WINSTON-SALEM (March 8, 2023) – While there are always differing opinions about how much teachers should be paid, I believe most North Carolinians agree that having quality teachers in every classroom is important, our students need to perform better, and teachers should be paid more.
I wrote a short piece for Higher Ed Works last August about the proposed new teacher pay plan (NC Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals – or Pathways for short).1
I commended the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Committee (PEPSC) for creating an ambitious proposal that includes pathways that would allow teachers to achieve higher pay levels that would be based on both teachers and students achieving measurable successes.
The Pathways plan recommends using:
- Student test scores;
- Value-added test scores (in North Carolina we use EVAAS, or Education Value-Added Assessment System, created by our state’s own SAS Institute);
- Teacher evaluations by principals; and
- Other measures such as student surveys.
I particularly like including student surveys in assessing teacher performance. More than 10 years ago, the Measuring Effective Teaching Study (MET) funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that student survey data was more predictive of student performance than either value-added scores or principal observations.
Value-added scores were the next best predictor, and principals’ observations were the least predictive of the three. But the best prediction of student performance was the combination of all three measures.
The Pathways plan is complex. But it basically creates a continuum of five types of teacher licenses (Apprentice Teacher, and Levels I- IV) with two subcategories of license for Level IV (Advanced Teacher and Advanced Teacher Adult Leadership). Different salaries are attached to each license area, ranging from a base salary of $30,000 for an Apprentice Teacher to $66,000 for a teacher holding a License IV Advanced Teacher Adult Leadership.
After several changes and multiple votes by the PEPSC committee, the plan was adopted in November and sent to the state Board of Education.
From its debut, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) has opposed the Pathways plan for two main reasons:
- There are many unanswered questions about what student outcome measures will be used for those teachers that teach subjects that are not tested by NC (like art, which is never tested, and social studies and science, which are infrequently tested), and
- NCAE opposes anything that is considered “pay for performance.”
I completely understand NCAE’s first concern, which is why I suggested in my earlier column that the Pathways plan should be piloted so that every instrument can not only be identified, but field-tested.
The State Board of Education reached the same conclusion and asked the NC General Assembly to fund a six-year pilot – one year to refine the design of the plan and five years to evaluate success in five to 15 volunteer school districts.2
However, NCAE’s opposition to “pay for performance” is harder to understand. Teachers are certainly hired to “perform” and teachers can currently earn various bonus payments based on their principals’ evaluation and their students’ achievement.
Moving to higher license levels in the Pathways plan uses many indicators – not just test scores – and offers realistic periods to accomplish and/or sustain particular indicators; e.g., some performance levels are expected to be accomplished for only three qualifying years within a five-year window.
I don’t think that more pay makes teachers work harder; I believe that most are working as hard as they can. But I firmly believe that more instructional support coupled with more pay would result in higher student achievement as well as teachers remaining in the classroom longer and feeling more appreciated.
The Pathways plan creates what I would call a master teacher license – License IV – Advanced Teacher Adult Leadership – and recommends that funds be provided for these master teachers to work with new and inexperienced teachers.
Providing these master teachers is costly, but I believe a five-year pilot after a year of plan refinement would demonstrate that these positions and the Pathways plan would produce significant improvement in student achievement and pay teachers more.
But can we wait six years to address teacher salaries? I don’t think so. North Carolina faces a severe teacher shortage; every district has many teacher vacancies.3 At the March State Board meeting, comparisons with teacher pay in neighboring states adjusted for the cost of living were reported. Of 10 states in the Southeast, North Carolina ranked 7th for average teacher pay and last for beginning teacher pay.4
I would encourage state legislators to adopt some teacher salary targets – like increasing beginning teacher salaries to the average of the Southeastern states and increasing North Carolina’s average teacher salary to the second highest among these states in five years (while recognizing other Southeastern states will be increasing their teaching salaries at the same time).
The Legislature should address both short- and long-term teacher salary goals – adopt the Pathways pilot and establish salary goals among Southeastern states that could be achieved in the next three to five years.
Our students are worth the investment.
Don Martin, retired superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, has served as a professor in High Point University’s Education Leadership Department and is now Chair of the Forsyth County Commissioners, serving his third term.
2 https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article272617510.html; https://www.wunc.org/2023-03-02/state-education-board-calls-for-pay-raise-of-at-least-10-for-all-public-school-teachers.