by Julie Ball, Asheville Citizen-Times, March 2, 2015.
School districts across North Carolina have submitted plans to the General Assembly regarding teacher pay and which teachers should receive more money.
State lawmakers intended to create pilot programs to test some of the plans.
But some districts, in submitting their plans, raised concerns about the effectiveness of performance-based pay and avoided making specific recommendations using performance standards. Instead, they focused on extra pay for teachers in hard-to-staff areas or for teachers who take on leadership roles.
“We had a number of concerns, primarily we were concerned about the impact that a differentiated pay plan would have on teamwork within the school building,” said Macon County School Superintendent Chris Baldwin.
Teachers also have concerns. The big question is how to judge teachers who are teaching different subjects, different grades and different students.
“I think that becomes a really challenging task to pare down to the bare bones of what makes one teacher more successful than another,” said Robyn Pass, president of the Buncombe County Association of Educators.
Language included in the state budget adopted last year asked school boards to submit their proposals to the General Assembly by Jan. 15. Of the state’s 115 districts, 75 submitted proposals, including Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools.
It’s not clear, how many plans may be selected.
Lawmakers are looking for plans that are “scalable, that is to say if we test it, is there really a potential to run these out statewide?,” said Rep Craig Horn, R-Union, who supports differentiated pay for teachers.
Funding for the pilot programs will come from the North Carolina Education Endowment Fund. Lawmakers allocated $1 million for that fund.
But Horn said many of the plans submitted by school districts “didn’t show a lot of promise.”
“Quite honestly, we haven’t been as impressed with some of the submissions as we had hoped. It was really nothing more than asking for more money, not really developing some creative or innovative approaches to how we can create incentives and differentiated pay models,” Horn said.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Tim Moore said the plans will go to the House Education Appropriations Committee for review.
North Carolina teachers historically have been paid on a base salary scale based on years of experience, advanced degrees and whether they have National Board Certification. Most school districts also provide supplemental pay in addition to the base pay.
But Horn said state lawmakers want to reward “people who are doing really good work or are willing to take on harder challenges.”
“Many of us believe that the schools should have the opportunity to put money where they need it most with regard to the folks they hire,” he said. “As well, we believe that folks that work harder, take on more responsibility, should be paid more money.”
But Horn says he doesn’t see differentiated as paying teachers based on student test results.
“Some people think that differentiated pay should be outcome based pay, strictly pay for performance. I don’t believe that. I’m looking for differentiated pay to pay people that work harder, people that get results, but results don’t just mean test results,” he said.
The challenge is figuring out what that looks like.
Districts in the region took different approaches with their proposals.
In Asheville and Buncombe County, the recommendations from school districts centered around bonuses for hard-to-staff positions. The districts also focused on rewarding teachers in leadership roles or teachers who provide training for their colleagues.
A group of about 15 teachers worked on the Asheville City Schools’ proposal. The group did not recommend any specific plan for performance based salary increases.
City schools, in its submission to the General Assembly, cited a lack of “conclusive evidence” that differentiated pay improves student achievement.
“Teaching is a collaborative effort with sharing of ideas and methods helping all become more effective. A performance-based pay system must support and encourage that collaboration,” the system said in its plan.
Buncombe County Schools’ recommendation also did not include a specific plan for performance-based raises. Instead, the proposal included a $2,500 bonus for teachers in hard-to-staff subject areas “upon initial hire.” Those include middle and high school math and science teachers and exceptional children’s teachers, according to Cynthia Lopez, personnel director for Buncombe County Schools.
The proposal also included $1,000 bonuses for teachers who chair school improvement teams.
A group made up of past and current teachers of the year worked on the proposal.
“We don’t know if there will be additional funding allocated or what the plan will be,” Lopez said. “We just wanted to make sure that we had a plan on the table in case there is funding.”
Lopez said the group that developed the plan didn’t think they had enough time to come up with a “well thought-out performance-based pay plan.”
“We would need input from a good amount of people,” she said.
Anna Austin, an Erwin High teacher who served on the committee, said teachers wanted to make sure Buncombe’s proposal would not create division between classroom teachers.
“We feel like if there are going to be bonuses for the classroom teachers, we could come up with a valid reason why all teachers should receive a bonus,” she said.
Pass also served on the committee.
“What makes a school great is having many teachers who may be skilled in many different areas, and what may be really great for one child and one teacher’s classroom may look like something completely different the next year with the next teacher,” Pass said. “I think a much better approach is making sure that all teachers are compensated for what they do.”
Owen High teacher Kim Clark has mixed feelings about performance-based pay.
“We’ve always been rewarded based on years of service, but I think there’s always that argument that just because I have that 10 years of service and the person teaching in the same building as me has 10 years of service, are we equals?” she said.
“But I think a lot of the performance-based pay is based on test scores, and I have real problems with that. I don’t think you can judge a teacher or a student just based on test scores.”
How much progress a student makes is crucial.
“Otherwise, teachers are never going to want to teach the low level kids, and those are the kids that really need our help,” she said.
Henderson County’s proposal focused on student growth and rewarding those teachers who are meeting and exceeding expected growth.
Macon County’s proposal would reward schools when they meet or exceed expected growth. The proposal would leave it to school improvement teams to come up with a plan for awarding any bonuses, and the faculty would get to vote on the plan.
Principals from each Macon school along with the head of the school improvement teams worked on the proposal submitted to the General Assembly.
Baldwin said the school system didn’t want a proposal that would pit teachers against one another for bonuses or extra pay. The group that worked on the plan worried teachers would be less likely to share ideas and collaborate if they were competing for bonus pay.
“They know how important it is to work together to improve student achievement,” he said.