Why NC’s “Average” Teacher Salary Is Horribly Overstated

Every year, the National Education Association releases a report called the Annual Teacher Salary Benchmark Report sometime in the spring. This year it was dropped on April 26th.

North Carolina is mentioned specifically in the first part of the report.

According to the report, all of NC’s 115 LEAs were able to have all 93,462 teacher salaries reported.

But there is a lot of data in this report that can be very much misinterpreted. Those who want to drive a narrative that teacher pay in NC is great will cherry-pick some of the data and ignore the rest. For instance, take a look at this:

That table is for TEACHER SALARY BENCHMARK AVERAGE. “Benchmark” and “average” do not mean the same thing. From ahrq.gov:

Although the term “benchmark” is often thought to mean an “average,” the original meaning of this term in the context of quality improvement is performance that is known to be achievable because someone has achieved it. Comparing performance to a benchmark definitely sets a higher “bar” than comparing to any average.

This is the salary schedule associated with the year of the report.

But what needs to be noted is that “starting master’s” and “top master’s” in that Benchmark table will become extinct within years as there is no longer graduate degree pay bumps given to teachers hired after 2014. The NCGA that likes to brag about the average teacher pay being so high in NC cannot sustain that average with the legislation it has enacted in the past few years.

This next table is rather revealing. Remember that NC has 115 physical districts.

According to this, NC ranks 43rd out of 51 in starting teacher pay. Only 5 districts have starting teachers make over $40K. That is a statement on local supplements. Only five of the 115 districts offer a local supplement high enough to put the starting salary over $40K. (And that average salary on the far left already has local supplements accounted for; the NCGA does not give districts the money to give local supplements).

If you want, look at the interactive table of 2020-2021 local supplements offered by each LEA for which a portion is shown.

Also, when looking at the report, it is not hard to see that each state has its own way on reporting information about teacher pay. It can be highly inconsistent across the country.

So there is a difference in reporting, and a difference in local supplements from district to district and from state to state. There is also no more graduate degree pay bumps for those newer NC teachers.

And there’s one more thing: National Board Certified Teachers.

North Carolina has more Nationally Board Certified Teachers than any state in the country.

Simply go to this site and compare – http://www.nbpts.org/in-your-state/.

A large percentage of teachers in NC (over 20%) have national board status and achieving that level is not an easy feat. Each state has NBCTs, but each state compensates differently for it.

North Carolina gives and annual 12% raise to NBCT’s who teach in the state.

What if that was taken away for new teachers as well?

What if LEA’s could not afford to fund local supplements?

What if graduate degree pay bumps were never reinstated?

Makes that “average” not seem so steady.

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week – How About Restoring Respect For The Teaching Profession

We have no new budget. Still. And we are still in an unprecedented pandemic which has altered the landscape of education for a time.

But there is a lot of hope with vaccines and science.

If people get vaccinated and stay vigilant.

For fourteen months, educators have adapted, invented, created, and constructed ways and means of helping students in this time that could never have been envisioned before. No standardized test could ever measure what educators and schools have done, yet we have a governing body that still insists on introducing bills and other edicts that do not honor our profession.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and many policy lawmakers in Raleigh seem to think that the best way to show appreciation for teachers is offering rewards.

What teachers and other education professionals really deserve is respect – especially after these last fourteen months.

A reward is something that is given in recognition of someone’s service, effort, and/or achievement. One could get a reward for doing well on a project or completing a task. Some could look at a bonus check as a reward for accomplishing a goal.

To have respect is to have a deep feeling of admiration for someone because of his/her abilities, qualities, and value. It is understanding that someone is important and should be taken seriously.

