Changing North Carolina's teacher pay scale is "the most important reform needed in public education today," interim CMS Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Tuesday. His remarks were emailed to employees; here's what he told the lawmakers.
Good afternoon. I’m Hugh Hattabaugh, interim superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Thank you for inviting me to speak today about our district’s work on effective evaluation and compensation of teachers.
My remarks today are the analysis and observations from the staff at CMS. The perspective of the Board of Education will be provided by Ericka Ellis-Stewart, our Board chair, who will speak after me.
We believe this is the most important reform needed in public education today. In order to succeed, all of our students need to be well educated. They are going to compete with others around the world for college placement and jobs. We need to do a better job of making them competitive. The classroom teacher is the key to success because the classroom teacher is the single biggest school-based factor in student achievement. We need to encourage and reward more effective teaching, so our students learn more and learn more quickly.
The state salary schedule for teachers does not encourage teacher growth and improvement. It doesn’t differentiate between top performers and mediocre ones. It doesn’t differentiate between teachers in hard-to-fill content areas and others. As one example: We need the very best teachers in STEM areas, in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But the state’s salary structure doesn’t recognize how competitive these jobs are, making it unlikely that we’ll be able to lure potentially great teachers from other fields where STEM knowledge is valued, such as finance and medicine.
The new Common Core standards are another reason for urgency. As we begin to increase rigor in our classrooms, we need to be sure teachers are able to help students master a more rigorous curriculum.
Some of our teachers are doing a great job of making sure students learn. Some are doing an adequate job in the classroom. And some are not. We need a way to identify who’s who – a reliable, accurate, affordable and easily understandable way to measure teacher effectiveness. Who’s doing great work? Who needs professional development and coaching to do better work? Who might be better suited to other work?
Right now, we can’t really answer those questions. That’s because the way we evaluate and compensate our teachers doesn’t effectively link teachers’ performance to their students’ achievement. So we don’t know who’s great, who’s adequate and who is not. We don’t know enough about the coaching and training that could turn our average teachers into great teachers.
Our compensation and evaluation system is broken. It doesn’t distinguish between great work, good work or poor work in the classroom. What we’re using is almost a century old – it’s essentially the same salary schedule used in American public education since the 1920s. The three qualifications that make the biggest difference in teacher compensation are years of experience, National Board certification and advanced degrees. Teachers who have these things get paid more than those who do not. But these three things often make virtually no difference in student achievement. Some teachers improve when they earn them; others do not. So they’re not a good proxy for measuring a teacher’s value.
Our teacher evaluation and compensation structure doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing who’s great, who’s good and who’s not. Nationally, more than 95 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory on their evaluations – yet our high school graduation rate continues to languish at less than 75 percent nationally. How can nearly all of our teachers be considered successful if less than three-fourths of our students are completing high school?
At CMS, we are trying to close that disconnect. We want to develop a way to distinguish between our great teachers, our good teachers and our inadequate ones. We want to reward great teachers so they stay with us and continue to grow. We want to retain our good teachers, too, and help them improve in the classroom by providing the right coaching and training.
So we are working on better standards and compensation structures for our teachers and other employees. We’re not finished yet. There is much we have left to do. But we have learned some important lessons in this work.
We have learned that any successful evaluation/compensation plan must have four elements.
First, it must have reliable and accurate measurements. That’s measurements with an ‘s’ – good teaching is too complex and too nuanced to be effectively measured with just a single test score or one evaluation measure. We’re looking at nine areas that could be measured, and we’ll talk more about that in a few minutes. We also need to measure the right things – the skills and attributes that increase student achievement.
Second, a successful plan needs to be sustainable. That means we must be able to afford to keep doing it year after year. We’ve all seen what happens to teachers’ morale when they’re told they’ll get bonuses for good work and then they don’t. We have seen that very recently in fact, when North Carolina didn’t pay out ABC bonuses. It breaks teachers’ faith in the system and hurts morale.
It needs to be sustainable and the right kind of payout, too. The existing research also suggests that short-term financial incentives such as bonuses are unlikely to improve teacher performance by themselves. Your information packets have some details about some research studies done in Nashville, Chicago and New York that show the shortcomings of short-term bonuses.
But other studies have found that some short-term programs can help attract and retain highly effective teachers. There are programs in Denver and Houston that rewarded effective teachers and helped reduce turnover. That’s important – we want our best teachers to stay. Attrition levels in teaching are nearly 50 percent in the first three years, and that’s too high.
We don’t have much research about long-term plans because none have been tried for long enough to gather data. As I said at the beginning, we’ve been using the salary structure we have now since the 1920s. So there’s not a lot of hard evidence out there yet that we have seen. That doesn’t mean it won’t work – just that nobody has come up with the right plan yet.
Our own experience suggests that short-term bonuses can work in the right setting. Money is not the prime motivator for teachers but it can be an effective incentive in conjunction with other things. A few years ago we launched a High School Challenge, offering extra money to teachers willing to come to some of our most difficult high schools. Some teachers signed on but not enough for us to use all the money we received. We used only $14.5 million of $18 million planned for a three-year period – and we ended up changing the way we allocated the money, as well. We learned that money by itself was not enough to draw teachers to a situation that looked difficult.
So we took another look and came up with a plan that we thought might work better, and it did. It’s called Strategic Staffing Initiative and we’ve put it to work in 26 schools thus far. We’ve seen remarkable improvements in nearly every school – double-digit improvements in test scores, visible changes in school culture.
Strategic Staffing combines a mix of incentives. We chose highly effective principals – those with a proven track record of success – and told them they could take as many as five teachers with them to their new schools. We told them they could also ask for reassignment for up to five teachers at the new school who weren’t on board with the improvement plans. We gave the principal increased flexibility in managing the school and gave them three years to turn things around. The principals and the teachers who accepted Strategic Staffing assignments did get more money as part of the package.
