Doing Better at Doing Good

Developing and rewarding excellent N.C. teachers requires sustainable strategies

August 17, 2013 

The debate of the future of education in our state is fierce. Yet out of the contentious fray an interesting proposal from Gov. Pat McCrory has emerged.

In a recent speech, he introduced a $30 million Innovation Fund that includes a “Master Teachers Corps.” The concept is to pay 1,000 teachers up to a $10,000 stipend to serve as master teachers within their schools – providing an excellent education to more students while helping their peers improve.

Eric Guckian, the governor’s senior education adviser, calls the Innovation Fund an “on-ramp for revising the way we compensate, develop, and support teachers in our state.”

The question is what kind of ramp is this building? One that will keep us on the path of underpaying most teachers (we’re currently 46th in the country on teacher pay) and further erode our ability to recruit and retain world-class teachers? Or one that figures out a way to professionalize and properly compensate the teaching profession while striving to put an excellent teacher in front of every child?

The good news is that we have some of the nation’s leading thinkers for this work in our backyard.

To address the challenge of reaching every student with excellent teachers, Chapel Hill-based education firm Public Impact has launched an initiative to leverage the skills of proven teachers ( The team-based models allow excellent teachers to lead and collaborate with peers during school hours to lift up the whole school. Pay goes up for excellent – and potentially all – teachers in a financially sustainable way.

Two compelling data points drive this concept: With an excellent teacher, students make about an extra half-year of progress every year. Yet only 25 percent of our nation’s teachers are able to make this progress. Rather than accept the premise that 75 percent of our nation’s children cannot leap ahead, Public Impact is working with districts across the country to extend the reach of these teachers through age-appropriate technology and job redesign.

Project L.I.F.T.

One such initiative is with Project L.I.F.T. in Charlotte – a public-private partnership to transform the schools in the city’s western corridor. Goals include raising West Charlotte High School’s graduation rate from 54 percent in 2011 to 90 percent by 2016 in part by improving the high school’s eight feeder schools.

Brought in by Project L.I.F.T.’s Director, Denise Watts, Public Impact began working with a cohort of principals and teacher-leaders in four schools to re-imagine their schools’ design, including how teachers worked together, how students learned, and how instruction happened.

This work is guided by Public Impact’s Reach Extension Principles, which include ensuring that every child has an excellent teacher; paying excellent teachers more; giving all teachers the chance to develop and contribute to excellent learning outcomes; and achieving lasting results in a financially sustainable manner.

Participating Project L.I.F.T. schools have set ambitious goals, including 80 percent of their classrooms being led by an excellent teacher by fall 2015. This will be accomplished in part by allowing the schools’ best teachers to lead instruction in multiple classrooms. The teacher-leaders will also work collaboratively with developing teachers to improve their teaching strategies – building a pipeline of excellence within the school. Teacher-leaders taking on greater responsibility will be paid up to $23,000 more – “exchanging” roles the school no longer needs.


In some schools, the “extended reach” of excellent teachers is facilitated through technology. Students will spend about an hour a day on personalized digital instruction – learning fundamental skills online, with teachers using their time for higher-order thinking and engagement.

The reach extension strategy has far-reaching implications for the way our classrooms are designed, our teachers are trained, and our budgets are constructed. It’s transformative work that is hard to do. But the allure of providing excellent teaching for all of our children while providing team-based development and well-compensated professional pathways to our state’s teachers is undeniable.

Which brings us back to the governor. As currently presented, the $30 million Innovation Fund will be paid from Race-to-the-Top funds – a one-time spending opportunity that will not sustain over time or have a lasting impact in our classrooms. As a result, this may end up being doomed to a one-time spending bump for just 1 percent of our teachers (at a time when the other 99 percent are seeing pay freezes, losing teaching assistants, and not being compensated for having a related master’s degree).

There is a different path. Our hope is that as we build the on-ramp we bring in the experts to help us think how we can create sustainable strategies to get excellent teachers and their teams into every classroom.

Christopher Gergen is founder of Bull City Forward & Queen City Forward, a fellow with Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University and author of “Life Entrepreneurs.” Stephen Martin, a director at the Center for Creative Leadership, is author of “The Messy Quest for Meaning” and blogs at They can be reached at and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.

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