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Commission designing new teacher pay system says plan is not yet ready for prime time

Members of a commission designing new licensure and pay structures for North Carolina teachers learned Thursday that there’s more work to do before turning a final draft over to the State Board of Education.

Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) members noted several lingering concerns about the controversial pay and licensure model that members will attempt to resolve when their group meets on Nov. 10 to discuss the fiscal implications of the new model.

Whether enough veteran, advanced-level teachers will be available to mentor early-career teachers as required under the new model was at the forefront of concerns shared Thursday. According to data from the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association, North Carolina’s public schools started the year with at least 4,469 teacher vacancies. And that was an underestimate of the true problem, as just 98 of 115 school districts provided their data.

“We’re looking at this model, and we have so many positions that are unfilled, how are you going to ensure that these districts will have an adequate amount of people to support the Licensure 1 [beginning] teachers?” Commissioner Connie Locklear, director of the Indian Resource Center, Public Schools of Robeson County.

Dr. Connie Locklear

Locklear added: “I think the intent of this whole model was great, but I think when we start looking at theory and reality we run into a lot of situations and I’m just concerned. I’m in one of those counties where we may not have the capacity to support the License 1 teachers.”

Mentors and beginners

The proposed model would create a system of entry-level certifications to bring more people into the profession. One certification would serve essentially as a learner’s permit. It would allow aspiring educators with associate’s degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree. Teachers working under that license would receive a base salary of $30,000.

Veteran teachers in leadership roles could earn an advanced teacher license. A National Board Certified Teacher working under that license with a master’s degree and more than 25 years of experience could earn more than $80,000 a year.

Veteran teachers would be held harmless if they lost pay under the proposal.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt warned the commission that a “cohesive set of recommendations” is needed soon so the General Assembly can act on the proposal during the upcoming long session, which will convene in January of 2023.

Superintended Catherine Truitt

“What we need to advocate for is that the legislative drafting staff will work with PEPSC and other stakeholders to create, or they could direct the state board to work with PEPSC to work on the implementation piece,” Truitt said. “Bills will start coming in December. Our time is not going to be our own.”

Commissioner Marcie Holland, senior director of Human Resources at Wake County Public Schools, said a budget and compensation subcommittee frequently discussed concerns about a potential shortage of teachers for advanced roles.

“I don’t know if we ever landed on a real final explanation, solution, what strategy to address it,” Holland said. “There are some districts that have real concerns about the ability to have these advanced teachers to support these teachers in training because they do have to hire so many alternative entry teachers.”

Other unanswered questions

Commissioner Randall Penfield, dean of the College of Education at UNC Greensboro, had concerns about provisions in the model that requires the students of teachers in Levels 2-4 to meet expected growth or exceed growth goals.

“If we were to implement these criteria, what would be the implications?” How many teachers for licenses two and three would not be successful via these criteria using EVASS?” Penfield asked. “And what are the implications for that? Is that the intended purpose?

Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVASS) is the model used by North Carolina to measure academic growth when common assessments such as end-of-course and end-of-grade tests are used.

“I think we have data on this and it is possible for us to take a step back, take a look and evaluate whether it’s meeting our intended purpose,” Penfield said, referring to academic growth requirements.

Anthony Graham

Commissioner Anthony Graham, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Winston-Salem State University, said he worries that the commission is too focused on getting the model “conceptually presented” without concurrently thinking about how it is implemented.

“I worry that if we don’t pay attention to the implementation component right now that we could be presenting a concept where bits and pieces will be cherry-picked and we would be asked to move in that direction because we didn’t give sufficient attention up front to the implementation science of it,” Graham said.

Commission Chairman Van Dempsey, dean of the Watson College of Education at UNC Wilmington, said he expects the state board will ask PEPSC to help further develop the model after its initial review. In the past, he said the board has reviewed PEPSC recommendations in their entirety and not removed parts of recommendations it didn’t like.

Van Dempsey

“When the State Board of Education has had an opportunity to review this, based on previous activity between PEPSC and the state board, the state board could then ask PEPSC to do the developmental work and I would hope that they would,” Dempsey said.

Teacher concerns about ‘merit pay’

The commission sidestepped discussing teachers’ concerns about the proposal. Many teachers contend it constitutes an unwanted move to a system of merit pay that places too much emphasis on student scores on standardized tests. They argue that a better strategy to recruit and retain teachers — a stated goal of the new proposal — is to pay them a fair wage.

“North Carolina needs a teacher licensure program that respects teachers’ expertise, rewards their time in the profession, and offers support throughout the duration of their career,” Tamika Walker Kelly, president of N.C. Association of Educators, said in August.

Meanwhile, Truitt has said the feedback that she’s received about the proposal is mostly grounded in “misinterpretation or misstatements” of fact.

She contends the proposal is not a merit pay model. “When there is an absolute misunderstanding of facts when it comes to the model, that is problematic,” Truitt said.

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Commission designing new teacher pay system says plan is not yet ready for prime time