Bad Grades on Teaching Quality | Eastern North Carolina Now

Publisher's note: The article below appeared in John Hood's daily column in his publication, the Carolina Journal, which, because of Author / Publisher Hood, is inextricably linked to the John Locke Foundation.

    RALEIGH     North Carolina Rep. Bryan Holloway, the Republican co-chairman of the state legislature's education oversight committee and a schoolteacher himself, now says that there won't be enough time this year to work out the details of a performance-pay plan for public school teachers. The matter will have to wait until 2013, Holloway told the Raleigh News & Observer

    I don't doubt Holloway's assessment of the situation. Paying teachers on the basis of individual performance is a good idea but not a simple one. The details matter. If it takes until 2013 to craft a practical plan, by all means let's take the time to do the job right.

    But let's actually do the job.
John Hood
It's obvious to me that many of the people involved do not really want to implement performance or differentiated pay. They aren't seeking additional time to do the job right. They are seeking a delay in the hopes that a new legislature will decide performance pay isn't the right job to do.

    They are wrong. There is a strong and growing body of evidence in favor of teacher-pay reform. And the latest report from the National Council on Teacher Quality provides North Carolina policymakers a clear roadmap for reaching the broader reform destination of selecting, hiring, paying, and firing teachers according to their performance.

    NCTQ is a private initiative bringing together grantmakers, experts, and advisors of varying ideological stripes. What unites them is the belief in the importance of changing the way we train, hire, manage, retain, and fire teachers. The organization has come up with specific ways to measure these functions and compare them to the best practices of successful education systems.

    North Carolina doesn't measure up well in the latest report. Using a traditional letter-grade scale, North Carolina's 2011 grades average a D+, little changed from the 2009 average. That earns us a rank of 32nd in the country.

    There are five components to the average. North Carolina rates a C- in identifying effective teachers and a C in retaining effective teachers. But we get a D+ in expanding the teaching pool and D-s in preparing teachers at the front end and "exiting" ineffective teachers at the back end. In both of those latter functions, preparation and termination, North Carolina saw its grades drop from 2009 to 2011.

    What could policymakers do to improve those grades - and thus improve the quality of the public school teachers over time? The NCTQ report gets very specific. For example:

    • To improve the preparation of future teachers, North Carolina colleges and universities should raise their admissions standards and administer a more rigorous set of subject-matter tests to applicants and graduates of education schools. They should also reform their curriculum and require prospective teachers to pursue at least a minor if not a major in the academic subject they expect to teach.

    • The state's public schools, in turn, need to hire teachers only have they have passed rigorous exams in the academic subjects they are to teach. Then schools should consider teachers eligible for dismissal if they receive two unsatisfactory evaluations, either in a row or within a five-year period, regardless of their tenure status. When school systems are led by fiscal pressure or changes in enrollment to make reductions in force, they should be required to consider classroom performance a factor in determining which teachers will be laid off, rather than relying too much on seniority.

    • As for compensation itself, the report notes that North Carolina "does not support performance pay or additional compensation for working in shortage subject areas." The authors recommends that our state give school districts flexibility in determining their own pay scales and remove the current pay increase for getting graduate degrees. Schools ought to use value-added assessments to adjust compensation for teachers according to the amount of academic progress their students demonstrate as well as how willing teachers are to take on difficult assignments.

    By all means, read more for yourself. My final point is this: if some educators find these approaches unwelcome, I can understand that. Might I suggest that if you don't want to live under such top-down accountability policies, another approach would be to subject yourself to the bottom-up accountability of satisfying clients.

    In other words, go start your own school. There is too little entrepreneurship and innovation in education. Let a hundred different flowers bloom, or a thousand.
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