State Senate leader Phil Berger this week defended the $14 million in merit bonuses going to North Carolina teachers this month, saying it improves on an “archaic system” by rewarding top performers.
Berger, a Republican, was a leader in last year’s approval of about $14 million for teacher bonuses based on student performance on 2016 exams. Third-grade teachers can get several thousand dollars – the total varies by district – for showing strong gains in reading. High school teachers can earn up to $2,000 based on student performance on Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and career-technical exams.
The North Carolina Board of Education approved a distribution plan last week, clearing the way for January payments.
Many were pleased at the prospect of additional compensation, but teachers also raised questions about who is eligible. They noted that many staff who contribute to success are shut out, as are teachers who switched districts, grade levels or class assignments this year.
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Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, told the Observer the money would have been better spent on across-the-board raises. “Teaching is a highly skilled profession,” he said. “You can’t run it like an assembly line.”
Berger took issue with that comparison: “Surely he recognizes this program finally stops treating teachers like assembly line workers – by turning an archaic system that offered no incentive for outstanding performance into one that now provides financial rewards to teachers who go above and beyond to help students succeed.”
Berger cited an April phone survey of 500 North Carolina registered voters that showed increasing teacher pay and improving public education were top priorities. Fifty-two percent of responders said they prefer a pay system “based more on student success and the teacher’s performance in the classroom.”
The survey was done by Meeting Street Research, a Republican-oriented firm that offers “traditional methods and innovative approaches in opinion research to help candidates, elected officials, public policy and advocacy organizations, and corporations across the globe.”