Let NC’s top teachers teach – and earn – more

June 7, 2014 

With all the angst and alarm over the General Assembly’s approach to K-12 education, hearing Bryan Hassel talk about how to create more effective schools is like listening to a symphony. He has a solution. It’s simple and harmonious and won’t cost more than we should be spending anyway.

Shame is he’s unlikely to be heard amid the din in the capital. Republicans are trying to improve schools by attacking them. They’re cutting teacher assistants, promoting vouchers and charter schools, dumping the Common Core State Standards and depleting education funding overall to hand out election-year pay raises to teachers.

Hassel and his wife, Emily Ayscue Hassel, are co-directors of Public Impact, a Chapel Hill-based education consulting group. They know about learning. Bryan Hassel was a Morehead Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill and a Rhodes Scholar who earned a master’s in politics from Oxford and a Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard. Emily has a law degree and an MBA from UNC-CH. And they have direct experience from the other end. They have four children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro public schools.

This is their idea: Let excellent teachers – as rated by evaluations and their students’ progress – teach more. Let them teach more students in bigger classes. Let them lead teams of other teachers. And for doing more, pay them much more. And do it by reallocating education money in a way that won’t cost taxpayers any more.

The idea is to break up the one-teacher, one-classroom model and replace it with teamwork. Let excellent teachers roam across grades and classrooms to reach more students. Allocate their menial and time-consuming tasks to support personnel. Have their example, advice and team leadership lift the performance of new or less-talented teachers.

“One teacher, one classroom is pretty much doomed,” Bryan Hassel says. “It guarantees that most kids won’t have a great teacher. If we can change that, most kids will have a better shot.”

The Hassels’ approach is called “3X for all,” or three times for all. The name reflects studies that show children learn three times more from teachers ranked in the top 25 percent as they do from those ranked in the bottom 25 percent. It isn’t just theory. The Hassels applied it this past school year in a pilot program involving four low-performing Charlotte schools.

The academic results won’t be known until the end-of-grade test scores come in this summer, but teachers embraced the change with joy and a sense of satisfaction and progress. Indeed, teachers clamored for the new approach – and extra pay of up to $23,000 for top teachers. When Charlotte advertised 17 jobs in the pilot program, 700 applications poured in from 24 states.

Kristin Cubbage has been a part of the pilot program at Ashley Park Pre-K. She used to teach about 35 children. Now she teaches about 165. “To me this was a dream job because in order to make more money in the past I’ve had to consider opportunities within administration. This allows me to stay in the classroom with the students,” she told Charlotte’s WBTV.

In the fall, 17 more Charlotte schools will try the new approach. It will also be tested in Cabarrus County, Syracuse, N.Y., and Nashville, Tenn.

The Hassels’ approach would not be cheap at first for North Carolina. They say the state needs to raise its average teacher pay 10 percent or more to reverse the backsliding that has sent the average pay sliding to 48th in the nation. But after that, schools could reallocate funds between extra support staff and great teachers teaching more students without increasing school district budgets.

Compare the teacher response to the Charlotte experiment with the statewide situation in North Carolina. While teacher applications piled up for the Charlotte pilot schools, low pay and low morale statewide are fueling an exodus and a looming teacher shortage.

The General Assembly and the governor are responding by offering a boost in pay. Hassel says that helps, but it’s only paying good and bad teachers more to do the same job. What should happen is more pay for good teachers and a winnowing of low performers.

In addition, Bryan Hassel says, the state should be adding teacher assistants, not cutting them by half as proposed in the state Senate’s budget. The teaching profession is virtually alone, he notes, in asking teachers to work in isolation doing many tasks involving a range of skills. Why have great teachers sidelined to tend to sick or unruly students or to monitor cafeterias and bus lines?

North Carolina is in an educational crisis and if it continues the state will lose many excellent teachers. It’s time to support top teachers by making a substantial change in how they are employed and what they can earn.

Editorial page editor Ned Barnett can be reached at 919-829-4512, or

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