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?

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

2 thoughts on “Department of Public Instruction admits new teacher compensation proposal is merit pay

  1. I suppose it’s good he admitted it, so we can break down that one piece of resistance. However, I fully expect Superintendent Truitt will pivot to “well why shouldn’t we pay them based on skills and performance?”

    I keep coming back to the limitations of this and how few teachers will ever see a raise under this plan, EVEN IF they are highly effective. Superintendent pay is surely tied to scores when it comes time to negotiate with a school board; principals get a bump when their school growth scores are blue. In most cases, I can’t imagine a school environment where the number of advanced positions funded will cover anyone outside those who are directly contributing to EOG or EOC courses. (At least one committee member has already admitted their will not be enough roles to provide for everyone who qualifies.) Never mind that this leaves out all teachers in an entire core subject – social studies – what about the English IV teacher who helps get students over the final hurdle to graduation, the band director who might touch the lives of 15-20% or more of a whole school population, or any other number of highly effective teachers? I suspect that none of them will ever be in line for a raise.

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