- Teacher pay is tied to experience and academic credentials
- But no link exists that ties experience or credentials to academic achievement
- Rising costs of health insurance and retirement benefits limit funds for education.
In Part I of this series on teacher pay I illustrated how much of this discussion has been propelled by showing how North Carolina trails national average teacher salaries and the low ranking of North Carolina among the 50 states. I also chronicled the various problems with using national average teacher salaries and rankings. In Part II I want to discuss another topic that is frequently absent from the current discussion on teacher pay: how we pay teachers.
For much of recent history, teacher pay in North Carolina has been largely determined by two factors. First, experience. Generally the more years of service, the higher the pay. And, secondly, pay is also tied to academic credentials. Teachers can receive additional pay for having a master’s degree (on average 10 percent increase over base pay) or a doctorate (average 17 percent increase over base pay). Teachers can also receive additional pay if they have been awarded certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). They typically receive an immediate 12 percent pay increase.
Teacher pay and pay for other educational or administrative staff is outlined in the North Carolina Public School Salary Schedule, 2015-16. In 2014 a number of significant changes were made to the schedule. First, it was conflated to six 5-year tiers. In addition, longevity pay was also removed. Additional pay for master’s degrees was removed for some but then restored for certain hard-to-staff fields like math. New teachers were also given salary increases to help boost starting pay to $35,000. More experienced teachers (6 to 25 years) received a small increase but lost longevity pay. Some more experienced teacher (20-plus years) actually saw a reduction in salary with the loss of longevity pay.
|Teacher With a Bachelor’s Degree Salary Schedule|
|Tier||Years of Experience||Monthly Salary|
While it is important to cite these changes, it is also important to note that pay remains largely tied to years of service and credentials. It is also important to reiterate that no link has ever been identified in the research between teachers’ years of experience and student achievement, or between academic credentials and student achievement.
Most people like to think older teachers are the better teachers. In many cases it may be true. But others are quick to identify instances where younger teachers outshine their older colleagues. There is simply no conclusive research that establishes a link between teacher experience and student achievement or academic credentials and student achievement. In short, there is no key assertion in the pay scale.
Teachers and administrators say one of the selling points of the current system is that it treats teachers equitably. But that assumes all teachers are equal, which, like any profession, is untrue. Under the current system, excellent teachers are paid the same salary as average or poor teachers simply because they have the same number years of experience. The current salary schedule turns its back on excellence in favor of time served. Shouldn’t great teachers be rewarded? Shouldn’t teachers be rewarded for doing more than merely showing up?
Low starting pay may be a problem. Teachers have complained long and hard about low starting salaries in North Carolina. Gov. Pat McCrory’s plan to boost starting teacher salaries to $35,000 was a starting point to address those concerns. However you’d be a fool to think that money alone will solve the teacher pay problem.
One of the problems with the current salary scale is that a teacher with a bachelor’s degree with no additional academic degrees or credentials will still need to work 25 years to make $50,000.
Teachers complain that they are paid less than doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Of course, the overwhelming number of contracts for those professionals are not bargained collectively or are not with state or local government. Unlike other top professionals who can earn lucrative salaries after 10 years, the North Carolina teacher salary schedule – although it has been improved slightly – still requires 20+ years before a teacher will be at their peak earning years; a reality that can cause frustration and cause people to leave the profession. . This was the thinking behind boosting starting salaries and trying to provide younger teachers more raises early in their career. Jacob Vigdor, a former professor of economics at Duke University, articulated this thinking in an influential article, “Scrap the Sacrosanct Salary Schedule.”
Yes, higher pay is needed. However the teacher salary schedule is often a hindrance to that end. The impacts have been disastrous. It prevents teachers from earning what they are worth; provides no incentive for excellence, asserts the false claim that all teachers are equal and works to drive good teachers out of the classroom. The salary structure neither serves teachers nor the interests of students in the classroom. It’s time for North Carolina to pay teachers like others are paid: by the value of their labor; in this case by how well they educate students. It can be done.
Another problem is that the current teacher salary schedule ignores the realities of individual labor markets and differences in the cost of living. That nearly all LEAs have teacher salary supplements bolsters this claim. Wake County, for instance, adds over $6,000 to the average teacher salary. School systems wouldn’t pay the supplements if they felt they didn’t need to.
All these problems are a result of a highly centralized system that fails to incentivize excellence or link teacher pay and academic performance. It’s a system that also gives little or no decision-making authority to individuals who are best able to assess teacher performance: principals. Principals are often charged with turning around schools and improving districts. Yet too often they have little or no control over how teachers are paid. That’s not right.
Our educators frequently tell us that every child is gifted, different and worthy of respect. We don’t treat teachers the same way. We pay teachers largely the same amounts, as if they were all the same and had the same gifts and work ethic, without respect to the better ones. They are marched along the same career path and put into a system that doesn’t reward excellence or pay teachers according to merit. Who wants to work in such a system?
Merely raising teacher pay across-the-board only perpetuates the shortcomings of the current pay scale. Real solutions will not only improve salary levels but also tie teacher pay to performance and provide local officials such as principals more authority in setting teacher pay. Such reforms will also help ensure our children receive a better education.
 Scrap the Sacrosanct Salary Schedule, Jacob Vigdor, Education Next, Fall 2008. Available online at: http://educationnext.org/scrap-the-sacrosanct-salary-schedule/