Three Reasons North Carolina’s New Plan for Paying Teachers is a Bad Idea.

If you’ve been paying any attention to national #edpolicy trends, you probably already know that North Carolina has become a leader in thinly-veiled attempts to straight gut reimagine the teaching profession.  Our teachers are some of the lowest paid in the country — we currently rank 46th, behind only West Virginia and Mississippi in the Southeast — and our per pupil spending ranks darn near the bottom in national averages.  Our state no longer offers pay raises to teachers who earn Master’s degrees, our salaries have been frozen for six years, and our professional development budgets have been slashed to ridiculous levels.

The newest policy snub, though, (see here and here) may be the most ridiculous:  In an attempt to pay the best teachers more, teacher contract protections and automatic salary step increases — which we haven’t seen in six years anyway and which barely kept pace with the cost of living to begin with — have both been eliminated, replaced instead with a program where the top 25% of teachers in any of our state’s 100+ systems will be given continuing contracts and incremental $500 pay increases for four years and the remaining 75% of teachers will get nothing.

Amy Auth, the spokeswoman for Phil Berger — the Republican Senate leader and main architect behind our state’s new education policies — sees nothing wrong with our state’s efforts to pay teachers differently.  In fact, in a recent press release, she argued that complaints about our new plans are nothing more than evidence of a bloated public education system that refuses to accept accountability for producing results:

“This is a classic example of what is wrong with the education administration and why they continue to fight meaningful reforms focused on helping students.  Only in the warped world of education bureaucrats and union leaders could a permanent $5,000 pay raise for top-performing teachers be branded as a bad thing.”

Figuring that Ms. Auth and Mr. Berger haven’t spent a ton of time talking to teachers about any of this stuff, I decided to whip up a list of the top three reasons that our state’s new plans for paying teachers really ARE a bad idea:

Reason 1: No matter what policymakers say, competition between teachers DOESN’T help students.

What bugs me the most about Auth’s statement is the suggestion that teachers who push back against plans to introduce competition to the teacher pay scale are “fighting meaningful reforms focused on helping students.”  Literally nothing could be further from the truth simply because forcing teachers to compete for pay raises and contract protections DOESN’T help students.

The fact of the matter is that by designing a compensation system that forces teachers to compete with one another for pay raises and contract protections, our state’s legislature is actually HARMING students by encouraging accomplished teachers to keep their best instructional practices to themselves rather than to share those practices with struggling peers.

Need proof that competition discourages sharing between teachers?

Then read the confession I wrote about the impact our state’s new end-of-grade science testing program has had on my own attitudes towards the people that I work with.  This isn’t rocket science, y’all:  If the ONLY way I can get pay raises or contract protections is to be rated higher than my peers, why would I ever share what I know about effective instruction with my colleagues?

Instead, I’m going to HOPE that they struggle and I’m NEVER going to lend a hand simply because it means I’m more likely to rack in some extra cash.  Similarly, if I’m struggling with instruction, there’s NO CHANCE that my more successful peers are going to help me to polish my practice.  Remember that it is in their best interest financially to see me — and by default, my students — fail.

How exactly does THAT help kids?

Reason 2: We have really crappy definitions of what a “top performing teachers” look like in action.

Auth’s suggestion that education leaders are living in a “warped world” when they push against bonuses for top teachers also leaves me riled.  Here’s why:  Outside of mandating that a heaping cheeseload of new state-wide standardized tests be given in a heaping cheeseload of grade levels and subject areas, Berger and Company have done almost nothing to define what they think a “top-performing teacher” really is.

And if you take a closer look at our state’s new standardized tests, you’ll see little that’s worth admiring.  The science and social studies exams, for example — which are literally used for nothing OTHER than gathering data points on classroom teachers — are comprised of 35 fact-driven multiple choice questions that (1). weren’t field tested for validity or reliability and (2). were written in less than 3 months in order to meet a state testing deadline.

Worse yet, outside of class averages that can be used to make simple comparisons across teachers and schools, teachers get no feedback at all about student performance on the exams.  We aren’t given reports detailing which objectives our kids mastered and/or struggled on. There’s no item analysis to look at and respond to.  The result:  The tests do nothing to help us target areas where our instruction needs to improve and nothing to help us identify peers that may have discovered practices that work.

Need proof that these new tests will do little to help our state identify “top-performing teachers?”

Then consider the fact that I spent close to two months pounding vocabulary words and isolated facts into the minds of my students at the end of last year.  My classroom went from being a place of inquiry where I gave kids the chance to ask and answer their own questions about the required content in a process that mirrored the work that professional scientists engage in every day to a drill-and-kill zone where memorization trumped thinking in my daily lessons.

Does that sound like top teaching to you?

Me neither.  But I DID have the highest test scores on my hallway, outperforming both the county and state average by wide margins.  That means it’s likely that I’ll be in line for a pay raise this year even though I’m more than a little embarrassed by what my classroom became.

How exactly does THAT help kids?

 Reason 3: Accomplished teachers are leaving in droves.

