Does Teacher Pay Affect Student Achievement?

Teacher students helping teaching classroomBY JENNIFER BRICK

When Donna Summer sang, “She works hard for the money/ so you better treat her right,” she wasn’t singing about teachers, or at least not explicitly. Yet there’s something in her lyrics about a woman who goes to work every day because she’s needed there that makes it feel applicable to my profession.

I didn’t get into teaching for the money. I wasn’t that misguided. But I was naive, and I didn’t stop to think about how “future me” would need a certain income, perhaps more than my chosen profession could provide. I didn’t seriously consider the starting income for a teacher; I could live on little and I assumed my income would include things like a cost of living adjustment each year or so, pay for relevant educational degrees, and supplements for running extra-curricular activities.

Oh, gullible me. Through some strategic career moves (mainly to a charter school where my National Board certification and Master’s degree still warrant me a higher salary, unlike my brethren at public schools who had that promised salary increase taken away two years ago) I do OK — for a teacher.

But I’m only one teacher and North Carolina needs to attract and retain a lot of teachers.

The state made an effort to do so earlier this year with the much-debated 7%  raise that really only applied to teachers early in their careers, leaving most veteran teachers as penurious as before.

So, NC decided to allocate one million dollars to a “pay for performance” or “highly effective pay” system. Districts had until mid-January to submit proposals for how they would determine highly effective teachers and award them more money.

This plan may have been paved with good intentions, but we all know where that leads.

A look at Charlotte-Mecklenburg School’s plan highlights one of the problems: highly effective teacher pay would only be given to those teachers who work at under-performing schools.

Cleveland County schools had a similar goal in their plan — though they called such schools “hard to staff” and labeled them as the ones that hadn’t met growth standards in two years. In November, Cleveland County schools were also only considering awarding extra pay to those teachers who taught in “hard to staff” subjects — although they admitted this was unfair to some teachers and said it probably wouldn’t be part of the proposal.

These plans leave us with a lot of unknowns: how much each district would be allocated, how many teachers in the different districts would be eligible for these pay raises, how many of them would have to leave schools where they are highly effective and making progress with their students, how teachers’ pay would change if their performance declined due to outside factors once at other schools, and even how long teachers could depend on this extra funding if they earned it.

I’m all about the money (ka-ching, ka-ching), but until the state figures out a better way to reward hard-working teachers, I hope that teachers, like the hard-working woman Summer sings about, “never sell out… will not for a dollar bill.”

I hope parents will attend school board meetings, ask to see the plans submitted for this proposal, talk to the teachers about what makes them highly effective, and help reward them for their hard work.

Cropped Jennifer BrickJennifer Brick is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.




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