North Carolina Teachers Stuck Between Old Pay System and New

North Carolina teachers now know very well what won't get them any raises, as recent changes in their compensation plan mean that they will not get a pay bump for improving student performance, for additional years on the job or for earning advanced degrees. What will earn them raises, however, is much less clear.

Ann Doss Helms of the Charlotte Observer calls this situation being "stranded between two compensation systems." Lawmakers are slowly phasing out things that used to guarantee salary raises, but are in no rush to name new ones. Meanwhile, earnings for NC teachers are beginning to lag those of teachers in other states.

The result has been turmoil and angst. Officials remain uncertain how this summer's changes will play out. Teachers are protesting and voicing dismay for their profession. Critics of this summer's legislative session say North Carolina is losing its national image as a state that values education.

Legislators who approved sweeping changes to public education, including an end to teacher tenure and pay for advanced degrees, say the current system rewards the wrong things – longevity and credentials – instead of paying teachers for classroom results.

But the budget includes only small steps toward performance pay, with school districts authorized to give 25 percent of teachers four-year contracts that include $500-a-year raises. A statewide task force was created to study a more comprehensive plan.

Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, recognizes the challenges faced by both teachers and lawmakers when it comes to compensation. But he also notes that it will take time to come up with a system that rewards instructors for "the right thing." Changing the public employee pay system will take time, with the most recent budget being only the first step.

However, according to state education Superintendent Heath Morrison, it is the wrong first step. Morrison, who has studied performance pay for teachers, said that having teachers compete for a limited number of raises is misguided. This is not the right way to incentivize educators to improve, says Morrison, which is supposed to be the raison d'etre for performance-based pay.

The legislative plan to give the top 25 percent of teachers $500 raises is tied to the demise of tenure. By 2018, all teachers will be converted to one-, two- or four-year contracts, making it easier to get rid of low performers when their contracts end.

Tenure, formally known as career status, provides a series of steps that must be taken to dismiss teachers. Many administrators say it's difficult to do; in the most recent state tally, only 17 of 11,791 teachers were fired.

Questions remain about the 2014 selection of the 25 percent who will be rewarded, which is left to superintendents and school boards. Morrison says he fears that any selection process will send a discouraging message to good teachers who don't make the cut.

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