While Auth and Berger will try to convince you that their plans to rethink the way we pay teachers are going to boost morale and help our state to retain accomplished teachers by rewarding them with pay raises and contract protections, that just ain’t happening.

Need proof?

Then consider the fact that in the past year alone, I’ve watched one accomplished teacher leave the classroom completely — taking an entry level job in the insurance industry where he’s making more than I do after 21 years of teaching — one accomplished teacher work up plans for leaving the state completely because “moving is the quickest way to get a pay raise” and a third accomplished teacher work towards earning a real estate license because “teaching in North Carolina is a joke.”

All three of those peers have recognized that being a teacher in North Carolina means fighting against crappy policies and plans at every turn — and that pursuing a fulfilling career and providing for their families means walking away from a profession that they once loved.  As they leave, they will take a TON of knowledge about what works for kids with them — and we’ll be left trying to replace them with whoever lines up next to take a job in a state known for it’s constant attacks on education.

These choices mirror the choices made by the 4,000 North Carolina Public School teachers who left the classroom before the end of their third year of teaching since 2008.  Given that they were all making the base teaching salary of $30,800, can you REALLY blame them for giving up?  That kind of turnover causes incredible systemic turmoil, but Terry Stoops — Director of Research and Education Studies at the conservative John Locke Foundation — isn’t concerned.  Because other states are laying teachers off, he argues, we’ve got a constant stream of replacements for teachers forced from the classroom here in North Carolina.

How exactly does THAT help kids?

 Long story short:  No matter what North Carolina’s policymakers tell you, the policies that they are developing are uninformed at best and downright malicious at worst.

The impacts on our public school system — and more importantly, our kids — have the potential to be devastating and irreparable.



Related Radical Reads:

Three Flawed #edpolicy Assumptions Every Parent Should Pay Attention To

Value Added Teacher Evaluation Plans Fail Kids and Communities

Three Things Every Parent and Policymaker Needs to Know about Merit Pay in Education

Nate Silver on Using Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers


  • ReneeMoore

    I’d Give It an “F”….

    …for foolish. That something this twisted and illogical could come out of North Carolina, once a leader and trendsetter in education reform, is sad indeed. Hasn’t NC also cut back on support for NBCTs? 

    When we worked together on the TeacherSolutions team to write the report—Performance Pay for Teachers: Designing the System Students Deserve–we warned about just such ill-conceived policies as these. Too bad we can’t assign it as homework to these policymakers, as they clearly need remediation on what will actually advance effective teaching.

    • billferriter

      You know, Renee, I’ve been

      You know, Renee, I’ve been sharing that Teacher Solutions report in #edpolicy circles here in NC for years and no one ever gives it a second thought.  Teacher voice isn’t really valued to say the least.  And you’re right:  In a state that was once on the cutting edge of education reform, it’s been a long, sad fall into lunacy. 




    • Salvatore DeAngelo

      Give it an F

      More importantly than NBCTs(which is insignificant in most states) , the state is going to stop paying Masters Degree!  Are you kidding me.  The legislators in Raleigh surely have to understand that business growth will suffer in NC (as compared to SC and other near states) with the negative perception of Education in NC. The state is so over beauracritzed when it comes to Education it  pales to most states, epecially those up north.  Hopefully some common sense will prevail in the General Assembly and NC educational environment will improve.  We can only hope.

  • LarryNilles

    “Warped World,” Indeed

    Thanks for calling this thing what it is, Bill.

    I was so angered by that whole “warped world” business that I did something I’d resisted for years: I opened a twitter account so that I could tweet back at Ms Auth.

    The thing that frustrates me most about this debate is the way in which “reformers” imagine that they are the first to ever try to rethink these policies. Haven’t we taken a crack at multiple merit-pay plans in NC over the course of the past three decades? Didn’t all of them work so poorly that they were abandoned? We have the pay scale that we have had because no one’s come up with a better plan yet. And unless/until @NCLeg unfreezes and raises the floor and the ceiling on educator pay in NC, we might as well not even talk about “reform.”

    • billferriter

      Here’s what frightens me,

      Here’s what frightens me, Larry:  I’m fully convinced that there are NO plans to raise the floor on teacher salaries.  In fact, I’m convinced that if the legislature gets their way, the only way any NC teacher will get a raise is to be in that top 25% of teachers identified by their district.  The result:  the state can avoid giving any kind of raise — cost of living or otherwise — to 75% of their teachers. 

      It’s maddening, but I’d bet my next paycheck that it happens.


  • Barnett Berry

    failed merit pay of the past

    Great post, Bill, and Renee and Larry.

    The individualistic teacher merit pay plans of  2013 – like those in the 1990s and 1980s as well as those in the 1950s and 1920s disappeared quickly because local evaluators did not have useful standards, or the time or expertise, to make reliable judgments about teacher competence.  Many such plans – used inaccurate proxies for student learning ascribed to individual teachers — created distrust and competition among teachers rather than supporting better practice. Check out this review from 1986!