  • A reward sounds like something that can be used as a political ploy. Respect needs no political prompt.
  • A reward could be a one-time gift. Respect is continuous and grows.
  • A reward is a reaction to something. Respect guides your actions.
  • A reward is giving teachers a small bonus that gets taxed by the state and has no effect on retirement. Respect would be to bring salaries for teachers at least to the national average.
  • A reward would be to give a school some sort of distinction because it met a measurement achievement. Respect would be honoring teachers because of actual student growth in the face of factors out of the schools’ control.
  • A reward would be providing more textbooks. Respect would be to keep growing per-pupil expenditures to ensure that all students got the resources they need.
  • A reward would be giving a one-time pay hike to teachers. Respect would be to make sure they kept getting raises throughout their careers on a fair salary schedule and restoring longevity pay.
  • A reward may be to alter the teacher evaluation system. Respect would be to restore due-process rights for all teachers.
  • A reward may be to give more professional development for teachers. Respect would be restoring pay bumps for graduate degrees.

And respect would also be making sure that teachers on the front-lines of education are a vital part of the discussions about what to do in the face of this pandemic and how we as a state should proceed as far as our students and schools are concerned.

We have seen what a lack of respect for teachers has done to our state in a short amount of time. Where we once were considered a flagship state system in the South, we are now in a state of regression. So while I will not decline a “reward” of a pay raise, I will tell my lawmakers that affording more respect to teachers, administrators, and teacher assistants could go a long in helping stop the attrition of teaching talent in North Carolina.

Why? Because if you respect something you will show it through your actions, not just your campaign speeches and vague promises.

And respect can work both ways. For those lawmakers who view public education as a priority and view teachers with respect, I will not only reward them with my vote, I would show my respect by supporting them throughout their terms.

But most importantly, don’t reward me for teaching.

Respect me for being a teacher.

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Our Public Schools Are Better Than The North Carolina General Assembly Wants You to Believe

Our public schools are better than many lawmakers portray them to be – lawmakers who have never spent time as educators.

A lot better. And the problem is not the schools. The problem is the lawmaking body that controls the narrative of how schools are performing.

With the constant dialogue that “we must improve schools” and the “need to implement reforms,” it is imperative that we as a taxpaying public seek to understand all of the variables in which schools are and can be measured, and not all of them are quantifiable.

And not all of them are reported or allowed to be seen.

Betsy DeVos’s March, 2018 assertion on 60 Minutes that America’s schools have seen no improvement despite the billions and billions of dollars thrown at them was a nearsighted, close minded, and rather uneducated assessment of public schools because she was displaying two particular characteristics of lawmakers and politicians who are bent on delivering a message that public schools are not actually working.

The first is the insistence that “they” know education better than those who actually work in education. Just look at the most recent former US Secretary of Education and the most recent former State Superintendent of NC.

The second is the calculated spin of evidence and/or the squashing of actual truth. Those who control the dialogue in North Carolina and in many other states only tell their side of the spin and neglect to talk of all of the variables that schools are and should be measured by.

Consider the following picture/graph:

schools 1

All of the external forces that affect the health of traditional public schools generally are controlled and governed by our North Carolina General Assembly, rather by the majority currently in power.

The salaries and benefits that teachers receive are mandated and controlled by the NCGA. When graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights were removed from newer teachers, that affected recruitment of teachers. When the salary schedule became more “bottom-heavy” for newer teachers, it affected the retaining of veteran teachers.

With the changes from NCLB to RttT, from standard Course of Study to Common Core, from one standardized test to another, and from one curriculum revision to another, the door of public school “requirements” has become an ever-revolving door. Add to that the fact that teachers within the public schools rarely get to either help create or grade those very standardized tests.

North Carolina still spends less on per-pupil expenditures than it did since before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation. Who has control of that? The North Carolina General Assembly.

Within the next ten years, NC will spend almost a billion dollars financing the Opportunity Grants, a voucher program, when there exists no empirical data showing that they actually improve student outcomes. Removing the charter school cap also has allowed more taxpayer money to go to entities that do not show any more improvement over traditional schools on average. When taxpayer money goes to vouchers and charter schools, it becomes money that is not used for the almost 85% of students who still go to traditional public schools.

