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State Board of Education reviews controversial draft overhaul of teacher compensation


NC Policy Watch

Despite assurances from DPI officials, some teachers worry that the plan would devalue classroom experience in favor of test scores and student surveys 

A new compensation and licensure proposal that rewards “competency and skill” has some state teachers worried that “classroom experience would no longer be valued in North Carolina,” State Board of Education member Jill Camnitz said Wednesday. 

Based on emails she has received, Camnitz said some teachers are concerned that the state would shift to a system of “merit pay.”

State board members began receiving emails about the “draft” proposal soon after its release by the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission. The state board directed the commission to analyze the state’s teacher licensure and compensation models and to make recommendations for improvement. 

The proposal establishes a pay range largely based on teacher effectiveness and responsibilities. An apprentice teacher, for example, would earn $30,000 annually; beginning teachers with degrees from one of the 55 state-approved Educator Preparation Programs would earn $45,000. That’s about $10,000 more than first-year teachers are currently paid. 

Many beginning teachers arrive at K-12 schools after graduating from one of the Education Preparation Programs, Superintendent Catherine Truitt noted. “This is where they would start, which means their starting salary, if we have our way, will be higher than it is right now,” Truitt said.   

Advanced teachers with “adult leadership” responsibilities, such as mentoring early career teachers, could earn up to $72,000. At present, the state salary scale for teachers maxes out at $52,680 per year. When local teacher supplements are factored in, the average annual teacher salary in North Carolina is $50,000.

Reviving and refining merit pay?

Tim Tomberlin, director of Educator Recruitment and Support at N.C. Department of Public Instruction, explained that there was a shift to merit pay in the late 1980s. “Teachers were asked to complete a certain professional activity, and if they did, they got a salary increase,” Tomberlin said. “When money got tight, of course, that quickly went away.” 

Other merit pay structures recognized more highly skilled teachers and paid them more, Tomberlin said.      

“What all of those plans failed to do was to change the organizational structures of schools and the compensation systems to reflect the goals of the organization,” Tomberlin said.  

The draft proposal does what previous plans did not: to align the compensation structure with organizational values, he said. “That has never happened before,” Tomberlin said. “What we did was, we took some ideas and layered them on top of a century-old organizational structure and expected something different to happen.” 

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt

Truitt said there’s a misconception that merit pay means tying teacher pay to test scores. “I want to be very clear that this is not a model that ties teacher compensation to test scores,” Truitt said. 

There are several ways to measure teacher effectiveness besides the formula that’s used to assess student growth on state tests, Truitt said. 

One option for teachers whose subject matter isn’t subject to end-of-grade tests, such as music, would be undergoing peer reviews performed by principals, teachers and students. Another would be a “Qualitative Growth Review” conducted by an advanced teacher at the beginning of the school year and at the end of the school year to assess student growth over that time period.   

The state could attract more people to the teaching profession by raising pay, making it easier to enter the profession, and retaining teachers through incentives that keep them in classrooms, Truitt said. She noted that, at present, teachers often move into administration jobs where they can earn higher salaries.  

“We’re trying to address the ongoing, pervasive challenge that many teachers feel, which is they do all of this work, which is tantamount to volunteer work but they are not compensated for,” Truitt said.  

Justin Parmenter
Kim Mackey

Veteran teachers express concerns

In addition to the emails sent to board members like Camnitz, some teachers voiced concerns about the draft proposal in online commentaries during the days leading up to Wednesday’s meeting.

Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte middle school teacher and prolific essayist who maintains the popular website Notes from the Chalkboard, wrote that “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).”     

Parmenter also expressed concern that the proposal would encourage teachers to gear their instruction to tests and avoid collaboration in order to earn better pay:

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.”

On her website, educatEDPolicy, Wake County high school social studies teacher Kim Mackey criticized the draft proposal’s inclusion of student surveys as a key metric in measuring teacher performance:

Based on this draft model, a teacher could receive all ‘accomplished’ and ‘distinguished’ ratings from their trained supervisors, but if the teacher falls in the 30th percentile on student responses they receive frozen pay (because our NCGA is not known for cost of living adjustments for current or retired employees) followed by losing their teaching license if they still miss the 25% worthiness bar set by the state and evaluated by students.

More work to do

The standards commission could complete its work by the end of the summer. The plan is two to three years from implementation, provided it receives state board and General Assembly approval, Truitt said. 

Maureen Stover

Maureen Stover, the 2020 North Carolina Teacher of the Year and standards commission subcommittee member, said the confusion among teachers about effectiveness and growth is understandable because the two have traditionally been tied to student performance data. 

State Board member Olivia Oxendine

Stover said that information will remain one way that teachers can demonstrate that students improved academically over the school year. But teachers would have options to show that they were effective teachers, even if it’s not reflected in the data, she said.

“I think that’s really important because right now as a biology teacher, the only effectiveness data I get is only coming from those [testing] scores,” Stover said. “Under this new model, I would have many different options to demonstrate my impact on a student.”  

State Board member Olivia Oxendine said the state must “clear up” the message that experience and “being seasoned” are not important. “Somewhere out there, from Murphy to Manteo, there is this feeling that experience doesn’t matter,” Oxendine said. “I don’t know where that’s coming from.”