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: