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The Teacher Pay Discussion Should Continue
By Dr. Terry Stoops

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Apr. 24th, 2014

RALEIGH — In 2013, the N.C. General Assembly established the North Carolina Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force to “make recommendations on whether to create a statewide model of incentives to encourage the recruitment and retention of highly effective educators and to consider the transition to an alternative compensation system for educators.” Last week the task force met for the fourth and final time.

During the meeting, teacher and administrator appointees, as well as Democratic task force members, confronted Republicans about the contents of the group’s final recommendations to the General Assembly, a fact that likely delighted the mainstream media and their liberal allies.

It is, however, simplistic (and, frankly, lazy) to characterize tension between legislators and appointees as merely a clash of ideologies. Rather, the fact that both sides “talked past each other” throughout the discussion suggests that their inability to see eye-to-eye had much to do with fundamental disagreements about the terms of the debate.

Generalities and specifics

Some of the public school appointees complained that the final recommendations outlined general principles, rather than specific policy recommendations. Yet it is common for committees and task forces, particularly those that convene only a handful of times, to issue reports that offer a broad framework or starting point for legislators to develop and propose bills during forthcoming legislative sessions.

Indeed, the Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force met only four times. Had the final recommendations offered the specific policy recommendations desired by some members of the task force, they would have complained that there was insufficient testimony to warrant specific recommendations. And they would have been correct!

Parts and wholes

The task force’s co-chairs, Rep. Rob Bryan and Sen. Jerry Tillman, reminded members that state legislators are responsible for the distribution of resources to all areas of state government, not just K-12 public schools. Most of the teachers, administrators, and Democratic members of the task force chose to disregard this fact. Their comments focused on enlarging the education budget regardless of other budget priorities.

It is easy to champion multimillion-dollar increases for public schools in isolation from the rest of the budget. It is much more difficult to determine where the money should come from when all of the state’s other responsibilities are taken into account.

Emotions and reason

According to more than one task force member, it's all about the children. While this sentiment delivers a firm tug on the heartstrings, it is hardly the best starting point for a policy debate. Without a doubt, legislators of all stripes love children. But lawmakers do not need to love children in order to craft sound education policy.

And, by the way, they do not hate children if they decide to pursue a policy direction that is different than, say, the “spend now and ask questions later” plan supported by most public school advocacy groups and the mainstream media.

Simplicity and complexity

Speaking of love-and-hate rhetoric, during the task force meeting, Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, proclaimed, “It comes down to a few simple questions: Do we value children? Do we value teachers? Do we value education as an economic driver?” No, education policy does not come down to a few simple questions. It never has and never will. There are no easy answers, particularly for a task force that met only four times.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, recognized that crafting specific policy recommendations required additional information, expert testimony, and discussion. As a result, he tried to extend the life of the task force, a proposal that received a chilly reception from some members of the group.

I think Horn's idea was a good one. One can hope that his colleagues in the legislature agree and that during the upcoming session they will approve language to preserve the fruitful debate the task force has initiated.

Dr. Terry Stoops is Director of Research and Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation.

Past Columns

This Month's Columns

Apr. 24th, 2014
The Teacher Pay Discussion Should Continue

Apr. 23rd, 2014
Putting NC Growth in Context

Apr. 22nd, 2014
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Painting a More Accurate Portrait of N.C. State Debt

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FCC Should Let Markets Work

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Don't Backtrack on School Reform

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Suspension of Disbelief Not Enough to Make Film Incentives Work

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Past Month Columns