The state Board of Education green-flagged $14 million for teacher bonuses Thursday, but the rewards based on 2016 test scores raised questions as well as cheers.
The General Assembly provided the money and set the terms of the bonuses last year, so state Board of Education approval was largely a formality. Payments to third-grade and high school teachers will go out this month, but some questioned the rules on who’s paid and who’s excluded.
“Teaching is a highly skilled profession. You can’t run it like an assembly line,” said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. He said the teachers who get bonuses aren’t the only ones who contribute to success, and he’d rather see money go toward across-the-board pay hikes.
The biggest chunk of money, $10 million, goes to third-grade teachers who landed in the top 25 percent in the state and/or their district based on student growth on reading tests. About 1,300 will get state bonuses of $3,523. About 1,200 qualified for local bonuses, which vary by district. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, 114 teachers will get $4,182 each, while in Wake County 127 will get $3,967 each. About 1,000 third-grade teachers “won the Powerball,” as one board member put it, and qualified for both.
Board member Patricia Willoughby, a former second-grade teacher, said she’s happy to see teachers get more money but concerned that the program rewards third-grade teachers while shutting out first- and second-grade teachers who helped develop the students’ skills.
Jewell added that other staff also shape success: “It’s a team concept. It’s teacher assistants. It’s guidance counselors and social workers. It’s strong principals and assistant principals.”
The rules say teachers must remain in the same district and be teaching the same thing to earn the bonuses. In the case of rewards for high school teachers whose students earned passing scores on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams, the policy says they must be teaching “advanced courses” in the same district.
Brian Link, a teacher at East Chapel Hill High, was taken aback to learn that. Last year, he says, he taught AP European History and 21 of his 22 students earned qualifying scores. The state provided about $4 million to pay $50 per passing exam, up to a maximum of $2,000 per teacher. Link’s scores would translate to $1,050.
But this year he was assigned to teach honors classes but not AP. On Thursday, he was trying to get answers from the state and his district to figure out whether he would forfeit his bonus based on “a decision that was made after classes had been taught and schedules have been set.”
The bonus program also includes payments to career/technical education teachers based on industry credentials their students earn, with a maximum of $2,000 per teacher. The state board approved that $600,000 program in December, with payments coming this month.
State board member Eric Davis, who is also a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member, said the biggest question is whether this latest twist on performance pay motivates behavior that benefits students.
Alexis Schauss, the state’s director of school business, said the legislation provides money to reward 2016 and 2017 results and requires a report on the results by March 2018. However, the state has not yet decided how to evaluate the effectiveness, she said.