like teaching. This is a bad idea on top of a bunch of other bad ideas. Right now the salary schedule for certificated educators where I live starts at over $60k and tops out after 15 years at over $120k. And Washington state certificated educators are receiving at least a 5.5% COLA next year. I know that housing prices are much higher, but when the North Carolina compensation ends roughly where the Washington state compensation begins, it might be worth looking at. And with National Board reciprocity, the thousands of NC educators could walk into any classroom in Washington. Just sayin’.

  8. Thank you for your work as both a teacher and an education activist. I have family and friends who are teachers both in and out of state who think merit based pay is a terrible proposal.

    I have emailed every person on the NC board of education about my disapproval. I made the case that low income schools will suffer the most. They consistently test low on state tests because they struggle with basic needs let alone worry about a state test.

    Please continue your work it is much appreciated. Have a good evening!

  9. Wow! What a way to cause a mass exodus of teachers, who are stretched and stressed beyond the limits right now!!
    Implementation of Merit-based pay I’m pretty sure would be the last straw!
    I can assure you that proposal did not originate with teachers that are on the front lines every day!
    Keep experienced -based pay, with raises they deserve.
    If a teacher is performing poorly. Make administrators accountable for making teachers accountable… give them help, and if performance doesn’t not improve greatly …fire them, but do not punish the majority of teachers who are performing as they should!
    Administrators, if they’re worth their salt, can appreciate and support good teachers and eliminate the few that are not.
    However, it’s hard work and they can’t sit in their office!
    How did Legislators, and State school Board members get where they are??? They had teachers who taught them, and they were not paid on student performance!

  10. Not all classes are created equally. Certain teachers are given higher and better performing students each year. Certain teachers are given clusters of students who have disabilities or are ELL and that can affect EVAAS. Certain teachers are given students with behavior problems which disrupts the learning of the entire class. I could go on an on. There are so many variables.

  11. I agree that this plan is ridiculous! The board obviously isn’t asking teachers for any input. Whoever thought they’d rather go to a brand new doctor for a surgery vs one with some experience? Most people would choose someone with more experience. This is also true of teaching.

  12. Merit pay is not the answer. It WILL cause a mass exodus of veteran, highly qualified teachers leaving the children to suffer. This is sad.


    Career teachers with 30 plus years experience received zero increased compensation. The opportunity for increased funds is dismissed for Lifetime Licensure educators. Also, teachers of SPECIAL Education students are penalized for teaching the greatest students. Another political opportunity to degrade Veterans and increase 0-5 year educators. Teaching has become a revolving door with zero recognition fir experience. If teachers are complacent as the years increase the same should be said for politicians. Every politican received a cost of living pay increase, Numerous GA members have increased their personal income by 300% [ That is an article worth writing!] . I received six dollars and ninety-eight cents prior to taxes. Inflation is @ 11%. Forced retirement of age and gender discrimination!

  14. What a devastating assault on teachers and our fragile public school system. Our students will bear the brunt of this attack for many years to come. I am dismayed but sadly, not surprised. We have allowed individuals be in charge who truly have no experience, knowledge or stake in our classrooms. Where is the data? What research exists to support the claim that ” that teacher effectiveness plateaus after the first few years in the classroom”? It takes years to build experience and effectiveness. Why are there people so fixated on decimating what is left of our educational system? Better yet, why in their own job security confidence, are they so determined to hurt the most vulnerable people? We must stand against this injustice.

  15. I am withdrawing my applications if this passes. I feel bad for the teachers who cannot leave and are living paycheck to paycheck. What we need is to build teachers up, not tear them down. Does NC’s DPI have a plan in place for the Fall when there aren’t enough teachers? For the sake of the children, LISTEN to the teachers. PLEASE!!

  16. This proposal is so bad for teacher retention and for public schools’ effectiveness that one has to wonder what the real goal is. (The proposal’s wisdom is right ‘up there’ with that of something like “I want to get more productivity out of my workers, so I’ll hold back food and beat them until I can get more out of them”). I cannot fathom that anyone is so dumb that they won’t see that this will only exacerbate extreme problems that already exist, so perhaps many are naive to think that some people absolutely desire to take down the public education system.

    • I’m sorry; I made a typo. Perhaps some are naive to think that destroying public education is NOT the goal of the proposal.

  17. Work to the rule. School hours are 8-3:30 for teachers, work from 8-3:30. Grade papers 8-3:30 school days. It really doesn’t matter if you have the cutest classroom. Don’t spend a cent.

  18. I had an amazing Asian ESL student ask me today if everyone of his teachers had PHD’s or Master’s Degrees. I wanted to be as non-political as possible and told him how long I had my M.ED, and that I am only getting paid because I was grandfathered in. Sadly, it was when Jessie Helms was still a major political player. His parents put much into he and his younger brother’s education even at such a young age. He cannot fathom. We were talking about women in history (MARCH: Women’s History Month). Yes I was extra at 22….not anyone else’s fault!!!

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