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.
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.
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