North Carolina educator and blogger James Hogan has an interesting take on the Senate’s proposed 21-step salary schedule for teachers, which would raise average salaries by 11.2 percent next year, provided that teachers relinquish their tenure.

Hogan wonders: is the salary schedule, which provides teachers with no raises between years 20-29, cleverly designed to disincentivize teachers from retiring from the profession, with their pensions, by denying them a raise for a decade?

Teachers earn the same $50,000 wage from years 20-29. That’s a decade of service without a pay raise. In year 30, teachers earn just $42 more. Then, wages rise again, topping out at $56,129 at 36 years of service.

That means 16 years of teaching service–almost half the pay chart–is rewarded with only a cumulative 12 percent salary increase. The same working span, when measured from a teacher’s fourth through twentieth year of service, sees a cumulative salary increase of 47 percent.

So the plan clearly benefits teachers in the middle of the pack. And it provides a clear disincentive for teachers who seek to retire from teaching by denying them a raise for a decade. Why would the Senate structure salaries like that?

This is where the decision to give up career status becomes very important. Make no mistake–the Senate pay scale rewards young teachers and pushes older teachers out in the last third of their career.

And why would the state government be interested in teachers leaving the classroom in their last ten years of teaching? The answer, I’m afraid, rests in some of what Senator David Curtis said in his now-infamous response to Charlotte teacher Sarah Wiles [who wrote a letter to legislators complaining about teachers' pay in the state]:

“You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old. Your employer will need to put about $16,000 per year into your retirement plan each year combined with your $2,000 contribution for the next 30 years to achieve this benefit.”

What he’s saying is the state retirement pension program is the last golden egg for teachers. Here’s why. Say you’re a teacher who began your career the year after college at age 22. You taught for thirty-three years in North Carolina and retired at age 55. Based on today’s standards, you’re set to earn about $28,000 per year in retirement income every year until you die.

If you live another 33 years and die at age 88, that means you stand to collect $924,000 in retirement income. And the reason Senator Curtis was so ardent in pointing out the pension system to Ms. Wiles is that pensions cost the state a lot of money, and my guess is the fiscal conservatives in Raleigh are interesting in doing whatever they can to change that.

It’s an interesting theory. Read Hogan’s full piece over at The Washington Post.

Senator Jerry Tillman’s bill that would aim to replace the Common Core academic standards with alternatives developed by a North Carolina review commission would allow Common Core to remain in place this fall, as students return to their classrooms and commission members consider different solutions.

But remarks made by Sen. Tillman yesterday at the Senate Education Committee meeting, where the proposed legislation was ultimately moved forward on a voice vote, incited some confusion over whether or not Common Core would be gone as soon as his bill became law, presumably within a few weeks.

“This bill becomes effective July 1, the Common Core standards are removed and repealed as of July 1,” explained Tillman to committee members. Read More

Yes, you read that right — Wake County Public Schools would have to eliminate nearly 700 teacher assistants this fall if the Senate’s budget plan becomes law this summer.

The county would have to cut 693 TAs out of 1,250 positions allotted for the upcoming school year, according to WNCN. The Senate’s budget offers teachers who give up their tenure an average 11 percent pay hike beginning this fall. To pay for the plan, Senate leaders decided to gut the budget for teacher assistants — a line item that has already suffered deep cuts over the past several years.

“It is a great step in the right direction to address teacher salaries,” Wake County School Board Chair Christine Kushner said, “but we have teacher assistant positions that are being cut.”

The school system further said it would have to reduce bus services and the number of drivers used to transport students due to a proposed cut of $2.9 million in transportation funding.

There could also be a reduction in the number of drivers education classes offered for students, the school system said.

The raises built in to the Senate budget are for teachers paid with state money. Wake Schools said it would cost the school system $13 million to provide raises to any teachers paid with local funding.

Wake Schools cautioned that providing local raises could mean additional personnel cuts.

Cumberland County Schools has reported it would have to cut 220 out of its 330 teacher assistant positions — and that comes on top of cutting 100 positions they have already slashed for the upcoming year.

Some counties use TA funds to pay teachers’ salaries as well. In Stokes County, the Senate budget plan would mean cutting eight teaching positions in addition to 30 TAs.

Members of the House have reviewed the Senate and Governor’s budgets and plan to have their budget on the floor by the end of this week.

Perhaps more aptly named the “worst eight,” here are, well, eight cuts to education that Senate GOP leaders want to make in the name of raising teachers’ salaries.

1. Career Status (aka Teacher Tenure)

While this one may not have a dollar value (?), for many educators it’s a priceless job protection that is not a guarantee of a job, but simply due process. Up for demotion or dismissal? Career status means you get to have a hearing where an objective human, often an ex-judge, reviews the facts and decides if the action taken against you is just.

If their budget passes as-is, Senate GOP leaders will require teachers to give up their employment protections if they want to pull themselves out of poverty and get the first meaningful raise they’ve seen in six or so years.

Why? Senator Berger says it’s because it’s too hard to fire bad teachers. Others have speculated that the destruction of tenure makes it easier to clear out expensive veteran labor and hire in new, cheaper labor.

2. Teacher Assistants

TAs have been on the chopping block for years. The Senate budget would pare them back even further, cutting state funding for them by half, or $233 million. Funds only remain for kindergarten and first grade TAs – second and third grade teachers must fend for themselves, even though class sizes are up.

Senator Tillman told WRAL that the research is cloudy in terms of TAs’ effect on students’ academic outcomes in second and third grades.

One has to wonder what the sample of students looks like in those studies that Senator Tillman has read. Are those students in large classrooms? Are they hungry, neglected, lacking proper clothes and soaked in urine? That’s what one second grade teacher in Beaufort County faces, and she didn’t have a full- time TA last year. So before she can teach those kids, she has to fix all of those problems first, or else they don’t learn.

How do you do that without a TA?

Read More

While the big buzz today at the legislature is about the Senate’s education proposal (I’ll have more on that tomorrow morning), Senate lawmakers also took action today on implementing some key changes to the state’s Read to Achieve law.

Enacted in 2012 as part of Sen. Phil Berger’s Excellent Public Schools Act, the Read to Achieve law was designed to ensure that all students are reading at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. If a student fails to achieve that benchmark, then the law requires that student to be held back from advancing to the fourth grade. 

Parents, teachers and education advocates have been up in arms over the implementation of Read to Achieve, which has resulted in students taking as many as 36 tests during this spring semester — inciting fear and frustration among many eight-year-olds. And for students who fail to pass, they’ll be expected to attend six-week summer reading camps as a last-ditch attempt to make it into the fourth grade — camps that are not sufficiently funded by the state and thrust big logistical problems on the local school districts and families.

Responding to the uproar, Sen. Berger put forward some fixes today that were approved by the Senate Education Committee:

  • Directs the State Board of Education to provide multiple alternative reading assessments, instead of just one;
  • Allows the student reading portfolio to being being complied in the fall semester;
  • Allows reading camps to take place over a three week period or longer, instead of a minimum of six weeks;
  • Requires the Kindergarten Entry Assessment to yield both qualitative and quantitative data;
  • Clarifies good cause exemptions for Limited English Proficient students and students with IEPs, allowing them to advance to the fourth grade.

The bill also softens the A-F school grading system for 2013-14. This system applies grades to schools based on their students’ academic performance. Instead of a 10-point scale, a 15-point scale would be used to assess a school’s performance, which means fewer schools could receive low grades of D or F.

Stay tuned for more updates as the bill moves through the General Assembly.