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Friday, February 2, 2018

Not Everyone’s Happy About the NCGA’s Teacher-Bonus Program

Posted by on Fri, Feb 2, 2018 at 9:06 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

Last year, the state expanded bonuses for its teachers, increasingly eligibility, eliminating glitches, and making some payments better. So this year, almost nine thousand teachers are expecting bonuses—but that’s less than 10 percent of the state’s workforce, and some folks aren’t happy with the criteria the state is using.
  • From the N&O: “‘These bonuses don’t target everyone who made a difference in these children’s success. … It’s not the answer to student success or lifting the profession,’ said North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewell, who contends the money would be better spent boosting salaries.”
  • “The best way to reward teachers has long been a point of contention between the NCAE, which generally supports Democrats, and the Republican-controlled state legislature. Teacher pay was frozen during the recession, leading North Carolina to plunge in state rankings for teacher pay. After the recovery began, the General Assembly approved several teacher raises, starting with the newest teachers and moving into the mid-level ranks of experience. Republicans have generally been enthusiastic about shifting the emphasis from experience and credentials to results.”
  • Senate leader Phil Berger: “I can understand how there might be opposition to paying excellent teachers for great work in a socialist country like North Korea, but I don’t understand why unions like the NCAE would oppose paying excellent teachers big bonuses in America.”
  • “This year thousands of additional teachers became eligible for bonuses if they landed in the top 25 percent for fourth- or fifth-grade reading growth or math growth in grades 4-8. The total bonus varies based on a number of things, including grade level and school district, but the Department of Public Instruction says 6,900 teachers in grades 3-8 qualified for state and/or district bonuses. The state bonus comes to about $3,300, while district bonuses range from $2,300 to $6,400. Jewell said the revised program still falls short because many who help students master reading and math—K-2 teachers, counselors and assistants, for instance—are shut out. Principals and assistant principals are eligible for merit bonuses that range from $1,000 to $15,000, which are tied to changes in their pay scale.”
  • “High school teachers qualify for bonuses if their students earn credentials that show they’re ready for careers or college. Those who teach career-technical courses are rewarded based on the number of students who earn industry certifications or credentials. Just over 1,900 teachers qualified for amounts ranging from $25 to $3,500, with the average at $991, the state reported. That’s about 440 more career-tech teachers earning bonuses than last year. … Teachers will also receive bonuses of up to $3,500 based on the number of their students who earned high scores on Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education exams, all of which indicate students have mastered college-level work. The state does not yet have tallies of teachers earning those bonuses.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The legislature’s very understandable goal is to incentivize teacher performance, which obviously has some value. There’s $41 million budgeted for the program this year: Why not spend that money on teachers going the extra mile? The problem, though, is that it’s always been difficult to empirically separate good from bad teachers. Teachers in poor-performing schools with disadvantaged children might not be able to move the needle on math or reading scores like teachers in more affluent areas. Beyond that, there are myriad factors at play in school performance—a student’s home life, for example—that have nothing to do with the skills of any particular teacher. So it’s unclear to me that this sort of teacher-bonus program will lead to better outcomes—though the State Board of Education is due to get a report on that in March.

Related: More than 115 Wake County teachers mistakenly received merit bonuses in their January paychecks, and the school system is taking the money back. [N&O]

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