Hundreds of educators and policymakers gathered in Raleigh on Monday to explore how to recruit, develop and keep the best teachers in North Carolina’s classrooms.
N.C. State University’s Emerging Issues Forum focuses on teachers and how their work is inextricably linked to the state’s success and economic future. The two-day forum comes at a time when changes in policies and learning standards have put stress on teachers, prompting worry about turnover in the profession.
The brainstorming session at the Raleigh Convention Center kicked off the same day that Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders unveiled their proposal to raise base salaries for teachers, starting next year. North Carolina’s teacher pay currently ranks 46th in the nation, behind neighboring states.
McCrory appeared at the forum Monday afternoon, saying better compensation would make North Carolina “a teaching destination, not just a layover.”
Beyond fair compensation, teachers need to be valued and treated as professionals, several speakers said. Much of the talk centered on ways to develop and support young teachers and give them autonomy in the classroom.
“The key to keeping teachers is empowering them and treating them as the professionals that they are,” said Angela Quick, senior vice president for talent development with N.C. New Schools, an organization that works to create innovative schools.
Teaching should be lifted up as a rewarding and respected career, said Glenda Crawford, a professor of education at Elon University, where she directs its Teaching Fellows Program.
“A key barrier is public perception of the teaching profession,” Crawford said. “I think we need a grass-roots campaign to change the way the teaching profession is viewed in North Carolina.”
Tyronna Hooker, the 2011 State Teacher of the Year, agreed. She said when a young person announces that he or she wants to be a teacher, there is often an uncomfortable silence among family and friends.
The perception could change, she said, if teachers are empowered as leaders within their schools and districts. The best teachers, she said, are critical thinkers who have cultural awareness, a mission mindset and a belief that all children can succeed.
Author Daniel Pink, who has written several books on business and management, said teachers, by their very choice of profession, are not motivated by money. But they should be paid enough so that anxiety about money is taken off the table, he said. He called teachers the “most profoundly, most insanely motivated people in the American workforce.”
“We have to recognize that our kids’ future depends on treating teachers like professionals – not treating teachers like interchangeable parts,” he said.
He suggested that the state raise base teacher pay substantially, while also getting rid of poorly performing teachers. And, he said, teachers should not be overly “managed” but should be given more freedom to innovate and inspire.
Others offered lessons from high-performing education systems around the world.
Pasi Sahlberg, a teacher educator and policy adviser in Finland, described a country that has universal preschool for children starting at age 3 and paid leave for one parent for a year after a child is born. Schools are funded based on need, he said, with more resources to low-income children.
The best education systems worldwide focus on collaboration and strengthening public schools, he said, not competition and school choice. And, he said, there are no standardized tests. About North Carolina, he said: “We need less testing, but we need smarter testing.”
McCrory also called for “testing relief,” saying North Carolina teachers are overburdened. “There are too many tests for our teachers here in North Carolina,” he said, estimating that there are about 200 tests administered between fourth grade and high school graduation.
Test scores do help prove the substantial impact of quality teachers, said Raj Chetty, a Harvard economics professor who has studied “value-added” results of teachers and the long-term influence of good teachers on their students’ success – including college attendance, future earnings and prevention of teen pregnancy.
He said the data show that if a teacher performing in the bottom 5 percent were replaced with an average teacher, each child in that class could realize increased lifetime earnings of $50,000 to $80,000. This has huge implications for low-income children and for society, he said.
“Teacher quality matters in all grades, not just in early ages as some have suggested,” he said. “We find evidence that teacher quality may be more important than class size.”
‘Not meeting the goal’
Helen Ladd, a Duke University public policy and economics professor who researches education, said the state should be extremely careful in its use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. That, she said, will distort teachers’ behavior and put too much emphasis on testing.
Ladd said there is an uneven distribution of quality teachers in the state, with schools serving the most disadvantaged students having, on average, less effective teachers.
“We are currently not meeting the goal of putting a high-quality teacher in front of each student,” Ladd said. “We’re far from that goal, as most other states are as well. But I think we can work harder to even out this distribution.”