3/29/14 Raises for many teachers expected

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Raises for many teachers expected
Alamance legislators want tweaks in last year’s reforms
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 3/29/14  
Reprinted with permission.

   The General Assembly’s short session is coming, and when it does, there could be some changes in the education reforms the Legislature rolled out last summer.

   A lot of changes in public education came out of the General Assembly’s last session, some of which have led to lawsuits, like the elimination of teacher tenure; and unintended consequences, like reading standards for third-graders; and some of which legislators think were just too broad, like the elimination of raises for teachers who get master’s degrees.

   State Reps. Dennis Riddell and Steve Ross, Alamance County Republicans, both said they expect many teachers to get raises in the next school year after Gov. Pat McCrory’s announcement in February that he intended to raise starting teacher pay in the coming school year.

   Riddell said the raises would go to teachers in their first nine years, so more experienced teachers would not fall behind newer teachers, but teachers just starting out would have more incentive to stick with it. The governor has said raises for other teachers and staff would depend on funding.

   Ross said the raises would bring North Carolina closer to the national average for teacher pay, but it would take more long-term planning to keep the state from falling behind. Ross suggested a law with a regular mechanism to set pay grades “where they should be.”

   “I don’t want to do a one-time fix and find out four or five years down the road that we’re back down to 47th,” Ross said.

   ROSS AND RIDDELL both favor restoring raises for teachers working on their master’s degrees. Many teachers were in the middle of getting their degrees, expecting a reward for their expertise, when the Legislature took the raises.

   “We didn’t think it was fair or right to cut somebody off when they’re working on a master’s,” Ross said.

   The governor has extended the time teachers have to finish their degrees and qualify for the raises. Riddell said he thought the raises could come back up, possibly in 2015, but with some changes. Riddell said he thought teachers should get raises if their master’s degrees are in the subjects they teach.

   “That makes sense,” Riddell said.

   The law taking away teacher tenure in 2018 also was flawed, they said. Part of the law gives raises and longer contracts to teachers who could qualify for tenure if they give tenure up.

   Ross said 25 percent was “clearly not enough.”

   Riddell said the Legislature should not have joined the issue of merit pay and tenure. He preferred earlier versions of the bill that would have grandfathered in those teachers who had already earned tenure and let it fade away. In conversations he had with younger teachers, Riddell said, master’s pay was a bigger issue.

   READ TO ACHIEVE led to tie-ups in third-grade classrooms. Districts decided to give so-called portfolio reading tests to all third-grade students to make sure they were not held back or sent to summer school if they did not score well on End-of-Grade reading tests.

   The portfolios required a lot of one-on-one time with teachers, tying up teachers and classrooms this spring until the state Board of Education allowed districts to use some other tests.

   This was not the law’s intention, Riddell said. The portfolios were supposed to be another way for students to meet reading standards if they were not on track to pass their EOGs. Riddell said the state Department of Public Instruction advised districts to give them to all students.

   Riddell said the differences between the law’s intention and DPI’s interpretation “are like Jekyll and Hyde.”

   The legislature could revisit Read to Achieve this summer, Riddell said, possibly adding options for other reading tests and more exceptions for learning-disabled students.

   Riddell and Ross both said there is a lot of interest in the number of tests and other assessments students are taking from the governor and many legislators saying testing is important, but it is not teaching.

   While he wants to see the legislature take this on, Riddell said he did not expect action on it this summer. He said he hoped for better in 2015 since it is not an election year.