Draft NC plan would change how teachers are licensed and paid

Raising teacher pay to the national average is one area in which Republicans and Democrats can work together in the General Assembly.

Raising teacher pay to the national average is one area in which Republicans and Democrats can work together in the General Assembly.

rwillett@newsobserver.com

North Carolina could replace its seniority-based teacher salary system with a new model that offers higher starting pay and ties raises to measures such as student test results and leadership duties.

A draft teacher license model that will be presented to the State Board of Education next week proposes a higher state base salary of $45,000 for many beginning teachers. Further raises that could push the salary to more than $70,000 a year would be tied to factors such as student performance and teachers taking on additional duties.

The Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) hopes to finalize the “Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals” model by the end of the summer. If approved by the state board, they’ll see if the General Assembly will fund the plan starting in 2023.

“This could be a huge shift in education, but it’s also scary because it’s a paradigm shift,” Maureen Stover, a PEPSC member and 2020 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, said at a meeting Thursday. “I think a lot of the questions coming up are really important.

“But I also think we need to be open to re-imagining the way education is currently happening so that we can improve the educational opportunities for our teachers and also improve the educational opportunities for our kids.”

Some educators are skeptical of the proposal.

“Any approach to compensation that relies on standardized test data for base salary would be damaging to instructional practices,” Justin Parmenter, a seventh-grade teacher at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, said in an interview.

“Teachers who are already strapped for cash will be tempted to teach specifically for test mastery rather than the broader skill set that students actually need.”

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Raising teacher pay to the national average is one area in which Republicans and Democrats can work together in the General Assembly. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Paying teachers based on experience

Currently, North Carolina uses a “step” system where a brand-new teacher begins at step 0 with a salary of $35,460. Each year they move up a step and get about $1,000 more, not counting any raises the state may provide.

After step 15, the next raise doesn’t come until teachers reach their 25th year of experience and get $2,000 more a year. The state salary scale for this school year tops out at $52,680.

Many school districts supplement the state’s base pay, helping to raise the average teacher salary in North Carolina to more than $50,000 a year. Last year, the National Education Association ranked North Carolina 33rd in the nation in average teacher pay.

Tom Tomberlin, director of Educator Recruitment and Support at the state Department of Public Instruction, said the new model has a “hold harmless” provision so current teachers wouldn’t have their pay reduced.

Parmenter said paying teachers based on their years of experience recognizes the valuable role that veteran educators play.

“There is a reason why all 50 states currently pay their teachers based on years of experience,” Parmenter said.

But the presentation for the draft model says the current compensation system creates a stagnant career ladder and anchors promotion to time instead of to outcomes.

Entry level teachers

In February 2021, the state board asked PEPSC, which serves as an advisory body, to build a new model for licensing and compensating teachers.

Under the draft model, the step system would be replaced with different ways to get a teaching license.

The initial level of “apprentice teacher” would pay $30,000 a year for people who haven’t yet received a bachelor’s degree but who want to start teaching.

Next would come License I at $38,000 a year, License II at $40,000 and License III at $45,000.

The model says school districts could continue to supplement the state base pay.

DPI says a teacher who follows the traditional route for becoming an educator and who passes their license exams will begin at the License III level. They’d make nearly $10,000 more than the current starting salary.

Other ways to get a License III include students showing growth on state exams or high enough ratings on peer reviews from their principal, students and other teachers.

“I certainly don’t think that raising everybody’s compensation is a bad thing,” said Parmenter, the teacher. “Expecting the General Assembly to fully fund this plan is extremely optimistic.”

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Justin Parmenter is a teacher at Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Waddell Language Academy. Nancy Pierce File photo

Expert teachers

Teachers who want to earn more in the new model would need to reach License IV to become an “expert teacher.” The proposed minimum salary for a License IV teacher is $56,000 — which would top out the current salary schedule.

To become an “expert teacher,” the model calls for demonstrating effectiveness by either using test data or peer reviews.

If not using the peer reviews, teachers can show effectiveness by having students show growth on state exams for at least three of the past five years.. An alternative system for measuring student growth would be created for assessing teachers in subject areas not evaluated using the EVAAS formula.

In return for the extra pay, expert teachers would be required to pick up duties such as observing apprentice teachers and Level I-III teachers. They’d also make their classrooms open for observations by those lower level teachers.

Expert teacher licenses would last for five years, with the model calling for a $5,000 salary increase with each successful renewal. Teachers would get two renewal attempts, covering a 10-year period, to meet requirements to keep their license.

Advanced teaching roles

Within the expert teacher category would come two areas called “classroom excellence” and “adult leadership” that offer higher pay.

A teacher on the “classroom excellence” track would have a proposed minimum salary of $61,600. It would come with additional duties such as conducting model lessons and leading teacher discussions on how to improve instruction.

A teacher on the “adult leadership” track would have a proposed minimum salary of $73,000. They would have additional duties such as providing coaching and leadership to beginning teachers.

To be eligible for the extra pay, a teacher’s student must be exceeding expectations or the teacher must have high enough marks on the peer reviews.

This concept of “advanced teaching roles” is being piloted in 10% of the state’s schools, according to Brenda Berg, a PEPSC member and president of BEST NC, a nonprofit coalition of business leaders focused on education in the state.

“The question I always ask is is the system working now? “Berg said at a PEPSC meeting this week. “We can all agree it’s not and so it’s going to be scary.

“No state in the entire country has figured it out. Let’s be the bold, brave people to move forward with this.”

‘Fearful of the unknown’

The model was released for public comment earlier this month. Several PEPSC members said this week that school districts have concerns such as whether principals would feel pressure to give higher ratings so teachers could get paid more.

“I like the concept, but I think this has the potential to fall on our face with the details of it,” said Stephen Martin, a PEPSC member and assistant superintendent and human resources director for Watauga County schools.

Other concerns were raised, such as teachers making nearly as much on a monthly basis as assistant principals and principals at some schools and whether enough teachers would be available to serve as mentors.

“I have a lot of concerns with the ask for teachers in this,” said Monica Lambert, a PEPSC member and associate dean for academic partnerships, assessment and accreditation in Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education.

PEPSC members talked about holding a listening tour to hear from teachers across the state. DPI also wants to produce a video about the proposal.

“Some of the feedback that we’re getting from the field is just people are always fearful of the unknown,” said Bill Griffin, a PEPSC member and assistant superintendent for human resources in Caldwell County Schools. “They have questions. We’re talking about teachers’ livelihood and their salary moving forward.”

Teachers concerned about proposal

Some teachers say they have legitimate reasons to fear what the proposal could do.

“We’re not scared of the unknown,” Kim Mackey, a social studies teacher at Green Hope High School in Cary, said in an interview. “We’re concerned with what we know: A shell game of the graphics and the different pathways.”

Mackey says what would be bold would be restoring things that state lawmakers took away such as longevity pay, extra pay for having a master’s degree and retirement health benefits for new teachers.

Both Mackey and Parmenter raised concerns about how the model caps the highest salaries to teachers who are ranked in the top 25% in the state. Parmenter said the model would hurt staff morale.

“Currently teachers work together and share best practices with each other,” Parmenter said. “That ‘we’re all in this together’ philosophy is really important to a healthy schoolhouse climate.

“A system that encourages competition among underpaid teachers would lead to people working in silos which, ultimately, would only harm student outcomes.”

This story was originally published March 31, 2022 12:17 PM.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.

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