The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Teachers deserve better than test score-based pay

DTH Photo Illustration. A student prepares for an exam on Nov. 17, 2022

One of my earliest and most distinct memories was standing next to my father at a Moral Monday protest in downtown Raleigh, advocating for a raise in the base salary of teachers throughout our state.

North Carolina, in my young mind, became not only synonymous with Cookout trays and a distinct southern kindness, but also a never-ending problem within our K-12 system.

Today, despite having some of the most prominent and well-ranked higher education institutions in the country, North Carolina is failing to provide the right to a “sound” basic education to thousands of students throughout our state. 

Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and state-specific policies on education, we have a deteriorating supply of qualified teachers in our classrooms. According to data from the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association, North Carolina’s public schools started the year with at least 4,469 teacher vacancies. 

This was not unpredictable. Despite their integral function to our state's future, the state's teachers receive 18 percent less pay than the national average. The current starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience is about $35,500. With the rising costs of higher education and living, the choice to become a teacher should not be one rewarded with having to scrape by socioeconomically. Being a teacher is a strenuous, demanding job that deserves fair compensation.

Teachers are overworked. The 40-hour work week does not exist for them. With the grading, tutoring and administrative duties that often come with the job, work time often exceeds 54 hours per week. 

They face occupational hazards. Due to the stressors that are inherent with the work, as well as those related to COVID-19, it should not be a surprise that many of them have reported high levels of anxiety, depression and excessive work-related stress.

In November, to address the vacancies throughout the state, the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission within the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction proposed a “Blueprint for Action” that changes the way teachers are licensed and compensated. The status quo awarded pay raises based on how many years an individual had taught.

While the “Blueprint for Action'' promotes beneficial reforms such as pay raises for mentoring beginning teachers as well as a slight raise for beginning teachers, it is setting a dangerous precedent by creating a system that promotes using standardized test scores as a way of distributing raises. Performance-based pay in schools has been shown to be ineffective when implemented by states throughout the country. This is best summarized by award-winning Harvard economist Roland Fryer:

“I find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior. If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools.”  

More than being ineffective, it may even increase incidents of cheating. For example, there was a state investigation of widespread cheating by educators in Atlanta when pay became tied to performance in 2012.

These sorts of reforms are not wanted within the school systems, either.

A 2014 UNC-Wilmington survey found widespread opposition among teachers to performance pay proposals. Less than 10 percent of teachers agreed that performance-based pay would incentivize teachers to work more effectively, attract more effective teachers into the profession or help retain more effective teachers in the profession. 

While this markets-based approach can be beneficial in the private sector, it risks infuriating current teachers and causing an even higher turnover rate. We need teacher raises all across the board and policies that are collaboratively created with educators.

Teachers should not be treated menially with few rewards. They deserve to be paid well and given the autonomy in their classroom to focus on the student as a person rather than an extension of a dollar sign. 


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.