State subcommittee recommends reinstating higher salaries for teachers with advanced degrees

By: - August 18, 2022 12:00 pm
Districts are struggling to recruit teachers to fill an unprecedented number of vacancies. (File photo by Ricky Leung)

Low salaries for public school teachers continue to hurt recruitment

North Carolina should return to paying teachers who hold advanced degrees extra, in order to help school districts struggling to fill classrooms with certified teachers, a subcommittee of the state Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) agreed Wednesday.

PEPSC’s Budget and Compensation Subcommittee voted 9-3 to ask the State Board of Education to seek reinstatement of what was known as “master’s pay.” 

The Republican-led General Assembly ended this practice in 2013, citing studies that showed teachers with advanced degrees do not improve academic outcomes for students.

Teachers who received extra pay for advanced degrees before the 2014-15 school year were grandfathered into the system and continue to receive a 10% state salary supplement.

Responding to a huge teacher shortage

District leaders serving on the subcommittee spoke strongly in favor of restoring master’s pay. They argued that such incentives are needed to recruit teachers to fill an unprecedented number of vacancies before the school year begins in about two weeks.

“We are in the toughest times of my 32-year career recruiting teachers,” said Stephen Martin, assistant superintendent and human resources director of Watauga County Schools.

The average annual teacher salary in North Carolina is $54,150. The state is ranked No. 33 nationally in average teacher pay and much lower when salaries are compared to what individuals with comparable education and experience can earn in each state’s private sector.

The full PEPSC commission will consider the recommendation before sending it to the State Board. In turn, the State Board will decide whether to recommend the change to state lawmakers, along with other proposals for sweeping changes to how teachers are licensed and paid.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt voted against asking the General Assembly to restore master’s pay. She warned the idea would not be received well by lawmakers who will want “quantifiable” evidence to justify the expense of reinstating it.

Truitt said master’s pay conflicts with the proposed licensure and compensation changes. Those changes would move the state from a system that measures “inputs,” such as master’s degrees, to one that measures “outputs,” like student achievement.

Superintendent Catherine Truitt voted against asking legislators to restore master’s pay.

“It does not make sense to propose this massive paradigm shift,” about how teachers would be compensated, Truitt said, “and ask the legislature to buy into this … while it doesn’t correlate to student success and student outcomes.”

The superintendent noted that a 2018 study by Kevin Bastian, a researcher for Education Policy Initiative at Carolina, found that teacher effectiveness increased only for those with advanced degrees in math and science.

“They also show that those are the areas [math and science] where even with master’s pay, we lose those teachers to the private sector,” Truitt said.

Just two weeks before the traditional school calendar starts, many school districts are reporting severe teacher shortages. The Wake County Public School System, the state’s largest district, reported that it needs 400 more teachers.

The much smaller Sampson County Schools is down by 32 teachers, said Wendy Cabral, the district’s assistant superintendent of personnel services who sits on the subcommittee.

Cabral argued that restoring master’s pay will make working in North Carolina more attractive for licensed teachers.

“They might not all be rock stars but even if they’re a good, steady teacher who can teach my students, they’re better than a substitute and substitutes are what I have a lot of right now,” Cabral said. “We need your help to make a difference now,”

Teacher vacancy reports for the first day of school and again on the 40th day should show lawmakers the role of salary incentives in recruitment.

Dr. Wendy Cabral

“I’ve got to have something to work with,” Cabral said. “I think you’re hearing everybody in the room doing this work [teacher recruitment] say I’ve got to have something to recruit.”

The broader proposed changes to how teachers are licensed and paid have been criticized by some educators who contend it’s an unwanted move to a system of “merit pay” that places too much emphasis on student scores on standardized tests.

“North Carolina needs a teacher licensure program that respects teachers’ expertise, rewards their time in the profession, and offers support throughout the duration of their career,” Tamika Walker Kelly, president of N.C. Association of Educators, said last week.

Restoring master’s pay might help to win support for the new licensure and compensation proposal, Martin said.

“I think this might be a point to help push the model over the top and I think it would honor those folks seeking to advance their knowledge, their pedagogy, their content,” Martin said.

Higher education experts agree that it’s important to reward educators who earn advanced degrees, Martin said.

“Money talks,” he said. “For people to go back and advance themselves and they know there’s a monetary reward, they will do it. We’ve seen a decrease in students enrolling in graduate-level classes and think that will continue to happen [unless master’s pay is restored].”

Tom Tomberlin, NC DPI

Not the only controversy

Several PEPSC subcommittees are finalizing recommendations for a major overhaul of the state’s teacher and licensing and compensation structures. PEPSC presented a draft proposal of the new system — labeled “North Carolina Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals” — to the State Board in April. If the proposal is approved and implemented, standardized tests, principal and peer evaluations, and student surveys would be used to determine whether a teacher is effective.

The proposal would create a system of entry-level certifications with the goal of bringing more people into the profession. One certification under the plan would serve essentially as a learner’s permit. It would allow aspiring educators with only an associate’s degree to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree.

The new model also creates multiple steps at which educators can advance in the profession, including “expert” and “advanced” teaching roles that allow them to earn higher pay for taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching novice teachers.

Marcie Holland

Tom Tomberlin, director of district human capital for the state Department of Public Instruction, said master’s pay creates inequities when teachers performing at the same level aren’t rewarded the same as counterparts with advanced degrees.

“That’s a really hard argument to make in the context of an outcomes-based model, and I have to think about this in terms of equity,” Tomberlin said. “A lot of our teachers that are minority or from poverty situations may not have the ability to get that master’s degree, and yet this model is actually disadvantaging them even though they may be producing the same outcomes as a teacher who has one.”

Marcie Holland, the recently retired senior director of human resources for WCPSS, said the latest draft of the license and pay proposal does address concerns that classroom experience isn’t valued.

“This model is not perfect, and it’s not going to please everybody, but it does recognize and reflect the value of the experience that a person has, that they bring to the classroom,” Holland said.

The subcommittee also approved these proposed annual base salaries for each license level and other pay provisions:

  • Apprentice – $30,000
  • License 1 – $38,000
  • License 2 – $40,000
  • License 3 – $45,000
  • License 4 – $56,000
    Teachers who successfully maintain a License 4 would be eligible for a 1% annual experience-based salary increase. If a teacher is not able to successfully renew License 4 and is in their second five-year renewal period, their salary will remain at the previous year’s salary until they have successfully renewed their license. Teachers with National Board Certification would still be eligible for a 12% salary supplement on top of their base salary. Teachers would still be eligible for local salary supplements on top of their base salary and any additional state-supported salary supplements

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.