North Carolina will never make the educational strides it needs until the best educators have far greater impact, for a lot more pay. A year ago in these pages, we called for state leaders to raise teachers’ base pay an average of 10 percent and add advanced roles. The General Assembly went partway, rightfully adding 6 percent, but focused primarily on early-career teachers’ base pay.
Other states increased teachers’ salaries, too, though, and likely will again. N.C. average pay is still dead last in the region. State leaders must complete the 10 percent average raise—and then add more—just to be average regionally. Meanwhile, the pay gap with neighboring states yawns wider for experienced teachers.
Most importantly, base pay bumps for early-career teachers don’t empower or entice excellent teachers, many of whom are veterans, to lead from the classroom— reaching more students and helping peers excel.
It doesn’t have to be this way. N.C. can lead the region in pay for excellent, experienced teachers by encouraging districts to offer substantially higher pay to teacher-leaders reaching more students and leading peers. Districts can pay other teachers more for joining teams these teachers lead, too. Educators can advance their careers while teaching, and more students can experience excellent instruction. Using new staffing models, districts can make these changes within regular budgets, as long as the state does not fund base pay increases by slashing other positions.
Students need that excellent teaching, consistently. Students starting behind need multiple years of high-growth learning to catch up. And no matter where they start, all students deserve the chance to leap ahead and prepare for the global workforce by gaining the problem-solving skills that great teachers develop so well.
State leaders can transform North Carolina by funding several diverse districts to design financially sustainable, scalable, advanced pay systems that reward excellent teacher-leaders, and reward all teachers for collaborating with teacher-leaders.
Districts should design systems that fit their needs. But state policymakers need to pinpoint the destination districts should reach.
To see why, look no further than the responses of 76 districts to last year’s differentiated pay legislation.
Just 21 plans include advanced roles. Among those, only 14 stated how much more teachers could earn; the median maximum supplement proposed is just $1,000.
Most tellingly: Only two proposed giving more students access to excellent teachers. No district explained how its plan would be scalable districtwide, much less statewide, within recurring budgets.
Policymakers can elicit much stronger plans with three guideposts:
- Set state goals to ensure payoffs for teachers, students and the economy. First, demand that at least 75 percent of students gain access to excellent teachers who are accountable for their learning. Second, require supplements substantial enough to impact recruiting and retention—$5,000 to $25,000, or more—for great teachers who take accountability for more students and lead peers. Third, require districts to give teachers time at school to plan and improve, giving everyone a shot at excellence.
- Make local control really local. Eliminate the state’s large financial penalty when schools swap positions to fund advanced roles, so that teachers and principals in each school can reallocate budgets to fund higher pay. Let educators choose to pay supplements to teachers for joining collaborative teams, not just leading them.
- Fund temporary transition costs, not temporary pay. Schools can fund substantial pay for advanced roles by reallocating regular budgets. The federal Teacher Incentive Fund demonstrates that when districts can use temporary funds directly for compensation, advanced pay disappears when grants end. While we strongly support increased education funding, temporary pay supplements signal that teaching excellence is expendable.
If the state spent $200 million over 10 years to pay teachers supplements, each teacher would gain less than $200 annually for just 10 years. In contrast, less than $200 million would support a statewide transition to models that pay all teachers more, and pay teacher-leaders supplements of $5,000 to $25,000—in perpetuity.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Cabarrus are among several districts nationally creating an “Opportunity Culture.” In Charlotte, excellent teachers continue teaching, lead teams with time to collaborate and help others improve, and earn supplements up to $23,000—about 50 percent above average N.C. teacher pay. Teachers have flocked to these positions, even in high-poverty schools. Effective teachers and paraprofessionals earn more, too.
The number of such roles will remain limited, though, until N.C. removes its financial penalty for locally determined position swaps.
State leaders can initiate the same benefits for all N.C. teachers, if they focus on the destination: giving all students access to excellent teaching, consistently, and all teachers access to outstanding career opportunities, permanently. That, plus rock-solid base pay, will move N.C. to the top, with teachers, students and the economy reaping the benefits.
This column was originally posted on the News and Observer. It is no longer available in the newspaper archives.