NC leaders want teacher raises based on results. CMS is tapped to show them how.

Ashley Park teacher Kristin Cubbage was one of the earliest Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers tapped for a program that pays top teachers extra money to reach more students.
Ashley Park teacher Kristin Cubbage was one of the earliest Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers tapped for a program that pays top teachers extra money to reach more students. Observer file photo

As North Carolina’s leaders look for ways to pay the state’s best teachers for results, they’re putting their money on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to help them figure it out.

CMS was one of six districts awarded grants for systems that pay teachers for results and leadership, rather than just experience and credentials. While some of the other districts are just getting started, CMS is already four years down that road. Last year 97 teachers at 21 schools took on added duties in exchange for annual stipends that range from $1,500 to $20,000.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Edgecombe County, Pitt County, Vance County and Washington County school districts were also chosen from a dozen applicants for the $10 million three-year grant program.

“For us it has been fantastic,” said Melissa Stormont, who’s in charge of the CMS Success by Design project. The grant approved by the state Board of Education will provide CMS up to $2.6 million over the next three years.

“This is an opportunity for teachers to advance in their career while still working with students in the classroom,” said Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, a Chapel Hill-based education firm that helped launch the CMS program and is now working with two of the districts in the pilot program.

Performance pay tends to be popular among politicians and controversial among educators. While most people like the idea of rewarding the best teachers, there’s little agreement on how to identify them and where to find the money.

For instance, North Carolina recently awarded $14 million in merit bonuses based on 2016 student test scores, but faced criticism over what some called arbitrary distinctions between who was eligible and who wasn’t. Some critics say any program that rewards only a few teachers for student results undermines the teamwork that best serves students.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the group welcomes a system that provides teachers more opportunities to earn higher pay. But he questioned the state funding a pilot program at a time when he said teacher salaries are still too low and taxpayer money is being spent on programs such as vouchers to attend private schools.

“I’m concerned this piecemeal approach to teacher compensation will make it more challenging to recruit teachers because it’s at least partially based on a pay-for-performance model,” he said.

Still, some Republican lawmakers say the state’s system of paying teachers needs to change. In a February speech, Senate leader Phil Berger called the pay scale “a ball and chain” because it used to take teachers 30 years to reach the top of the pay scale. Berger has also said that system treats teachers like assembly line workers by failing to reward outstanding results.

The CMS Success by Design program, which was originally called Opportunity Culture, requires principals to find sustainable money for the teacher pay hikes. For instance, they can use federal Title I money for high-poverty schools or eliminate a part-time position to support the added cost.

To be eligible, teachers must have a history of strong results on student test scores. If hired, they take on added duties that range from teaching more students to leading a team of colleagues who cover multiple classrooms.

CMS plans to expand the program to 10 more schools in 2017-18, bringing the total to 31 of its 176 schools. Private grants have supported the planning and training for the first four years. The state money will help with data analysis for the district and coaching for Success by Design teachers and prospective candidates.

CMS told the state it will provide guidance for the other districts piloting new pay methods. Two of them have already visited to see the program in action, Stormont said.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms