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CMS Leaders Continue Questioning Links Between Evaluations, Race And Retaining Experienced Teachers

Oakdale Matthews schwa 2.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
A teacher at Oakdale Elementary School leads a reading lesson.

Leaders of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools continue to struggle with a contract policy that raises questions about the best way to keep good, experienced teachers — especially Black teachers — in the midst of a teacher shortage.

The school board’s policy committee spent 90 minutes Tuesday on a proposed change to the standards required for experienced teachers to get four-year contract renewals. The board came close to passing the changes last month, but as board Chair Elyse Dashew said, "This started out as looking like a very simple policy fix, and there’s so much beneath it that we need to unpack."

The renewed scrutiny was spurred partly by a report presented privately to board members outlining the effect of the current policy and the proposed revision. About 2,200 of the district’s 9,000 teachers are up for renewal under the current policy, which requires teachers at the seven-year mark to get at least three ratings of “accomplished” on their most recent evaluation to qualify for another four-year contract.

The report said 761 don’t meet that standard. But they would qualify under the proposed change, which requires only the lower rating of “proficient.”

A disproportionate percentage of the teachers who fall short of the higher standard are Black. That has led to debate about whether the ratings are racially biased, and whether principals are doing enough to help their experienced Black teachers improve.

Board member Ruby Jones, a Black retired educator, says the numbers indicate there’s a failure at the top.

"It is a glaring unfairness that just tears at my spirit that we are even at that place that we are having this discussion," she said. "And quite frankly, it makes me angry."

The board members and human resources chief Christine Pejot agree that CMS needs to work on racial equity, consistent evaluations and developing the skills of experienced teachers. Pejot told the committee nearly every employer struggles with evaluation consistency: "It's nearly next to impossible."

Where there's a difference of opinion is on whether the higher contract standards motivate improvement or make good teachers feel penalized by reverting to a one-year contract.

Board members Sean Strain and Lenora Shipp said the higher standards could help to ensure that students are getting higher-quality teachers — and that principals know it's their duty to help experienced teachers excel.

"It’s in the best interest of our students that our teachers in those classrooms perform at that level that we’ve set," Strain said.

Pejot argued for the lower “proficient” standard, saying it’s a retention issue at a time when new teachers are in short supply.

"It’s in our best interest to have effective and highly effective teachers in our classrooms," she said, "and that’s certainly in the best interest of students, as opposed to having a substitute."

Board member Margaret Marshall said the higher requirement could have an unintended consequence: rating inflation.

"I don’t want our administrators to look at this and go, 'Oh my! You know, I’m going to mark somebody up here because I want to keep this teacher.' And that is a risk here," Marshall said.

Pejot agreed, saying she had seen that happen in Florida when performance pay was at stake.

Committee members asked for more information about alternatives and about how close the 760 teachers are to meeting the higher standard by 2022.

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