    • billferriter

      Hey Double B, 

      Hey Double B, 

      Thanks for sharing the 1986 research on the failed notion that merit pay actually works in education.  It drives me completely nuts that we live in a world where crappy #edpolicies are rehashed again and again yet people think that schools — instead of legislators — are the ones who are failing.



  • Annie

    Social Studies

    This opinion article has validity.  Sadly, I can verify similar to identical results from my mountain state.

    Pay for performance.  Our program wasn’t as abrupt; it wasn’t something or nothing.  It did, however, reward some higher than others.  It pitted teachers against teachers and greatly reduced collaboration and sharing.  No one gained from that.

    What is a good teacher?  We had one teacher who performed lessons as the program dictated.  He scored highly.  Sadly, his students didn’t.  Students from the two other teachers of the same subject outperformed his students the two years the program was in place while I was there.  (I got out this year.)   Is he a good teacher?  Students would not understand the concepts and tell other teachers who helped them that this tutor teacher explained things better than their classroom teacher; they understood the concepts when explained by the alternate teachers.  When students don’t understand their subject, does that make a good teacher?  According to the scores for the payment program, yes.

    The program pushed a fabulous teacher from the profession.  Not only did the students like him, they respected him.  He helped (and made!) students learn.  He pushed them.  He held them accountable.  He was laden with knowledge in his subject area.  His AP students even had some 5 scores.  But, according to the program, he was a bad teacher.  The education world lost a tremendous asset.

    While running education is business, teaching is not a business.  I challenge these individuals to become teachers for a year; to truly experience what it’s like in a “struggling” school.  Only from knowing can they truly help.

    And an FYI – one district in the area will be evaluating art teachers using state mathematics test scores.

  • Elisa

    Right On Point

    This article nails it.  What constitutes “top performing” in North Carolina overwhelmingly has to do with who can “play politics” the best, not who can create and sustain an engaging learning environment for students.

    Further, as the article deftly notes, teaching and learning are community efforts.  There is a sense of cooperation involved in good teaching, of give and take, and of collaboration.  Overall school culture (which is usually set in motion by administration) is a huge factor (often overlooked) that affects learning.  Students are impacted as much by administrative policies as by the teachers they have.   The entire learning system needs to be taken into consideration and rewarded or not. 

    Lastly, education is NOT business; it doesn’t work like business, it doesn’t succeed in the same ways business does, and it goals are not business goals.  (As a quick example, when was the last time a business employee had to buy his own supplies to bring to the office?)  

    When we can begin to realize that an education model and business model are two separate and distinct things, we will begin to make some progress around in this state.  Until then,  just hope and pray for things to change.  Thank God for the New Schools project.

    • Terry McCann


      The whole way that teachers are paid is wrong.  The 30 year step model never rewarded excellence in education but only those that stayed around long enough.  Tenure makes the 30 year step model it best friend because the poorer teachers can rest on their laurels and coast receiving a montly check.


      I propose that teachers receive a base salary and even a higher base salary for advanced degrees in math and science and special education.  Irregardless of the school a teacher is located and despite the per pupil expenditure per LEA, a good teacher can grow their students.  GROWTH should be the instrument that is used to evalate a teachers performance.  If a child is not growing each year then what did the teacher do for 180 days?  We have ways today to measure growth and we could use this information to provide teacher a structured increase in pay each year.  The only drawback is how to fo the same sort of model for non core subjects and electives that are not tested.

  • MR

    This plan is just one of the

    This plan is just one of the many our politicans are utilizing to further attack public education and set us up to fail.  Then they can justify privatizing education and allowing more taxpayers money to go to charter schools and for profit companies claiming to want to reform education when in fact what they want is to fill their pockets.  Wake up NC!!!!

  • Megan Oakes

    Survey – NC Teacher Evaluation and Merit Pay

    I am currently a graduate student pursuing my Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) in the Department of Public and International Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. I am contacting you to seek your participation and assistance in distributing a statewide survey that will serve to evaluate how teacher evaluation and merit pay reforms are impacting teachers across the state of North Carolina. UNCW Professor, Janna Siegel Robertson, Ph. D., is noted as the principal investigator (PI) who has worked with me over the past couple of months on this project and is continuing to guide me in my research. 

    Our goal is to collect enough data to fairly represent the opinions of NC teachers that will later be combined with other statewide data and relevant literature to make appropriate recommendations to the state legislature. So please feel free to forward this message to any NC schools or teacher organizations that you feel would be interested in participating!
    To participate in the survey go here:

    As stated in the informed consent section of the survey, the data collected in this survey will serve as a component of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) Capstone project. Of course all 28 questions in the survey are voluntary and information that is collected is completely anonymous. Permission for this statewide study was approved by UNCW’s federally mandated Institutional Review Board (IRB) on March 31st, 2014.

    If you have any questions you can contact me at or Dr. Janna Siegel Robertson at

    Thank you for your assistance in this endeavor!

    Megan Oakes

    Human Resources Intern | New Hanover County
    MPA Graduate Student Association | Social Chair 2013-2014
    Masters of Public Administration 2014
    University of North Carolina Wilmington