Admitting the master's pay mistake in NC

September 5, 2013 

This editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:

Two Republican legislators from Charlotte offered a candid admission last week: They made a mistake when they supported a provision eliminating a 10 percent salary boost for teachers who hold master’s degrees.

Of course they did. The move was ill-conceived and disruptive.

Reps. Bill Brawley and Ruth Samuelson concede an error in only one respect, however: No allowance was made for teachers who were already working on master’s degrees but would not finish by the deadline at the end of the current school year.

That timetable forced the School of Education at UNCG to accelerate the schedule for about 70 students, Dean Karen Wixson said Friday. She complimented the faculty and staff for adding courses and making other arrangements to help master’s students complete their work in time.

Now, legislators are talking about extending the deadline, Brawley and Samuelson told The Charlotte Observer.

“If you start a program based on a promise that was made, that promise has got to be kept,” Brawley said. “When I have made a mistake, I can own it.”

Really, it’s teachers enrolled in graduate programs who own this mistake. They have to invest their money for tuition and their time during summer breaks or at night to take classes and study. The promise was higher pay for an advanced degree.

The legislature won’t fix its mistake until its short session next May, if it does at all. It will be an act of faith for teachers to proceed with graduate studies hoping for a financial reward – and this legislature hasn’t earned much trust from teachers.

The long-term outlook isn’t so bright, either. Base pay for teachers is flat, tenure is being eliminated, class sizes are increasing and master’s degrees won’t be rewarded in the future.

“I think all this will lead to a teacher shortage,” Wixson said.

Legislators contend there’s no correlation between teachers’ advanced degrees and student performance. They can believe that if they want, even as some of North Carolina’s best-trained teachers leave for jobs in other states. That view also flies in the face of calls for the UNC system’s schools of education to produce stronger teachers. So why would the state end pay incentives for teachers who strengthen their academic credentials?

Wixson doesn’t believe all teachers seek an additional degree just for the extra pay. Some do it to become better at their jobs. The same surely can be said for people in other professions.

But, when it’s been a long-standing policy of the state to reward teachers generously for attaining master’s degrees, a change should be carefully considered. This was not. In fact, the decision was made so abruptly that it quickly became obvious that an injustice was done. A rug was being pulled out from under teachers who already were enrolled in graduate programs.

Those teachers should be given the additional pay that was promised when they earn their master’s degrees. And, while legislators are doing that, they should rethink the entire issue of compensation for teachers. If they are admitting to one mistake, it’s likely they made others.

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