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:

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:

7 thoughts on “NC state superintendent puts lipstick on the merit pay pig

  1. This is ridiculous! Standardized tests & surveys to determine worth? No wonder NC has a teacher shortage

  2. I was really also struck by the acknowledgment by the presenters that while teachers may achieve licensure for those advanced teacher roles, they only get the raise if they are performing those roles and (here’s the really important part) that the people who drew this up know that there won’t be enough work in those roles to go around. That some people will get to those levels but may never get a raise. This makes a certain amount of sense, of course, but when I really break it down, it’s not so attractive.

    That first advanced level is essentially a $500 a month stipend, which is nothing to sneeze at. “Allows teachers to serve students at increased capacity.” What does that mean? Conduct model lessons and do peer observations. Am I also running PLCs and acting as department chair? If not, are the people in those roles – who are also serving students in an increased capacity- getting a pay bump? If I am an English teacher serving in that role one year, and my principal decides the next year there’s a greater need to help teachers in math, am I suddenly taking a pay cut? I can’t be the only teacher who thinks that if that happened, that principal is still going to expect me to perform all the same duties.

    All of this is without even mentioning the tension that is almost certain to exist among staff once someone does or does not get picked for this money. Especially at the highest level.

  3. For 45 years I have worked in the educational system in NC. I have gone from a filmstrip projector to an IPAD. I have seen more “plans” by business people who know nothing about working in the trenches of education than you can imagine. I started out with 150 students teaching 5 sections Iof Biology to Instructional coach to Learning Center Coordinator and Afjunct instructor at a community college. If NC DPI would just learn to value people like me and listen to what we say we could help you solve the disaster NC education is headed for. I am a master teacher. I have seen many master teachers leave education because of DPI’s legislation. Yes, teachers should be held accountable..but NC continues to devalue and insult their most valuable resource. I teach an EDU class and if you don’t wake up and listen there will be no educational resource in NCthat can adequately serve our youth.

  4. Thank you for all of your advocacy for teachers. I emailed! This proposal is not the answer. If we had a competitive teacher salary things would change. Even the proposed increase to 45k is a joke and insult.

  5. I wrote the State Board of Education and asked them to reject this proposal. I explained to them how this IS merit pay, because of the subjectivity of the NCEES rubric, opinions of peers and students alike. I hope they reject the proposal.

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