Let’s take teacher pay off the table

Tom Campbell NC SPIN

April 27, 2014

Just when we might be ready to engage in productive discussions about creating world-class schools in North Carolina another distraction arises. Drop-out rates, common core, testing, charter schools, vouchers….all no doubt worthy of some discussion, but none alone are the panacea to creating and sustaining the best public education system.

Consider teacher pay. We have devoted far too much time and energy to this subject for too many years and it is painfully obvious that neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to get beyond this issue. Democrats paid lip service to better teacher salaries, even made strides at doing so some years back, but their rhetoric has been more impressive than their record. Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have used teachers as the whipping boy for their disgust over the almost total support teacher and education groups have given Democrats.

It is time to take teacher pay off the table.

Let’s all agree that if North Carolina is to have a world-class education system we must begin with world-class teachers. Aside from the parent it is universally agreed that the teacher is the single most important person in a child’s education. But is there evidence to prove that teaching excellence and teacher pay track together?

There are studies showing they don’t correlate, however no one can argue that to have top quality professionals we must pay them well. We certainly aren’t currently compensating our teachers well, which likely explains why some flee to other states or change careers.

For the sake of discussion let us ponder what would happen if North Carolina declared we want nothing less than world-class teachers and we are committed to paying them the best salaries in the nation? Assuming the laws of supply and demand hold true the best and brightest teachers in this country would clamor to come teach in North Carolina.

But we can’t afford it, legislators and the administrative branch will say. Bullfeathers. In fiscal year 2012-13, North Carolina appropriated 37 percent of our almost $21 billion budget or about $7.5 billion to K-12 public education. We spend $8,400 per pupil. Assuming the average class size of 28 we are currently investing $235,200 in each classroom. Now we don’t understand new math but it seems inconceivable that somehow in this $7 billion budget we should be able to find the funds to compensate our 96,000 teachers better, since they are admittedly the most important person in the education process. Let’s put first things first.

Now if we are going to pay the best we must demand the best performance and here is where we face the real test. The stumbling block appears to focus around how to identify teaching excellence and how to evaluate teachers. Surely some other states or nations have faced this problem and found acceptable solutions.

This is far too important an issue to allow continuing as it has for the past several decades. It is time to stop talking about teacher pay and resolve this issue so we can move on to other substantive factors in creating excellent schools, schools that prepare our children with the skills needed in the marketplace and the ability to enjoy life.

Campbell is the executive producer and moderator of NC SPIN, a weekly panel discussion on state issues that airs on WMYT “MY TV12” at 10 a.m. on Sundays and on WJZY “CW46” at 6:30 a.m. and 11:05 p.m. on Sundays. You can also visit and click on the “Watch NC SPIN Online Anytime” button for streaming. Each week’s show is posted on Friday.