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Weighing How To Pay Teachers Based On Incentives

North Carolina is trapped between two systems of paying teachers. One is based on experience.  In other words, the longer you work, the more you’re paid.  But the state is moving toward a system that rewards individual performance. 

Here’s State Senator Jerry Tillman speaking yesterday:

JT: Large across the board and step increases…probably not going to happen. But there will be many incentives in there from contributing to the goals of your school to being a good team member. That’s worth points, but the most important part is, 'What are you doing with the kids you’re teaching?'

MARK RUMSEY: Tillman co-chairs a group of lawmakers and educators that will recommend what a new pay system should look like. They met for the first time yesterday. 

WFAE’s Lisa Miller joins me in the studio.

MR: So is this task force going to decide how the state pays teachers?

LISA MILLER: Not necessarily. State lawmakers formed this group to make recommendations. The task force includes, of course, lawmakers, but also principals and teacher groups.  Lawmakers could take the recommendations or leave them, but one of the goals is to get some buy-in for the potential changes. The group must weigh in on whether the state should come up with a set of pay incentives or leave that up to districts. It must also decide how to get from this current system based on experience to one based on performance. 

MR: So what kind of incentives are we talking about?

LM: Well, some districts have been playing around with this.  An administrator from Guilford County Schools, Amy Holcombe, told the group what her district is doing.  The district offers a $5,000 signing bonus to teachers filling what are called hard-to-staff subjects like science or math. They also reward teachers with a track record of boosting student achievement with up to a $15,000 bonus. Here’s Holcombe:

AH: When you can recruit and retain highly effective teachers in your schools, you have teachers who will not let students fail. You have teachers that are committed to student success. And I think those results show in our graduation rates, starting at 74% back in 2006 when the program began, now at 86.2%.   

LM: Now, Pitt County schools had to re-tool their incentives program. It gave teachers bonuses for going to struggling schools, but that didn’t create a good dynamic between the veterans and newcomers. 

MR: How do districts measure a teacher’s performance or, as you say, record of boosting student achievement? 

LM: Mainly through the growth on standardized test scores. 

MR: A lot of teachers don’t like that. But teachers haven’t had much of a raise in years, so what’s the problem with providing those incentives? 

LM: Well, a lot of teachers worry that student test scores aren’t a fair representation of their abilities to get student’s to learn. And then many teachers say before you start coming up with incentives, you need to put in place a pay raise for all teachers. Basically they’re paid about the same now as six years ago.  So there’s not much left of the pay system based on experience. The governor has proposed a raise for new teachers, but not for veteran teachers. 

MR: Thanks Lisa.

LM: Thank you.