And just look at the ways that schools are measured. School Performance Grades really have done nothing but show the effects of poverty. School report cards carry data that is compiled and aggregated by secret algorithms, and teacher evaluation procedures have morphed more times than a strain of the flu.

When the very forces that can so drastically affect traditional public schools are coupled with reporting protocols controlled by the same lawmaking body, how the public ends up viewing the effectiveness of traditional public schools can equally be spun.

schools 2

If test scores truly dictated the effectiveness of schools, then everyone in Raleigh in a position to affect policy should take the tests and see how they fare. If continuing to siphon taxpayer money into reforms that have not shown any empirical data of student improvement is still done, then those who push those reforms should be evaluated.

So much goes into what makes a public school effective, and yes, there are some glaring shortcomings in our schools, but when the very people who control the environment in which schools can operate make much noise about how our schools are failing us, then they might need to look in the mirror to identify the problem.

Because in so many ways our schools are really succeeding despite those who want to reform them.

Local School Boards Should Not Be Partisan

Yes, public education is political. But it does not have to be partisan.

Yet, in the last few years, more and more local school board elections are becoming partisan races steering school systems by a GPS system based on political dogma and controlled in Raleigh rather than what is best for the local school system.

My own school system, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools is a partisan board and many, including myself, see that as an obstacle in fully helping our schools.

Below is from an article in Education Week dated in December of 2017.

The volatile mix of partisan politics and school board elections is on full display in North Carolina.

The Republican-controlled legislature in the last five years has systematically flipped the election process for more than a quarter of the state’s 116 local school boards from nonpartisan races to ones in which candidates are identified by party affiliation.

Depending on whom you talk to in this politically purple state, it’s a historic shift that could lead to much-needed transparency, upend board-member relations, or shrink black and Latino political representation in a racially and ethnically diverse state.

The push toward partisan school board elections in North Carolina has gained momentum since 2013, shortly after the federal government loosened the reins on Voting Rights Act restrictions under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder decision, and after Republicans took control of the North Carolina legislature. The state now has 35 school boards that will be elected on a partisan basis—at least 10 of them added to that pool by lawmakers this year alone (https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/12/13/shift-to-partisan-school-board-elections-looms.html). 

At one time on the WSFCS school board were two people who never were elected to such a position. One of them actually became the Vice-Chair before he was defeated in the primary when he actually did run for that office.

What had happened was that two people had resigned / left and because it was a partisan school board, the party affiliation of the member leaving got to dictate who came on board as a school board representative.

Currently, about a third of the LEA’s in NC are partisan. EdNC.org just put out a map showing those districts.

That EdNC.org aricle also has a list of those that are partisan and the election term dates in a link..

Later in that aformentioned EdWeek article it states,

The state’s Republicans say having local school board candidates identify by party affiliation on primary and general election ballots is simply an effort to make sure voters know candidates’ stances on polarizing issues such as school integration, vouchers, and which restroom transgender students should use.

But North Carolina Democrats counter that party politics will only bring to local school board meetings the sort of partisan rancor that’s dominated federal and state politics in recent years.

“I believe people should look at the qualities of the individual and determine if they have a heart for education,” said Bea Basnight, a Democrat and the chair of Dare County’s board of education, which will hold partisan elections for the first time next year. “We put our party affiliations aside when we walk through the door because it’s about the children.”

I agree with that statement by Basnight.

The only affiliation that a school board member should have next to his or her name is that he or she is pro-public education.

The Hypocrisy of “Transparency” In NC Schools & Society

Remember this recent bill?

Senate Bill 700 was filed less than four weeks ago.

Here are a couple of parts to that bill:

Post everything that is used and the sourcing of all of these materials? So that people can make judgement without the context and measure those materials against their own personal bias and viewpoints?

Oh, right. For transparency’s sake.

Remember this? It’s still going on.

But we already have this on the books in NC:

Yep. Transparency.

