Dear Mr. Hood,
Your op-ed in The Carolina Journal (later reposted on EdNC.org.) entitled “How to Pay Teachers More” is another example of the deliberate disconnect from the reality of the teaching profession that many in Raleigh seem to not only revel in, but share as gospel.
And this column is just another attempt to broadly describe the condition of state education reform in North Carolina with glossy rhetoric as a way to present the current administration as champions of public education.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
You are printed widely and read by many in the Old North State. As the former president (and current chariman)of the John Locke Foundation and the current president of the John William Pope Foundation, you have enjoyed the financial backing of one of the most powerful people in the state, Art Pope. No doubt that financial backing comes with its share of ideological mentoring, meaning that whatever is printed by the John Locke Foundation or the Carolina Journal (part of the Pope Foundation) by you has a certain slant to it pleasing to the people who fund its creation.
This op-ed makes many claims, provides little details to lend evidence and never really explains how your claims are verifiable.
Consider the following:
- You state, “Well, North Carolina is projected to run a substantial budget surplus this year. That, in turn, reflects the benefits of a growing economy, overall spending restraint during the past five years, and lower-than-expected growth in enrollments in other programs and institutions.”
Interestingly enough, that budget surplus was created by a tax revenue overhaul crafted by none other than Art Pope, who not only serves your mentor and boss, but also served as Gov. McCrory’s first budget director. You may claim that we have had lower tax rates than we did before McCrory took office, but there’s more to it.
While tax cuts did come for many, standard deductions were greatly affected. Many of the standard deductions and exemptions that were once available to citizens like teachers no longer exist. In fact, most people who make the salaries commensurate of teachers ended up paying out more of their money to the state, even when “taxes” went down. Why? Because we could not declare tax breaks any longer. Who designed that? The budget director.
Furthermore, there is now a rise in sales tax revenue because many services like auto repairs are now taxed. So to say that the surplus just appeared because of spending limitations is a little bit of a spun claim. In fact, most of those spending limitations in public schools came when we saw increased enrollment and costs of resources rise.
- You make another faulty claim when you say, “They’ve (Raleigh) junked forms of compensation that didn’t produce better instruction, such as the foolish practice of paying teachers to get largely irrelevant graduate degrees, while focusing legislative attention on starting salaries and pay raises for teachers in their early careers, which is when most improvement in teacher effectiveness occurs.”
You have made this claim before in an op-ed called “Not a matter of degrees” that was posted on EdNC.org last fall. I also made a rebuttal to this op-ed entitled “Why teachers believe advanced degrees matter”. Anyone can read the two and make his/her own decision.
But the assertion that teacher effectiveness mostly occurs in the early part of the career is misleading. With as many curriculum changes, standardized test changes, and teacher evaluation models that have evolved, and the growth of duties, class sizes and more classes to teach, it would be foolish to say that rising teacher effectiveness is only relegated to the first few years.
One, it is a way of foolishly validating why raises were given only to new teachers during this administration. Two, most new teachers look to veteran teachers for mentoring and growth. Three, most people cannot decide how to really measure teacher effectiveness because of so many changing parameters.
Furthermore, if veteran teachers have stopped improving, then how would you explain graduation rates increasing? (Actually, that is a whole other subject worth discussing).
- You further claim, “Still, policymakers seem inclined to continue reforming the way teachers are compensated, including differentiation by demonstrable need and pilot programs for performance pay. Given the petty politics and irresponsible rhetoric employed by their left-wing critics, this qualifies as courageous leadership deserving of conservative support.”
This is called “merit pay”. There is not one example of a merit pay model that has been successful in my memory. If you could offer any examples, your op-ed would have been a great place to list them.
Rep. Skip Stam has championed this idea. I wrote him an open letter this year explaining that his idea of merit pay and differentiated pay was faulty (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/02/03/a-public-school-teachers-open-letter-to-state-rep-paul-stam/). Some of the points I made included:
- “The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money.”
- “The GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores.”
- “Anyone who has taught in North Carolina for an extended period of time remembers that we had the ABC’s in effect for years which gave teachers/schools bonuses based on scores. It was never financed.”
If there is no explanation of what this merit plan would look like, then it is nothing but a baseless claim.
- You then bring in the latest NEA report and claim, “As the latest NEA report makes clear, North Carolina has raised teacher pay more than any other state in the nation since McCrory took office in 2013. The state still ranks relatively low in average salaries expressed in nominal dollars, but the NEA itself cautions readers of its teacher-salary report not to treat such a ranking as meaningful… For example, variations in the cost of living may go a long way toward explaining (and, in practice, offsetting) differences in salary levels from one area of the country to another.”
You are correct. Cost of living does vary greatly among the states. In fact, it varies greatly among counties in North Carolina. The Triangle versus the Triad versus Asheville, or Wilmington, or even the Outer Banks could show dramatic differences in terms of cost of living just within our boundaries.
However, when quoting Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation and his “preliminary analysis” is asking a biased individual to affirm a claim. You and Dr. Stoops practically work for the same organization. It’s like a pharmaceutical company funding its own study to show that the latest drug it is marketing works better than the competition’s. It’s simply loaded. A “preliminary analysis” from a non-biased third party would be more believable.
Also the NEA report that you refer to is a 130 page .pdf. It also includes many nuggets of info that do not show such “growth” in NC’s educational condition. One really sticks out when talking about teacher salaries. We are 48th in Percentage Change in Average Salaries of Public School Teachers 2004-2005 to 2014-2015 (-10.2) – Table C-14.
Furthermore, those “raises in teacher pay” included the elimination of longevity pay which all public sector employees receive, EXCEPT TEACHERS. What really happened was that the NCGA took money from the pockets of educators and then presented back to them in the form of a raise all the while promoting it as a commitment to teachers. It’s like robbing someone and then buying them a gift with the stolen money and keeping the change.
- You claim, “In fast-growing states such as North Carolina where schools must hire new teachers every year just to keep up with enrollment, the teacher population tends to be disproportionately young. Ranking salaries by years of experience would bring North Carolina even closer to the national median.”
If that is not a rousing endorsement of keeping veteran teachers who have been through population shifts and constant flux to help new teachers, then I do not know what is.
Furthermore, if we have a rising population, then we as a state better be doing more to cater to the very teacher preparation programs that have served our schools in the past. Mr. Hood’s assertion that veteran teachers are somewhat stagnant in effectiveness and that graduate degrees do not matter is possibly alluding to a tendency to contract alternate teacher training programs like Teach For America. Just ask other metropolitan areas how that has worked for them. San Francisco just terminated their contract with TFA this past week.
- Finally you state, “Instead of chasing headlines or poorly measured statistical goals, McCrory and legislative leaders are boosting and reforming teacher compensation in order to attract and retain high-performing educators to some of the most essential and challenging jobs in the public sector.”
Concentrate on the phrase “some of the most essential and challenging jobs in the public sector.” That describes teaching in public schools fairly well. But has it always been that essential and challenging? Yes, it has.
Mr. Hood, why are you so clearly endorsing policies that will not adequately pay for teachers to do this essential and challenging service? Maybe because when you see the word investment, you look for a monetary return that profits you. When you see the word investment, it is always a cash transaction?
McCrory’s claim to want to raise teacher pay looks more like pure electioneering. It is synonymous to a deadbeat dad who shows up at Christmas with extravagant gifts so that he can buy the love (or votes) of his children.
Public education is an investment in people in all years, not just every four years.
Stuart Egan, NBCT
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