CommenTerry: Volume Sixteen | Eastern North Carolina Now

For years teachers have felt frustrated because they believe they are underpaid for a mentally and physically demanding job.

    Publisher's Note: These posts, by Dr. Terry Stoops, and aptly titled CommonTerry, appears courtesy of our friends at the John Locke Foundation. A full account of Dr. Stoops's posts, or him mentioned as a credible source, are listed here in BCN.

School funding debate: A real life Groundhog Day

    In a recent interview about teacher compensation in North Carolina, Bob Etheridge explained, "If we're going to retain and attract [teachers] there are several things we have to do," Etheridge said. "We've got to make it awful attractive."

    For years teachers have felt frustrated because they believe they are underpaid for a mentally and physically demanding job. Etheridge said the teachers he talks to around the state are becoming disillusioned with teaching because they don't get the support they need from the state or the public.

    "They really feel a lot of people are beating up on education," Etheridge said. "Education is really under the spotlight. Teachers really feel the stress now more than any time in history."

    Etheridge's comments are not so recent after all.

    They are from 1995.

    Similar to the classic movie Groundhog Day, which was released in 1993, the education funding debate feels like it is caught in a time loop.

    Etheridge was the Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time. The John Locke Foundation was five-years-old. I was an undergraduate at Clarion University of Pennsylvania and acted like a five-year-old.

    Regardless, the November 26, 1995 Raleigh Extra article quoted above is a fascinating example of just how little the conversation about teacher pay has changed. Consider the following passages from the article:

    But Etheridge believes the state must pay its teachers more to get them to stay in the profession. "In any profession, the level of compensation says something about how the profession is valued," he said.

    In Wake County, this year a first-year teacher makes $22,682 compared to last year's $22,681. But that is not enough when one in every 10 N.C. teachers is leaving the profession each year, said John Wilson, executive director of the North Carolina Education Association. "I think salary has been the most neglected area in this state," said Wilson, a classroom teacher for 20 years in Wake County.

    Elaine Dillahunt, president of Wake Association of Classroom Teachers, said many teachers are discouraged because it takes them at least 30 years to reach the top of the salary schedule. "That says that people do not take education seriously," said Dillahunt, who taught at Enloe High School. "You're always struggling to get an increase for teachers."

    Wilson said the NCAE plans to lobby in the next session of the General Assembly for meeting the national average as well as improving other job conditions.

    The themes outlined in the 1995 article are nearly identical to those featured in articles responding to Governor McCrory's plan to increase the K-12 education budget by a quarter of a billion dollars. (See Facts and Stats below for details of the proposal.)

    Similarities between the 1995 article and those published this week are pretty creepy, actually.

    The only exception is that the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) planned to lobby legislators for "greater access to telephones while in the classroom." Mission accomplished, NCAE. For better or worse, students and teachers now have ample access to telephones in the classroom.

    Of course, the political landscape was much different then. Democrats controlled two-thirds of state government. Governor Jim Hunt was in his third term. Marc Basnight had been named president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate about two years before the article was published and would retain his leadership position until voters gave Republicans the majority in 2010. Republican Harold Brubaker began his first of two terms as Speaker of the N.C. House and would be the state's only Republican Speaker in the twentieth century.

    But it really does not matter who is in charge. The education establishment has talking points and they are going to keep using them for one simple reason -- they work. Despite hearing the same rhetoric year after year after year, North Carolinians buy into the same teacher pay and education funding arguments without a second thought. Why?

    North Carolinians care deeply about public education and want it to succeed. But they fear that questioning the "conventional wisdom" will be perceived as opposition or worse. The extreme, often shameless, Left does a fabulous job of characterizing dissenters as enemies of public schools and even the Republic, which, contrary to the historical record, they credit public schools with preserving.

    So, unquestioned assumptions about public teachers persist. For example, North Carolinians genuinely fear losing outstanding educators to other states. Yet, they seldom demand evidence that our best teachers are moving to other states (and staying there) due to differences in compensation. The truth is that we do not know how many top performing teachers left North Carolina for similar positions in presumably higher-paying states, specific reasons why they resigned, and how that number compares historically. I have been trying to obtain basic teacher migration figures for some time, but have not had much success.

    Others have been convinced that spending levels are an appropriate expression of their concern, i.e., more spending equals more concern, respect, etc. Interestingly, I do not think anyone would assume that wealthy parents love and respect their children more than those with more modest means. If Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle" is accurate, the opposite is true.

    In the end, the shocking truth, which is anything but shocking, is that the debate over funding for public education hasn't changed much. Our public schools haven't changed much either. Perhaps there is a relationship between the two.

    Facts and Stats

    Summary of Governor McCrory's proposed education initiatives:

   •  Increase the base pay for North Carolina teachers to $35,000

   •  Teachers in steps 8-12 will receive increases ranging from 2.8 to 4.3 percent

   •  Teachers in steps 13-36 will average a pay hike of 2 percent

   •  Professional Pay Schedule -- Enables teachers to earn more money earlier in their careers with significant compensation increase opportunities on three-year cycles to be fully implemented by 2018

   •  Career Pathways -- Allows educators to earn raises for locally-determined leadership roles, teaching high-need subjects, teaching in high-need schools, and pursuing other opportunities for continuous improvement. Career Pathways will be implemented statewide by or before 2018. Local school districts can create a locally-designed plan or implement a plan designed by state education leaders through the Career Pathways Fund.

   •  Career Pathways Fund -- This $9 million fund will assist school districts in the creation of local Career Pathways that encourage effective teachers to expand their impact and maximize student achievement. This three-year fund will allow local educators and district leaders to receive support as they create or expand a performance-based pay system catered to the needs of their schools and students. Pilot initiatives in eight school districts will form the foundation of a statewide model for performance-based compensation. Eight additional pilots will start the following year.

   •  Increase funding for early childhood education by $3.6 million

   •  Salary supplements (10 percent of the teacher's base pay) for teachers who earn advanced degrees in the subjects they are teaching

   •  Double state funding for textbooks to $46 million

   •  Scholarship fund for newly separated veterans that will provide them essentially in-state tuition at University of North Carolina institutions

    Acronym of the Week

    NCAE -- North Carolina Association of Educators

    Quote of the Week

    "This will help to move North Carolina forward."

    -- Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson at Governor Pat McCrory's Career Pathways for Teachers announcement, North Carolina A&T University, May 7, 2014

    Click here for the Education Update archive.
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John Locke Foundation: Prudent Policy / Impeccable Research - Volume XXXXVII John Locke Foundation Guest Editorial, Editorials, Op-Ed & Politics Voters: "Difference in candidates not worth my time to go vote"


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