The ACT Should Never Have This Much Power Over NC High Schools

A little over five years ago, an extended editorial appeared in newspapers across North Carolina concerning public education. I happened to read it in the Winston-Salem Journal.

It was written by Walter McDowell, a board member of BEST NC. McDowell, a former executive with Wachovia, talked of the dire need to transform education in North Carolina. And just to clarify, there are many who will always say that we “need to transform” education. You can read that op-ed here.

In short, McDowell told the state it had a huge problem and that his consortium, BEST NC, was mapping a way for our transformation. He called it “Excellence: North Carolina’s Education Vision.”

“Recently, Excellence: North Carolina’s Education Vision was launched. It was developed with input and collaboration from education, business and policy leaders from across the state. Excellence outlines a shared vision to make North Carolina’s education system the best in the nation by 2030.

Inspired by this vision and the important work of our educators, the 115 business leaders who compose BEST NC will continue to work with the education community, the governor and the General Assembly on high-yield investments and systemic strategies that will dramatically improve students’ educational experiences in our state. It is our hope that our elected leaders see from this report that elevating educators must be at the top of the list in those discussions.”

It is always nice to think that we educators are being “lifted” in the eyes of the public, but McDowell used as one of the measures to qualify our state’s dire circumstances the state’s average ACT scores.

He said,

“Then, shortly before the budget passed, North Carolina received news that we are still last in the nation in college and career readiness as measured by the ACT exam. There could be no greater urgency in North Carolina than solving this education crisis.”

I responded to McDowell’s argument with a rebuttal. It was published in the 10/17/15 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal. Specifically, I responded to the use of the ACT as the barometer of the entire health of the NC education system. I argued,

“North Carolina is one of only 13 states (in 2015 – in 2017 it was around 17) that requires all students (EC, LEP, etc.) to take that exam, which has no impact on their transcripts, provides no feedback in its scores on how to improve student achievement and is administered on a school day on which other activities and classes take place. Most states only have paying students take the ACT on a Saturday; those students have an investment in the results, hence higher scores” (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/stuart-egan-judging-schools-by-an-unfair-standard/article_0aa55234-8b82-5713-8114-65bc43e80eb1.html).

Unfortunately, BEST NC is still active in Raleigh trying to lobby business style reforms for public education.

And there is talk in Raleigh to stop using the EOC tests in high schools and replace them with national standardized tests. Of course the ACT would be one of the tests that could be considered. It is already mandated to be taken by students. It is possible that it becomes even more of a presence in the measurement of school and student achievement.

Besides the aforementioned reasons that we as a state should not rely on the ACT so much, there is that characteristic of the ACT that is similar to our state’s school performance grades: it measures the effects of poverty on schools as well as racial/ethnic divides.

Jon Boeckenstedt, Vice Provost of Enrollment Management at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, writes a blog that comments on admission tests for colleges and universities. One of his posts dealt with the ACT score distributions based on reported income and ethnicity.

The patterns are clear.

Here’s what it looks like based on ethnicity.

Name the only state in the country with the lowest legal minimum wage, one of the lowest corporate tax rates, no collective bargaining rights for public employees, no Medicaid expansion, loosely regulated voucher and charter school expansion, a school performance grading system that measures achievement over growth, and has had congressional district lines declared unconstitutional that were drawn on racial lines. 

North Carolina.

Would ACT scores reflect that?

Now Is The Time To Expand The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program To Include All NC Public Colleges & Universities – Especially Our HBCU’s

These two data exhibits in the recently released Leandro Report paint a vivid picture of what many in this state have been describing for years: the weakening of the teacher pipeline in North Carolina because of policies set by the NCGA.

leandroretention2

From 2009-10 to 2016-17, the percentage of new teachers who came from the UNC system dropped nearly 30%. Couple that with the fact that teachers who come from the UNC system have higher rates of retention at both the three-year and five-year mark (see below).

leandroretention1

Then on page 218 directly following the above exhibits, the Leandro Report states,

Although there has been an increase in the number of teachers of color (now about 30% of teacher enrollments in state teacher preparation programs), some of these teachers — particularly African American and Native American recruits — are primarily entering through alternative routes, which have much higher attrition rates. One reason for this is the steep drop in teacher education enrollments in minority-serving institutions, including historically Black colleges, which decreased by more than 60% between 2011 and 2016.

