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Much more to do beyond the teacher pay raise

It is safe to predict today that North Carolina school teachers will get a pay raise whenever the General Assembly adopts a general-fund budget. And it is almost as certain that House Republicans, Senate Republicans and the Democratic governor will claim some credit as well as debate whether they did enough.

Let’s be clear: A pay raise is in order. It is justified not only as improving the compensation of teachers but also as a step in bolstering the education of North Carolina’s children.

And yet, as welcome as a pay raise is, the salary proposals under consideration amount to relatively incremental measures in addressing the daunting challenges of solving the teacher shortage and attracting well-qualified professionals to 21st century classrooms. North Carolina needs a corps of teachers prepared to educate a multi-ethnic array of students who live in a world of technology and social media.

Two years ago, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation commissioned a survey of North Carolina voters that found strong support for rejuvenating the state’s efforts to enhance the professionalism of its teachers. More than seven out of 10 voters in the survey agreed that it is “very important to build the capacity of teachers to be the best they can be” and “to make sure teachers have opportunities to improve their teaching techniques.”

An analysis published this month in the Kappan, the magazine of the Phi Delta Kappa association of professional educators, provides evidence of the extent of the rise and fall of public support for strengthening the corps of teachers. The article is co-authored by Patrick M. Shields, executive director of the Learning Policy Institute in Palo Alto, CA., and Barnett Berry, CEO of the North Carolina-based Center for Teaching Quality.

In the wake of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future report in 1996, the authors write, states enacted a “wide variety of efforts’’ to recruit, train, and mentor teachers. “Within a few years, researchers began to find that these policies were working, helping to strengthen the teacher pipeline and keep teachers in the profession,” they report. And yet, in the wake of the Great Recession and subsequent political shifts, they write, “state policymakers gradually withdrew their support for these efforts, allowing them to wither on the vine.”

In North Carolina, as the essay recalls, the Teaching Fellows Program was terminated, the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching was downsized by half, teachers went without pay raises for three years, and bonuses for teachers with master’s degrees were eliminated.

“Embedded in the stories of California and North Carolina,” write Berry and Shields, “are many of the solutions to the current teacher shortages”: strong preparation and mentoring of young teachers, increasing compensation, reasonable class sizes and high-quality materials, time for collaboration, and “valuing teacher leadership.” What the Berry-Shields essay makes clear is that addressing teacher shortages and attracting new talent requires a structure of policy and budgeting sustained over time.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican lawmakers have proposed a few renovations. Cooper would offer $10,000 per year scholarships for students who would go into teaching, while legislators would create a Teacher Fellows-like program in the fields of science, technology and math. Senate Republicans have a proposal to facilitate the “lateral entry” of teachers by allowing non-college organizations to offer educator-prep courses. UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University have launched a joint online program to prepare lateral-entry teachers.

Yesterday, the House Republican leadership unveiled a general-fund education package, but put off until at least next week issuing its proposal for a teacher pay raise. Earlier Senate Republicans had approved raises averaging 3.8 percent, and continuing their inclination to target higher raises to certain segments of teachers. Governor Cooper has proposed the more traditional across-the-board raises amounting to roughly 5 percent a year for the 2017-2019 fiscal period.

It matters mostly as a talking point whether the outcome lifts North Carolina’s ranking among the states in teacher pay. Just as the Kappan essay suggests a wider-angle approach, so too should North Carolina adopt wider-angle criteria for teacher pay. Such criteria ought to encompass assuring teachers a middle-class standard of living  — and assuring that the state has gifted teachers distributed across its city, suburban and rural districts so as to meet its obligation to provide a sound education to all of its youngest citizens.




Ferrel Guillory

Ferrel Guillory is a founder and serves on the board of directors of EducationNC.