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CMS Gets Off To A Better Start With Latest Teacher Pay Plan Discussions

A couple years ago CMS was charging full steam ahead with a plan to pay teachers based partly on their students’ performance.  But it upset so many teachers and parents, the district put a halt to it.  Now, CMS officials are reviving the idea and trying hard to avoid past missteps.  They’ve asked teachers to begin working on another plan. 

WFAE’s Lisa Miller joins All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey to discuss the latest efforts.

RUMSEY: Lisa, why is CMS talking about this issue again? 

MILLER: North Carolina has to come up with a plan to factor student performance into teacher salaries.  That was a condition of accepting $400 million in federal Race to the Top money.  So last year state lawmakers approved a bill that said districts may come up with their own plans and submit them to the state. 

RUMSEY: So what’s different about coming up with a performance pay plan this time around? 

MILLER: The climate is a lot different.  Two years ago, the district was rolling out dozens of new standardized tests so CMS could tie test scores to teacher pay.  Then, there was this bill that former CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman helped craft.  It would allow the district to adjust teacher compensation without a teacher vote.  Many teachers and parents felt they had no say in this whatsoever.  Here’s Steve Oreskovic at a school board meeting two years ago.  He’s a teacher and vice chairman of the Classroom Teachers Association. 

ORESKOVIC: There has been a massive failure to garner stakeholder support for a pay for performance plan.  Parents and teachers, taxpayers and legislators are questioning the lack of a plan here in CMS, questioning the exponential growth of testing at a time when the state is reducing the number of tests and questioning the costs. 

RUMSEY: He doesn’t sound happy.

MILLER: No, he wasn’t.  Nor were most people in that room.

RUMSEY:  And so now what do teachers think about this new performance pay plan?  

MILLER: The plan is still being hatched.  About 30 teachers are working on it now.  They presented their work to the school board last night.  And, you know, one of the group’s main spokesmen was Steve Oreskovic.  This time he says CMS is making a genuine effort to include the input of teachers. 

ORESKOVIC: You’re supporting yourself like a lattice.  It’s kind of like a hedgerow.  Once everything grows together, it continues to grow and strengthens itself.  Once that happens, you’re going to see some serious growth in student achievement and some serious, hopefully, looks from people who may not have considered teaching before. 

MILLER: After the teachers did their presentation, they got a standing ovation.  Eric Davis…he was the chairman of the school board during the last push to come up with a performance pay plan…he even apologized for the problems last time around. 

DAVIS: I deeply regret the frustration, the anger and the trust that was broken because of those missteps, but I don’t regret that we started. 

RUMSEY: Well, it seems like things are getting off to a better start.  So what does the plan actually look like at this point? 

MILLER: So the state asked districts to use a few different factors in their pay plans.  That includes judging a teacher partly on the standardized test scores of students in their class, whether the scores grew as much as they should, but also the growth of all students at the school.  That way you don’t have teachers competing against each other. 

MR: And, Lisa, when can we expect to see a finished plan from CMS? 

LM: It’ll probably be at least a few months till there’s a final plan.  And at the state level, there are still a lot of unknowns.  For one, how much extra money is there to give teachers for bonuses and salaries based on performance. 

MR: WFAE’s Lisa Miller.  Thanks a lot.  

LM: Thank you.

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.