It’s been an overwhelming success in the first three years. We think all of the elements played a part: Teachers were willing to go to a difficult school if they trusted the new leadership. Principals were willing to take on the challenge if they had the beginnings of a strong team as a foundation for school turnarounds. The money sweetened the mix. We’ve included some slides showing improvement at our Strategic Staffing schools over the past three years in your information packets. But we haven’t come up with the right plan to keep principals and teachers in those schools after three years, and we’ve seen some attrition in years four and five.
The other limitation we’ve discovered with Strategic Staffing is making sure you have a deep enough bench. We need more great principals to keep moving them into challenging schools. And that brings me to the third element of a successful plan:
A successful plan needs to be scalable. We’ve done some work with the Teachers Incentive Fund and Leadership for Educators’ Advanced Performance, or TIF/LEAP. One thing we have learned is that it would be very hard to expand this program district- or state-wide. TIF/LEAP used Student Learning Objectives created by individual teachers. Teachers who met their objectives got extra money. But it’s difficult to take to scale because it means extra staff to approve the objectives in the beginning, then check that they were achieved in the end. Each teacher’s work must be checked individually, and that takes a lot of time and effort. So we’ve concluded that we have to strike a balance between a plan that is so broad that it misses the nuances of great teaching, and a plan so individual that we can’t afford to do it for all teachers.
Finally, a successful plan has to be easy to understand. People will not support something that they can’t understand. Teachers who are being evaluated need to understand how the evaluation process works and how their assessments are calculated. Again, looking at the TIF/LEAP work, that was a problem for us. The calculation of bonuses was very complex and most of our teachers did not understand how it was done. It’s also a problem with the value-added calculations we are developing. We think value-added is the best measure of a teacher’s contribution to students’ academic achievement. But it is a very complex calculation. Teachers don’t understand it and it’s hard to build trust in that environment. We’re working on ways to address this issue.
While we’ve encountered some staff resistance to a value-added measure, we also see broad-based support for this work. Our community wants us to strengthen schools. Our surveys have shown that parents and the community think performance-based pay is a good idea. On our most recent CMS Parent/Community Survey, in November of last year, nearly 80 percent of participants agreed with the statement that “A performance-based compensation system is needed to recruit and keep highly effective teachers.” Another survey done in July found 74 percent supported differentiating pay for teachers based on how well they help students improve.
So there’s support on one side of the equation: the community and our families. But we need support on the other side: teachers themselves. It’s an uphill battle for a lot of reasons.
First, change that can directly affect your paycheck is threatening. The current system isn’t very good in many ways. It doesn’t put students first. It doesn’t help teachers identify ways to improve. But it’s been there a long time. Teachers understand it, they know it and for many of them who have stepped and laddered their way into top scales, it’s a case of “better the devil you know.” So it’s a hard sell in any environment.
At CMS, the recent economic environment has made it even harder. Three years ago, we had the first reduction in force in our public schools since the 1930s. We had to lay off teachers, teacher assistants, principals and other school and district staff. Teaching, which had long been a very secure profession, didn’t look so secure any more. And introducing a performance-based pay scale made it look even less secure to many of our teachers. Layoffs don’t build trust and morale. The pain and the memory of those layoffs has lingered.
We also have learned that it’s important to get information out quickly and accurately. We’ve struggled with this because our performance-based plan is in development. We want to share information but we don’t have the full picture yet. That has made it easier for opponents of performance-based pay to find fault with it, to build opposition to it. We don’t have a complete solution to this problem, either. We’re working to share information with teachers, and we’re working to include them in the process of developing the standards. Teacher working groups are developing additional measures to provide a fuller understanding of a teacher’s effectiveness than what we learn from test scores by themselves.
One issue that we’ve seen is that calling it performance-based pay created a lot of anxiety. It’s also not the most accurate term for it. What we are trying to build is a system that will not only identify which teachers need help but provide that help. That means strengthening professional development for teachers, and that’s a big part of this work as well. What we are trying to build is not intended to be a punitive plan. It’s intended to strengthen our schools and help our students by helping teachers improve and getting the best teachers we can into our classrooms. But there has been widespread mistrust and anxiety that we are only trying to punish our teachers, and that’s not true.
What we are working on building is a teacher evaluation tool that will take into account the many aspects of great teaching. We need a measure that breaks teaching into its component parts and analyzes each one, so that our coaching and our training actually helps teachers do a better job of teaching.
The nine elements are:
Content pedagogy – how well teachers know the material being taught and how skillfully they impart this knowledge
Contributions to the professional learning community – how well teachers collaborate with others at their schools
Willingness and ability to take on hard-to-staff schools and subjects
Student learning objectives in a form that can be used district-wide
Student surveys – what students tell us about the teaching they receive
Professional consultations, in which effective teachers share their expertise with their peers and solicit feedback in order to improve
The teacher’s work product – how rigorous assignments, tests and homework are
Value-added – how much a teacher is able to move a student beyond the growth that student was expected to make
We think that to fairly and accurately measure the quality of teaching, we will need to look at all of those things and use what we learn to supplement the state’s evaluation tool for teachers. We will need measurements that meet the four standards I’ve discussed today. They will need to be reliable and accurate. They will need to be sustainable so that we can use them over many years. They will need to be scalable so that we can use them for all 9,200 teachers in CMS. They will need to be understandable so that teachers, parents and the community will see their value and support them.
We see this work as a three-stage process. We need to develop the best measures of effectiveness, which is what we’re working on now. We need to incorporate those measures into a comprehensive performance-management system, so that they are applied across our district. And we need to align recognition and rewards with high performance.