Teachers of color are an important resource. Recent research — much of it conducted in North Carolina — has found that having a same-race teacher has a positive impact on the long-term education achievement and attainment of students of color, particularly African American students (e.g., Dee, 2004; Gershenson, Hart, Lindsay, & Papageorge, 2017).

This state could do one action to help both increase the number of teacher candidates trained in our UNC system and bring in more teacher candidates of color – expand the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program exponentially – the same North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program that put so many great teachers in our NC schools for years.

That is until it was abolished and then brought back as a shadow of its former self.

The latest iteration of the Teaching Fellow Program only accommodates 160 potential teachers at “only one of five public or private universities to be selected by an appointed committee ” for only select fields. This comes nowhere to replacing a program that yearly helped train 500 potential teachers at multiple campuses  in a variety of subjects who were for 25 years also walking advertisements for teaching in the state that was at one time committed to public schools.

What NC needs now is to raise that number of yearly candidates to at least 1000.

Imagine if just one-tenth of the budget surplus that Phil Berger and Tim Moore have been bragging about these last few years was reinvested into the Teaching Fellow Program and expanded it to beyond what it used to be to include all state-supported colleges and universities with emphasis on our public Historically Black Colleges & Universities.

hbcu

Because this state needs more good teachers – more good teachers who stay. We especially need more teachers of color to whom our students can look up to in the most impressionable times of their lives.

Studies show that students of color who have teachers of color achieve more in school.

And that Leandro report confirms that.

What Do North Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, and Idaho Have In Common? Indoctrination Witch Hunts

We are not the only state to start targeting teachers.

Last month our new Lt. Governor established a task force to expose indoctrination in our public schools.

As a concerned citizen you can now issue a complaint of indoctrination on the Lt. Gov.’s official website.

Yesterday, Idaho announced the same type of initiative.

Idaho Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin is working on putting together a task force to examine indoctrination in Idaho education and to protect our young people from the scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism, and Marxism.

“As I have traveled around the state and spoken with constituents and parents, it has become clear to me that this is one of the most significant threats facing our society today. We must find where these insidious theories and philosophies are lurking and excise them from our education system,” Lt. Gov. McGeachin said. “Idahoans are increasingly frustrated by the apparent lack of awareness and leadership coming from the state on these issues.”

When Berger’s Spokesperson Says, “They Blocked Teacher Raises A Couple Of Years Ago,” He Forgets To Mention This.

Today it was reported that NC has fallen to 33rd in the country for teacher pay.

The process that NEA uses to figure teacher pay in this report is not as fluid as one might think. Too many states provide differing data and then it has to be normalized against other data when it hardly seems possible.

But it’s that “two years without raises” thing that is the topic of this post and what Sen. Berger’s spokesperson, Pat Ryan, said about that.

Actually, it ain’t that simple, Pat.

NCGA GOP stalwarts like Sen. Berger’s spokeperson are trying to frame the narrative that Gov. Cooper and NCGA Senate Democrats placed teachers on the chopping block because they upheld a veto on what was presented as a 3.9% average raise in teacher salaries a couple of years ago.

And that narrative is a gross misinterpretation of the reality.

On the surface, what Berger & Co. are presenting to the public is that teachers were to get a 3.9% average raise.

3.9 1

But many people forget that when budgets are written for the state, they are biennial budgets: two-year budgets. When teachers are said to be getting a 3.9% pay raise in “this budget,” it means it is over a two-year period. That “full” raise is not occurring immediately. Plus, any budget  can be amended in a future session to offset anything passed in this past summer.

