Teacher pay reform: Will we be left behind?

In March 2011, two of my state House colleagues and I filed a bill – at the request of then-CMS superintendent Peter Gorman – that would have given Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools the authority to adopt a performance pay system for teachers.

The reaction to House Bill 546 was swift and for the most part negative – especially among teachers. Though it passed the House, we arranged to “park” the bill, meaning it wouldn’t be taken up by the Senate until Gorman built more support for it.

But less than two months later, Gorman announced he was resigning as CMS superintendent, and this past March the school board voted unanimously to disavow House Bill 546.

Today, the bill is dead – and that’s probably for the best. It seems there were just too many hard feelings surrounding it. But I hope the issue of reforming teacher pay isn’t dead.

Before handing over the reins to new CMS superintendent Heath Morrison, acting superintendent and veteran educator Hugh Hattabaugh testified before the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee that changing the teacher pay scale is “the most important reform needed in public education today.” In his seven pages of remarks – which he had emailed to thousands of CMS employees – he makes an extremely convincing argument for it.

We’re using the same salary schedule we’ve used in the American public education system since the 1920s. It doesn’t differentiate among great teachers, mediocre teachers and ineffective teachers. It doesn’t reward excellence or encourage teacher growth. It doesn’t give districts the flexibility to pay higher salaries to teachers in hard-to-fill areas – such as science and math – to lure them away from higher-paying jobs in the private sector.

Changing to a performance pay system, Hattabaugh said, has broad and overwhelming parental support.

Hattabaugh offered four elements necessary for a successful performance pay system. It must utilize reliable and accurate measurements of teacher performance and be easy to understand, economically sustainable and scalable (meaning it can be applied district-wide).

Hattabaugh reports that CMS is working on developing measures of teacher effectiveness.  But as students head back to school across the country, it seems many systems are ahead of us. Several states, including Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, Mississippi and Florida, are in more advanced stages of actively reforming teacher pay to incorporate rewards for performance.

Developing an effective performance pay system won’t be easy. But the school system that figures out the right formula will reap great rewards in the form of more motivated teachers, more satisfied, supportive parents and – most importantly – more successful students.

Though I doubt they’ll be doing it with the help of House Bill 546, I hope our education leaders won’t be too far behind.


Rep. Ruth Samuelson represents Mecklenburg County’s District 104 in the state House, where she also serves as majority whip. District 104 covers much of south Charlotte.


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