NC superintendent denies that paying teachers based on their perceived merit is merit pay

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt continued to insult the intelligence of North Carolina’s teachers this week, repeating her absurd claim that paying teachers based on their perceived merit is not merit pay.

Appearing on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, Truitt said there was “deliberate” misinformation out there on the subject and that “it is absolutely false to say [the Pathways to Excellence proposal] is merit pay.”

Mike Collins:  I want to talk about teacher pay, and so does Becca on Facebook, one of our listeners.  She says, "Given what Catherine has been saying just now about the inadequacy of student and teacher assessment, I'm surprised that she is still involved in pushing the antiquated idea of merit pay which is based on these assessment tools and has been proven to be ineffective time and time again."  Do you want to address that?

Catherine Truitt: Well, first of all, there's a lot of misinformation out there right now, some of it deliberate some of it not, about this proposed pay plan which is still in the development phases. And it is absolutely false to say that this is merit pay. Merit pay means that you are comparing a teacher against another teacher. That's not what this pay plan proposes. This pay plan does not compare teacher to teacher, it compares a teacher to her or himself. So, um, also what I would say is that this pay plan in its current form does not require test scores to be tied to licensure or to pay. It is but one, um, one measurement that a teacher could use to, um, uh, move up on an advancement ladder so to speak without having to leave the classroom.

Truitt’s definition of merit pay has evolved since April, when she said in a State Board of Education meeting that the licensure/compensation plan wasn’t merit pay because the definition she had apparently found on Google said it was “pay for performance based on a set of criteria established by the employer,” and somehow the proposal wasn’t that.

This is very simple.

Currently we pay teachers based on their years of commitment to public education. More years = more pay. The Pathways proposal is that we stop doing that and instead compensate teachers using various measurements of their performance. In other words, they’ll be paid based on their merit. Guess what that’s also called?

Even #1 Pathways to Excellence fan Dr. Tom Tomberlin, who works for Truitt at the Department of Public Instruction, has admitted that the proposal is merit pay:

Tom Tomberlin:  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.

Let’s be real. This is not about definitions. It’s about messaging. And Superintendent Truitt is receiving messaging advice from Eckel and Vaughan, the firm that recommends those who are pushing Pathways to Excellence “always speak about the plan in a positive manner”:

Since early April, when the Pathways to Excellence proposal was presented to the State Board of Education, DPI has been deluged by negative feedback from educators who absolutely hate the idea.

Here are just a few examples:

When teachers first began objecting to being paid this way, Human Capital Roundtable and PEPSC subcommittee member Brenda Berg (whose day job is running the pro-business lobbying organization Best NC) immediately suggested the phrase ‘merit pay’ was problematic and referred to “extensive test messaging” of terms that had been done to determine what teachers would be comfortable with.

You can read that whole email chain here.

We need to be clear that any efforts to claim that this proposal isn’t merit pay are coming from a place of needing teachers to get on board with the Pathways to Excellence plan. It’s spin and nothing else.

Paying teachers based on standardized test results or subjective measures such as principal evaluations and student surveys is a bad idea.

No amount of creepy test messaging or amateurish gaslighting can change that.

3 thoughts on “NC superintendent denies that paying teachers based on their perceived merit is merit pay

  1. Just one more of the current Republican’s legislative leadership’s damnable plan to slowly kill public education in this state !! There is nothing honest or professional in this ridiculous plan, a clear indication of the educational stupidity of the current Republican leadership !!

  2. NO OTHER STATE is using this method of paying teachers this state is ranked 38th in the nation in education. Why are we trying to lead the way in how we compensate teachers. We are losing teachers right and left because of pay and uncompensated workload. There are 400 vacancies in CMS my district where I live that probably won’t be filled by the time school starts this fall. In short, there won’t be teachers to teach certain courses and the education of students in this district will be greatly hampered.
    My career was spent in the business world for 50 years and it seems that the State Board of Education is trying to follow the compensation method of business corporations. Just as you can’t run a particular government like a corporation for the government is accountable to the voters. You can not run a public school system like a corporation for it is like a government and is accountable to all of the people because we all pay for it. The totally inadequate notion that in new compensation system the teacher’s performance would be determined to some extent by surveys of their students, peers and, supervisors is ludicrous. That system does not even work in the business corporate world. Please name one entity in government, business, or education where this is a successful compensation model?
    The system that is in place now where teachers are compensated based on tenure and years experience is a good model that has worked for over a hundred years. Why would throw it out. Even in the business world a person with an MBA and has 15 years managerial experience makes a who lot more than a first year management associate who has a BS, or BA. It seems to me the purpose of this whole new proposed system is an excuse to pay teachers less and to hire teachers who have no degree or certification for the purpose of “dumbing down” of students who can not afford to go to private schools.

  3. And to further call into question her support of the plan, she very fervently dismisses the accountability model to measure schools and talks very negatively (and rightly so) about our current testing system, but yet supports basing teacher pay on these very systems she spoke out against in the interview. I’m confused.

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