Let’s hit pause on half-baked teacher performance pay proposal

State Board of Education meets Nov. 30th.

The November 30th State Board of Education meeting will be the most consequential in some time. The Board will determine whether to recommend radically overhauling how to certify and pay the state’s 93,000 teachers. At question is whether the Board will move forward with an ambitious performance pay plan called Pathways to Excellence. The plan would end the current practice of paying teachers based on their credentials and years of service, instead basing teacher pay on measures of effectiveness and their willingness to assume additional responsibilities.

It’s a plan that should be rejected.

As detailed in the new Justice Center report, “New Performance Pay Plan for Teachers: Approach with Caution and Skepticism,” there are four important reasons why the State Board should reject this plan:

  1. A performance pay plan fails to address the underlying causes of our challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers, nor is it likely to benefit student performance. Worse, this plan is likely to distract from proven policy efforts to address the teacher shortage and to boost student performance.
  2. Major aspects of the plan, including how to measure teacher performance, remain undeveloped, and it is unclear whether the General Assembly will provide the staffing and funding necessary to implement the proposal fully.
  3. There’s a substantial risk that the plan will increase the share of teacher candidates from alternative programs; these candidates tend to have lower retention and effectiveness than candidates from university preparation programs.
  4. The plan lacks support from teachers. If the goal of the Pathways plan is to improve the recruitment and retention of teachers, then the opinions of teachers should hold sway. After all, teachers are the undisputed experts on the factors that will entice their colleagues to remain in the classroom or depart for other opportunities

Instead of moving forward with an unproven and unpopular plan, State Board members should be advocating for proven measures to recruit and retain great teachers such as:

Image: Adobe Stock

  • Providing broad-based pay raises to make teacher pay competitive with other college degree requiring professions in North Carolina
  • Improving classroom conditions by implementing the Leandro Plan, which will provide educators with the resources and additional supports necessary to help students thrive
  • Restoring benefits that legislators have removed over the past decade, such as career status, master’s pay, and retiree health care benefits
  • Permitting collective bargaining so that teachers can directly negotiate for better working conditions and a voice in the policymaking process
  • Allowing teachers the freedom to be professionals rather than trying to police how teachers approach controversial subjects and placing an overly narrow focus on tested subjects
  • Expanding the social safety net to reduce the barriers to learning placed in front of students from families with low incomes

That is not to say there isn’t room to improve North Carolina’s teacher licensure process or to develop new career pathways for teachers. However, such efforts should adhere to basic principles of good policymaking:

  • Risky reforms like Pathways should only be considered after policymakers have addressed fundamental shortfalls in teacher pay and working conditions
  • Changes to pay and working conditions should be developed collaboratively with those affected, in this case, teachers
  • Solutions should be responsive to local challenges rather than one-size-fits-all
  • Implementation should be deliberate and iterative so that implementation challenges are addressed prior to a larger rollout

If the State Board approves the Pathways plan, it will then move on to the General Assembly. Since the plan remains half-baked, it will be up to the General Assembly – a body that has spent the past decade degrading the teaching profession – to finalize and fund the plan. Undoubtedly, that process will take place behind closed doors, rely on ideologues rather than experts, and fail to result in a product that benefits educators and students.

To avoid such an outcome, it’s important for the State Board to reject Pathways and instead support proven methods for improving the recruitment and retention of teachers.

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Let’s hit pause on half-baked teacher performance pay proposal