Members of the NC Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force convened today to consider alternative teacher pay models that could be linked to student performance in the classroom.
Weeks after Gov. Pat McCrory announced his own teacher pay proposal that would only benefit beginning teachers in the state, lawmakers, along with members of the education community, heard from representatives from Guilford, Pitt and Sampson school districts about pay for performance plans that they have tested.
For the past seven years, Guilford County has recruited and retained teachers who can demonstrate they are “highly effective” with various financial incentives ranging from $2,000 to $10,000. The rewards are based on teachers’ “value added data,” or VAD, which relies on the EVAAS teacher evaluation tool to measure students’ growth in the classroom over a period of time.
Teachers in Guilford County are also provided with financial incentives if they agree to work in hard-to-staff positions such as math, science, or educating students with disabilities.
The initiative has resulted in Guilford County successfully staffing 100 percent of its teaching positions since the program’s inception. “But the local dollars [used to fund the teacher pay program] are on the chopping block,” said Amy Holcombe, Executive Director for Talent Development for Guilford County Schools.
Next year, GCS will only be able to continue the teacher pay program for grant-funded teaching positions–of which there are approximately 20. The $2.9 million in local funds that could fund more positions will no longer be available.
Representatives from Pitt County presented to the task force details of their “Teacher Leader Cohort” program.
Implemented with federal Race to the Top funds, $3,000 bonuses were disbursed to 29 high-performing teachers over the past four years, with the end goal of encouraging those teachers to move to low-performing schools.
But Seth Brown, Pitt County’s TLC Coordinator, told task force members they’d be abandoning the program, citing high teacher turnover among participants and the fact that mistrust arose between teachers who were TLC participants and teachers who were not.
Additionally, only 17 percent of cohort teachers actually moved over to low-performing schools. Once teachers have built a strong network at a school, explained Brown, it is a difficult prospect to scrap that kind of support and start over at a new school.
Task force members had few questions or comments about the pay for performance plans presented today– but they had plenty to say about increasing teacher pay in general.
“It’s very difficult for small rural school districts to accumulate the local dollars to supplement the educational needs we have in the counties,” said Rep. George Graham (D-Craven).
Task force chairman Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Moore, Randolph) agreed. “We need to think about a state contribution to a fund that you can tap into on a matching basis,” said Tillman, suggesting a matching ratio of one to three for poorer districts interested in implementing pay-for-performance plans.
Judy Kidd, president of the Classroom Teachers Association in Charlotte, questioned one merit pay plan already on the table – the newly enacted teacher contract system, which would reward the top-performing 25 percent of teachers in the state with 4-year contracts that come with $500 annual bonuses – all in exchange for giving up tenure rights early, prior to 2018 when no one will have tenure.
“What is the reasoning behind the 25 percent number,” asked Kidd, who said she couldn’t figure out why lawmakers chose 25 percent as the number of teachers who should be awarded pay increases in exchange for their tenure rights.
“We had enough money to do 25 percent,” responded Tillman. “If we had the money, we wouldn’t do just 25 percent. But having less money than we need to work with… we had to work with the dollars available.”
“If we had [Medicaid] solved, then we would have dedicated and continuing dollars for education,” added Tillman.
North Carolina’s teachers haven’t received a significant raise since 2008. One raise of 1.2 percent came along in 2012, but was offset for many by rising health insurance premiums.
Eighteen percent of North Carolina’s total teaching population is currently paid at the lowest salary step — $30,800, according to legislative fiscal research staff who presented to the task force today.
North Carolina has approximately 4,500 fewer teachers with 1-3 years of experience in 2013 as compared with 2008. Teachers are also retiring in higher numbers; there are 3,000 fewer teachers with 25+ years of experience in 2013 than there were in 2008.
As task force members are charged with developing recommendations for alternative teacher pay plans that factor in teacher evaluation measures and student performance outcomes, Professional Educators of North Carolina (PENC) President Timothy Barnsback stressed that pay-for-performance plans would be dependent on what he understands to be a broken evaluation system that determines teacher effectiveness.
But Tillman said the evaluation system will be fine-tuned soon.
“I’m talking about growth,” said Tillman about judging teachers on students’ performance in the classroom. “That’s got to be a part of real pay for now on for teachers.”
“Large, across the board and step increases are probably not gonna happen,” added Tillman, perhaps foreshadowing what’s to come for teacher pay in the legislature come May. “But there’ll be many incentives in there.”
“What are you doing with the kids you’re teaching? Are they making any progress or not? Now teachers ought to endorse that…I can’t see for the life of me how anybody can fight that. If you do, you’re fighting a losing battle,” concluded Tillman.
The task force will meet three additional times prior to mid-April, at which point they will make recommendations for alternative teacher compensation plans to the legislature.