Do other professions require their “best” employees to give up an accomplishment to get a raise? Do other professions use raises to lure employees into giving up due process? Those are two questions Wake County public school teacher Dyane Barnett asked in a recent op-ed in the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
You don’t need to read very far to learn Barnett is frustrated, very frustrated. Barnett feels teachers are not being treated fairly. With Common Core, excessive testing and virtually no raises in recent years, teachers have a lot to be frustrated about. However, the sad thing is much of Barnett’s frustration is fueled by misguided thinking.
Barnett asks: Do other professions require their “best” employees to give up an accomplishment – “career status” — to get a raise? Implicit in this statement is the belief that the teaching profession is similar to medicine, law or engineering and teachers should be compensated similarly.
Of course teachers deserve our respect and a fair wage. However there are significant differences between teachers and other major professions that account for some of the current differences in pay scale. First, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are paid on the basis of individual talent and contribution. Two attorneys or doctors in the same town and approximately the same age can have widely different incomes. Of course such variation in pay is virtually non-existent in the teaching profession. The teacher salary schedule ensures teachers are compensated not by individual contribution but by longevity and qualification.
Time to peak earnings is another significant difference between teachers and other professionals. Lawyers and doctors reach the highest compensation levels after about 10 or 12 years; teachers need to be on the job for nearly three decades to before they earn peak wages.
Another major difference between teachers and other professionals is that the overwhelming majority of employment opportunities for teachers are with state or local government. While a doctor, lawyer or engineer can work for a company or be in private practice, the idea of a teacher in private practice is practically unheard-of.
Also, doctors and lawyers are members of professional associations to protect their interests while promoting their role as independent professionals. In contrast, a high percentage of teachers nationally have unionized, while in North Carolina teachers are represented by an association that acts largely like a union. To look at it another way, most doctors, lawyers and other professionals are considered part of management; teachers are not, especially if they are in a union. All these are fundamental differences in outlook and job status.
Still, Barnett is angry for other reasons as well. She asserts that in order to get a raise under the new legislation, teachers must essentially give up their due process rights. This is simply not true.
Teachers retain the same due process provisions they had before the new education legislation was passed last year. Prior to passage of the legislation in question, career status (the equivalent of teacher tenure) could only be revoked if a teacher was convicted of violating one of thirteen different criteria. The new legislation maintains those 13 and adds two more criteria to those already stated in 115C.324(4) for teacher dismissal. These include 1) knowingly providing false information and 2) a justifiable decrease in the number of positions due to district reorganization, decreased enrollment or decreased funding. Contrary to Barnett’s claims, teachers involved in those discussions continue to have due process rights. They are listed in 115C.325 (6).
I understand Barnett’s frustration. However, we need to realize her concerns are rooted in a system that overemphasizes equity and undervalues excellence, and has made it nearly impossible to rid itself of poor performers. The legislation discussed here and new pay proposals are intended to address these concerns. It’s a start, and a step forward that will not only improve teacher pay but also the quality of our schools.