It is well known that for every child to graduate from high school prepared for life, college and work, every classroom must be led by an excellent teacher. So to ensure North Carolina’s students have the teachers they need to graduate from high school prepared for the demands of post-secondary education and a skilled workforce, North Carolina needs to:
- Ensure a quality education for future teachers
- Keep more teachers in North Carolina’s public school classrooms, instead of losing them to other states, early retirements or other careers
- Attract teachers from other states and other professions
A combination of increased demands in the classroom, low pay relative to teachers in other states and to other highly educated and high-stress professions, and a lack of support from the state's elected leaders has hurt teacher morale and made teaching in North Carolina a less desirable career choice. The problems we’ve created won’t be solved overnight, but we can do it through a holistic, multi-year approach.
Raise teacher pay to the national average in 4 years.
North Carolina’s teacher pay is not competitive. Even factoring in recent salary increases, the average teacher salary is below all our neighboring states and about $10,000 below the national average.1 Additionally, our teacher salary scale maxes out at $50,000,2 which doesn’t even meet the national average. For a student evaluating potential careers, a professional considering a change in career, or a teacher in another state interested in a move, the prospect of a $50,000 maximum salary after teaching 25 years is not appealing. In addition, teacher salaries are not competitive with other professions that require similar or less skill and responsibility. To make teaching in North Carolina attractive, and to retain teachers currently in the classroom, our state should swiftly invest in a program to dramatically increase teacher salaries.
Most recently, State Superintendent June Atkinson proposed increasing teacher pay by 10% this year. That would be a worthy first step. We propose a series of increases over four years that would amount to more than a 20% increase, achieving the national average.
To reach that goal base pay should be increased, but more strategic raises, recommended below, would reform our teacher compensation schedules, improve recruitment, retention and reward the best teachers.
Accelerate teacher pay increases.
Under the current salary schedule, a teacher must work 25 years before he or she reaches the maximum pay level. Instead, North Carolina’s salary schedule should rise faster, bringing teachers to the highest pay levels after 15 years. In addition to increasing earnings over the course of an entire career, frontloading the schedule will be more attractive to students and other young professionals that might consider a teaching career. In addition to accelerating pay increases, let’s continue to reward the best and hardest working teachers beyond their first 15 years. Our most experienced teachers should be eligible for cost of living increases and additional supplements.3
Create a career compensation ladder that rewards the best and hardest working teachers and that recognizes differing responsibilities.
In addition to increasing base pay, a new teacher compensation ladder should reward teachers who take on additional work, receive high evaluations, have relevant extra credentials, or teach in high-need areas. A new compensation ladder should provide pay increases in addition to the base salary for teachers that meet certain criteria. Criteria could include the following:
a) Mentor teachers. Teachers serving as mentors for new teachers would earn additional compensation on top of their base salary. To retain this additional compensation, they would need to receive high evaluations and continue actively mentoring.
b) Teacher leaders. Teachers serving as coaches, evaluators, team leaders or other similar instructional leadership functions. Teachers should be provided with career pathways that include both school administrative and in-classroom leadership options.
c) Master teachers. Teachers receiving evaluations at the highest ratings (5th of 5 levels: distinguished; currently running under 10% of teachers) and achieving certain levels of student academic growth.
d) National Board teachers. Teachers receiving National Board certification would earn additional compensation.
e) High-Needs teachers. Teachers in high-need schools or high-need subject areas who meet eligibility requirements (such as high evaluations and growth in student performance).
While the state provides much of the funding for teacher pay, the state should allow local school systems the flexibility to pay more based on their individual needs. Therefore, the state should provide a pot of funds to local school systems in addition to base pay, for the new career ladder, but it should be up to the local system to determine the amount of pay offered for each new rung on the ladder.
For example, rural school districts might offer a steeper pay increase for hard-to-recruit STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teachers, while an urban district might choose to reward teacher-leaders or mentors. In meeting the challenges facing local school districts, the state should not demand a one-size-fits-all approach to teacher compensation.
Establish a North Carolina Teacher Talent Recruitment Program.
The elimination of the NC Teaching Fellows program in 2011 left a void in North Carolina’s teacher recruitment strategy. Today’s recruitment and retention trends reveal how critical a strong high school and college recruitment effort is to North Carolina’s public schools.
North Carolina should reimagine a teaching scholarship program as a prestigious and competitive scholarship program. The program should be at a large scale (approximately 1000 per year), and accept both high school seniors and college students up to the beginning of their junior year. It also could accept college graduates who desired to prepare to teach by obtaining a Master’s degree in teaching.
1 Rankings of the States 2014 and Estimates of School Statistics 2015. National Education Association.
2 Fiscal Year 2015 - 2016 North Carolina Public School Salary Schedules. NC Department of Public Instruction.
3 See policy recommendation: "Institute a career compensation ladder that rewards the best and hardest working teachers."