Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — North Carolina will move toward paying public school teachers based on their classroom performance — rather than years of service, education levels, or other factors — one day “before long,” according to a top N.C. Senate education budget writer.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, offered that prediction during a public exchange with the state’s top elected education official Tuesday in Raleigh. Tillman co-chairs the Senate’s Education/Higher Education Committee, as well as the budget-writing Appropriations subcommittee for education issues.
“On the ABC bonus system, that $90 million was tossed out eventually because it went from truly pay for performance to a mixed bag of ‘Let’s get everybody in on it,’ and we can’t manage that,” Tillman explained to State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson. “I’m just saying that one day we will go to — before long — a truly pay-for-performance [system] based on progress of the students.”
“If you don’t base it on progress that they’ve made under your tutelage, then we’re missing the boat,” Tillman added. “We will go to that.”
Tillman acknowledged that “it may take a little time” to get to the pay-for-performance system. That system might require increasing teachers’ base salary “a little bit,” he said.
“Then we will go to a real reliance on Senate Bill ,” Tillman said, referencing 2011 legislation that amended state law regarding “career status” for public school teachers. “A lot of people don’t understand that, but you can get rid of tenured teachers in 60 to 90 days without a whole lot of headache — to be honest with you — if people know and understand that legislation. … If that [doesn’t] work, there are other methods to deal with that, and we’ll look at that.”
Those comments followed Atkinson’s presentation to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee on her priorities for the next state budget. The next General Assembly will work on that two-year budget plan next spring. It will take effect in July 2013.
Atkinson noted in her prepared remarks the General Assembly’s recent interest in pay for performance and tenure reform. “We have been very deliberate over the past four years at developing an evaluation system that has multiple measures over multiple times,” she said. “We have involved thousands of teachers in this state.”
“We know that it is important that as we do this important work, that we have a system that can be sustained, that it is a system that is fair to teachers, fair to principals, and it recognizes and moves good teachers to great teachers and great teachers to even higher levels, and that we move our fair teachers to good teachers, and that the very, very small percentage of our teachers who are not doing a good job for our students would be counseled to other [types] of work,” Atkinson added.
Lawmakers can expect “at some point” recommendations from the State Board of Education linked to pay for performance, Atkinson said. She also responded directly to Tillman’s remarks.
“I want to affirm what Sen. Tillman said that it’s important to measure progress because that is much more equitable and gives a more accurate picture of the impact of teachers, rather than just measurement of the achievement level of each student,” she said.
The pay-for-performance debate prompted a question from Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond. “There are a couple of ways to do that,” he said. “One would be a standards-based pay for performance, where — if a teacher achieved a certain level — that they would realize more income. In a case like that, in a perfect world, although it probably wouldn’t happen, every teacher could achieve the same pay level.”
“Or would it be based on relative performance, where it’s a competitive situation, where some teachers would perform better than others and get a higher pay scale?” Goodman asked. “Do you have some sense of how that might work?”
Much work remains before the state can proceed with pay-for-performance proposals, Atkinson responded. “There are several models,” she said. “One of our challenges is that we’ve yet to find a really good pay-for-performance model which we could replicate.”
“Some models would include that you would pay teachers extra to go to struggling schools, that you would pay teachers extra when [their subject areas] are in great demand and the school system cannot find them,” Atkinson added. “Another model would be to take the six standards that we have as far as teacher evaluation and indicate that if you score at this level on all six standards then you are eligible. Another one would be to take the growth of students in a particular class over time. Time is really important. We should not have just one measure. We should have multiple measures over multiple times.”
Goodman noted his concern that competition for merit pay increases could disrupt “learning communities” of teachers working together in the public schools.
It makes sense for North Carolina to move toward performance pay for teachers, said Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation director of research and education studies. “Performance and incentive pay would raise the quality and productivity of the public school work force,” he said. “And there is no better way to raise student performance than to have high-quality teachers in the classroom.”
Two of the major challenges of implementing performance and incentive pay programs are teacher evaluation and cost, Stoops said. “Fortunately, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction maintains a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that assesses teachers based on academic growth and other factors,” he said. “Our first step should be to integrate a statewide performance pay program into the existing evaluation system. This can be done quickly and requires no additional expenditures from the state.”
“If state education officials believe that their evaluation system is an accurate representation of teacher performance, then they should readily accept a merit pay plan based on their highly touted evaluation system,” Stoops added.
Next month’s election could play a major role in determining how quickly pay-for-performance ideas move forward. Atkinson, a Democrat, faces a re-election contest against Republican Wake County school board member John Tedesco. Tillman and fellow Republicans who won control of the General Assembly in 2010 are also trying to consolidate their power over both the N.C. House and Senate.
Mitch Kokai is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.