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Teacher group and NC education officials trade strong words on licensure and pay

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Bryan Proffitt, vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, speaks at a Tuesday news conference opposing proposed licensure and pay changes.

A week after North Carolina education officials touted the need for a dramatic change in teacher pay and licensure, the North Carolina Association of Educators held a news conference Tuesday to denounce their efforts.

NCAE Vice President Bryan Proffitt called for the state to revive strategies that he says worked well in the past, “while we reject these radical, deprofessionalizing, pie-in-the-sky schemes that we are being sold right now.”

A panel of educators appointed by the General Assembly has been working for months on a plan that would reshape pay and licensure for North Carolina teachers. A draft presented to the state Board of Education in April suggested a seven-tiered system that lets people enter as apprentices before they have a four-year degree. Fully licensed teachers could keep advancing based on performance and taking on extra duties, at a pay scale that would go well beyond the current one.

“Our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant negative impact on today’s students, and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come.”
— Board of Education Chair Eric Davis

At last week’s state Board of Education meeting, board Chair Eric Davis and Superintendent Catherine Truitt spent about 30 minutes promoting the need for a new system. (Listen to their remarks here, starting about 3:20).

“Our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant negative impact on today’s students, and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come,” Davis said.

Davis and Truitt said the current system makes it difficult for good teachers to enter the profession and fails to reward educators who make the most difference for students.

“It’s time to shed legacy thinking and move toward solutions that address the future, not the past,” Truitt said.

On Tuesday, NCAE members gathered outside the Department of Public Instruction headquarters to present a counterpoint. (Watch the news conference here.)

Proffitt said the system that existed in the early 2000s was good but has been dismantled and underfunded. He said the state should raise pay across the board, restore teacher assistant jobs that have been eliminated and ensure healthy annual raises based on experience and credentials.

“None of these solutions is radical or new or difficult to understand,” he said. “They’ve all worked right here.”

Kiana Espinoza, a middle school teacher from Wake County, said a pay scale that relies on test scores and student surveys could hurt teachers who work with English language learners, as she does. She too said the solution is simple.

“We just need a raise,” she said. “And not the less-than-inflation raise that has been suggested. We need a real raise. For everyone.”

The draft proposal included advanced licensing levels, open to teachers with high effectiveness ratings who agree to coach developing colleagues. At the highest level pay would start at $73,000 a year. The current pay scale tops out at just over $64,000 a year, for a teacher with a master’s degree and National Board Certification.

NCAE speakers questioned the basis for effectiveness ratings and the General Assembly’s willingness to pay for higher salaries. They also said there would be stretches with no annual raises.

“Experience-based pay keeps high-quality educators in schools,” Proffitt said. “Allow educators to sustain themselves on one job and they will stay in the profession that they love.”

Officials have emphasized that the licensure proposal is still in progress and will incorporate feedback from educators.

The panel working on the licensure and pay plan meets this week and is expected to report back to the state board this fall. Any changes would require approval from the Board of Education and the General Assembly.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.
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