3.9 2

Now, consider this when that “raise” was first presented a couple of years ago:

3.9 4

Step increases based on seniority according to that tweet above are also part of the “raises.” The issue is that those step increases had already passed in a mini-budget bill in the fall of 2019.

Lawmakers in the Senate Thursday passed what’s known as step increases for teachers.

It’s basically a bonus. For each year you’ve been a teacher, you’ll get about a $100 step increase up until a certain point but some are worried it’s not enough.

Lawmakers have been passing these ‘mini budgets’ since Governor Cooper vetoed the full budget, months ago.

That makes that whole narrative of leaving a 3.9% raise on the table even more misleading.

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What Cooper and Senate Democrats vetoed was based on the last graphic there.

Actually that bill was this one – Senate Bill 354.

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That bill would have put the following salary schedule in place for teachers.

SB354 2

It would have replaced this salary schedule.

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The problem is that there is not much of a difference. In fact, it would only affect teachers with 16+ years and even then, not much at all. Just look at the comparison.

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What that translates to is a monthly increase of $50 for all teachers with 16-20 years of experience.

150$/month for teachers with 21-24 years of experience.

$60/month for teachers with 25+ years.

But look at it in this manner – Why? Because it is important to note that the number of veteran teachers in North Carolina has gone down in the last few years – especially when the current NCGA powers who are currently bragging about what SB354 was offering.

Kristin Beller, the president of the Wake County Association of Educators and a champion in public school advocacy, “ran” these numbers concerning the proposed raises in SB354 against the current numbers of teachers in the state (those numbers can be  found here).

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The first part concerns the numbers of teachers in the state broken down by experience.

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Then she added numbers in the categories defined by SB354’s compensation ranges and showed the percentage of those groups as part of the entire teacher workforce.

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Then she multiplied the number of teachers in each rung that would get a raise by the actual monthly raise defined by SB354 and then added those products together. That sum is the amount of overall money given to the raises.

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Since the graphic near the beginning of the post “represents” the entire teaching profession getting an average “%3.9” raise, then it means that every teacher should have gotten something. Right?

Not so.

Furthermore, if you divide the sum of money to be used in the raises by the number of teachers in the state, you get… less than $33/month.

beller4

And yes, that bill had “raises” for the following year.

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It does the exact same thing as the 2019-2020. Except it only adds $50 a month to each of the teachers in the 16+ year experience range.

That’s what Cooper vetoed.

His plan would have been much better for all teachers.

Great Teachers Can Admit They Are Wrong To Their Students

It was about a year ago when then President Donald Trump made an assertion that sunlight and heat could offer a cure for COVID-19.

On a stage in April of 2020 with 50,000 Americans dead (over 570,000 now) from the COVID-19 virus addressing a national audience in an election year with the economy crashing and unemployment rising by the second, you do not as a leader have any inkling of being sarcastic on live television.

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It wasn’t sarcasm.  Anyone who has taught for years in large public schools could expertly tell you that.

Just say “I was wrong.” And maybe apologize.

Teach thousands of classes, input thousands of grades, manage hundreds (even thousands) of students in a career, you will be wrong in front of students.

And they will catch you and put you on the spot.

Been there – a lot. And I will tell them I was wrong. I will let them argue with me about the answer or the process and if they are right and I was wrong, I will acknowledge it.

Why? Because I have learned that great teachers do that and I want to be a great teacher. If I am going to try and teach my students to be thinkers and inquisitive life-long learners, then I need to remove the obstacles and show them that I am not only capable of being wrong, but willing to keep learning from it.

When a new younger teacher comes into my school and teaches in the same department, one of the first pieces of advice I tell him/her is that they need to get over being the only person who is right. Having students call you out on wrong answers means they are listening and it makes you a better teacher because it shows where you might not be as strong as you will the next class.

Students will respect you for it. They may show it it in different ways. But they will respect you for it. And I have issued my share of apologies and wouldn’t take a single one of them back.

Plus, the “average” student I have in my classes is already a master at verbal irony – which is a rhetorical term.