News: CJ Exclusives

JLF: NC Adjusted Teacher Pay Tops

Merit pay instead of across-the-board raises recommended by JLF

North Carolina teachers, on average, earn $2,700 more each year than their peers across the country once their pay is adjusted for cost of living and other factors, according to a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.

The report recommends that the state shift its focus away from raising teacher pay to the national average. North Carolina should instead adopt a new merit-pay system and streamlined teacher certification, said Terry Stoops, JLF education policy analyst.

“Politicians like to talk about raising North Carolina teacher pay to the national average,” Stoops said. “But the numbers clearly show North Carolina already exceeds the average. When adjusted for cost-of-living, pension contribution, and experience, North Carolina’s teacher compensation is $993 higher than the U.S. adjusted median compensation and $2,733 higher than the U.S. adjusted average compensation.”

North Carolina has increased teacher pay by 19.7 percent in the past five years, Stoops said. The state’s adjusted teacher compensation now ranks among the highest in the South, Stoops said.

“Only Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana have a higher adjusted teacher compensation, primarily because they have higher pension contribution rates and lower costs of living,” he said. “Other states in the region that compete with North Carolina for teachers rank significantly lower in adjusted average compensation.”

Parents and taxpayers should look beyond the unadjusted teacher pay numbers promoted by the National Education Association, Stoops said. That group says North Carolina’s average teacher salary in 2005-06 was $43,922.

That figure ranks the Tar Heel state 27th in unadjusted average pay. Cost-of-living, pension, and experience adjustments raise North Carolina’s average to $51,687 per teacher, Stoops said. That’s enough to raise North Carolina’s ranking to 19th in the United States.

Higher average salaries or better benefits are not likely to improve teacher recruitment or retention in North Carolina, Stoops said. “North Carolina’s 12.3 percent teacher turnover rate is already lower than the national average of 15.7 percent,” he said. “It’s even lower than the average turnover for businesses with 1,000 or more employees: 17 percent.”

Using data from a state Teacher Working Conditions survey, Stoops estimates higher pay and better benefits might have stopped 400 N.C. teachers from leaving the public school classroom in 2005-06.

“If you spread that number across the state, each school system might have saved three or four teachers with offers of higher pay or more benefits,” he said. “Those numbers would dip teacher turnover from 12.3 percent to 11.9 percent. That’s not enough to justify such a major focus on across-the-board raises.”

Instead of focusing on average pay rates, North Carolina should focus on finding and keeping good teachers, Stoops said.

“Across-the-board raises unrelated to performance reward both good and mediocre teachers, thus doing little to help students learn,” he said. “Streamlined certification requirements would help expand the pool of potential teachers. A system of merit-based pay would help attract and keep good teachers in the classroom.”