News: Quick Takes

State Board of Education approves teacher pay pilot programs for six school districts

The way teachers are paid may soon change as several school districts begin experimenting with different models.

The State Board of Education approved the pilot programs of six school districts to start in the 2017-18 school year.

Currently, teacher pay is tied to the number of years a teacher spends in the classroom. Sometimes local school districts supplement teacher salaries.

Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, argued against this model, saying it can drive quality teachers away from schools.

“Paying them based on experience and credentials is really a disincentive for our top-performing teachers to stay in the system,” Stoops said.

Essentially, a teacher who has been performing adequately for 10 years can be paid substantially more than an excellent teacher with only three years under her belt.

“If I’m a great teacher and I’m only three years in the profession, then I start to ask myself, ‘Why am I staying here and what incentive do I have to drive my students to do better and drive myself to be a better teacher if I’m simply paid for how long I stay here?’” Stoops asked.

A change was needed, so in 2015 the General Assembly called for the state board to implement pilot programs in local districts to see whether an alternative teacher pay model could keep quality teachers in schools and improve student performance. Lawmakers approved $10.2 million over the next three years for the plan.

Twelve districts applied for the program, but only six were chosen. Chapel Hill-Carrboro city, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Pitt, Edgecombe, Vance, and Washington county school districts all got the green light to roll out their programs.

Each pilot program is different but they all include linking teacher pay to professional growth and performance, with some plans including bonuses for improving student test scores.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro city schools look to increase pay for teachers who take on advanced leadership positions and more responsibilities with Project ADVANCE.

“Project ADVANCE allows those who are really motivated to advance faster and earn those rewards sooner,” Phil Holmes,  director of Project ADVANCE told the News & Observer.

Project ADVANCE will focus on compensating teachers for taking on additional roles such as teacher mentor, professional development creator, and professional development facilitator.

Other school districts, including Pitt County, reward teachers for improving student performance in addition to paying more for taking advanced leadership positions.

The ideas behind these pilot programs are nothing new, as Stoops points out how Republicans have long supported localities experimenting with teacher pay. But this initiative offers a chance to see which model works best in what situation.

“One way to try and create a valid program is to experiment with a lot of different settings and determine when it’s appropriate and when it’s not,” Stoops said. He noted there isn’t one ideal model for teacher pay when school districts are very different from one another regarding income levels, teaching staff size, and other educational needs.

“Localities often have better ideas,” Stoops argued. “They have a greater understanding of their teaching staff and what the needs are, so giving them the ability of broad experimentation is a better approach.”

Representatives of the State Board of Education could not be reached for comment.