Education

North Carolina is testing out different ways of paying teachers

Jessie Grinnell, an eighth grade English Language Arts teacher at Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill, helps a student with a lesson from S.E. Hinton's “The Outsiders,” while keeping an eye on the rest of the class on May 31, 2016. The state is funding a pilot program that changes the way teachers are paid in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system.
Jessie Grinnell, an eighth grade English Language Arts teacher at Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill, helps a student with a lesson from S.E. Hinton's “The Outsiders,” while keeping an eye on the rest of the class on May 31, 2016. The state is funding a pilot program that changes the way teachers are paid in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. mschultz@newsobserver.com

North Carolina has long paid its teachers based on their years of experience, but Chapel Hill-Carrboro and five other school systems could point the way to changing that model.

The State Board of Education on Thursday approved a plan to provide up to $10.2 million over the next three years to six school systems to test their alternative models for paying teachers. The districts are planning to use different options, such as paying teachers more based on whether they take advanced leadership positions or have good student test results.

Lawmakers who ordered the state board to establish the pilot program are looking to see whether the district models can be applied statewide.

“This is an opportunity for teachers to advance in their career while still working with students in the classroom,” said Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, a Chapel Hill-based education firm that is working with two of the districts in the pilot program.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the group welcomes developing a system that provides teachers more opportunities to earn higher pay. But he questioned the state funding a pilot program at a time when he said teacher salaries are still too low and taxpayer money is being spent on programs such as vouchers to attend private schools.

“I’m concerned this piecemeal approach to teacher compensation will make it more challenging to recruit teachers because it’s at least partially based on a pay-for-performance model,” he said.

The state has traditionally paid teachers based primarily on the number of years of education experience. Many school districts supplement that pay.

Some Republican lawmakers are critical of the state’s salary schedule for teachers. In a February speech, Senate leader Phil Berger called the pay scale “a ball and chain” because it used to take teachers 30 years to reach the top of the pay scale.

As part of last year’s state budget, lawmakers directed the state board to create a pilot program that links “teacher performance and professional growth to salary increases.” A dozen districts submitted applications, with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Edgecombe, Pitt, Vance and Washington County school systems being chosen.

All the districts submitted proposals that would pay more money to teachers who take on advanced leadership roles. For instance, Edgecombe and Vance counties said they could supplement a teacher’s salary by up to 30 percent if the person teaches more students than normal or leads multiple teachers.

“There’s a potential to earn more throughout the career,” said Hassel, who is working with Edgecombe and Vance and previously worked with Charlotte-Mekclenburg. “This can be transformative about the decisions people make about whether to become teachers.”

Hassel said the key is picking teachers who already have shown they are excelling in their jobs.

While Pitt County’s model offers leadership positions with higher pay for some teachers, it would also offer a chance of bonuses for all teachers based on how well their students perform on state exams.

In Chapel Hill-Carrboro, the district has changed the way it’s paying teachers through the Project ADVANCE program that’s getting state funding in the pilot.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro has long been a destination for veteran teachers because those with 25 or more years experience could see their salaries supplemented by 25 percent from the district. The supplement paid to younger teachers was significantly lower.

Under the new model, newly hired teachers are getting a higher supplement than before. But how much more they make now depends on whether they’re willing to take on extra roles and do extra professional development.

Young teachers can make much more sooner, according to Phil Holmes, director of Project ADVANCE. He said that’s key, because research shows teachers are more likely to quit the profession during the first five years in the job.

“Project ADVANCE allows those who are really motivated to advance faster and earn those rewards sooner,” Holmes said.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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