Testing, teacher pay will be challenges

North Carolina's public school accountability program is showing signs of wear after a decade, as teacher bonuses were smaller this year and some want extra pay linked more closely to classroom performance.

Bonuses and higher salaries haven't been enough to help school districts with a serious teacher shortage. Every year, there are 7,000 available slots for teachers statewide beyond those filled by the annual crop of new teaching graduates from N.C. colleges.

The three candidates for governor – each of whom have education backgrounds – say that, if elected, they would seek to change how student performance is evaluated or expand incentives to attract more teachers to the profession, according to surveys and interviews with The Associated Press.

“We've got to do whatever it takes to get good teachers into rural school systems, and that includes paying them a supplement to get them there,” said Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, a public school teacher in the 1970s.

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican nominee who received a teaching degree in college, would promote giving higher pay to teachers in high-demand subjects such as math and science.

That idea runs counter to the state's teacher-salary system, which rewards seniority and doesn't differentiate between subject areas. The legislature generally treats all teachers the same by giving them annual across-the-board salary increases.

Libertarian Mike Munger, a Duke University political science professor, said the state should do away with the bonus system because it's ineffective, and replace it with a merit-based system. Starting pay should be much higher than the $30,000 that a first-year teacher currently receives from the state, but base pay should be raised to reward the best young faculty members, he said.

“We need an evaluation system based on performance with real benchmarks, and the testing benchmarks we use now are just not working,” Munger said.

The ABCs of Public Education accountability program began in 1996 and has been recognized as a national model for rewarding all teachers in a school if the students score well as a whole on year-end standardized tests.

The law says teachers receive bonuses of $1,500 if their school exceeded testing benchmarks and $750 if the school met expectations on standardized end-of-grade or end-of-course exams.