Samuelson: Teachers may help shape pay plan if they lose ability to reject it

April 3, 2011

By Ann Doss Helms

N.C. Rep. Ruth Samuelson, who introduced a controversial bill to let the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board launch performance pay without teacher approval, said Saturday she believes that bill will motivate teachers to get involved in shaping a good plan.

“Our intent is not to say, ‘Teachers, you don’t have a voice.’ It’s to say we just can’t have that override vote hanging over us,” she said. “My reason for removing that vote is to make sure we have the buy-in to move forward.”

Samuelson spoke after she left a two-day education-reform conference in which national experts lauded Superintendent Peter Gorman as a leader in the quest to identify, reward and motivate great teachers.

The Charlotte Republican said she arrived at that conference Friday as a somewhat reluctant sponsor of the teacher-pay bill requested by CMS, but left a zealous advocate: “It put into context the cutting-edge nature of what Peter Gorman is trying to do, along with the incredible necessity of doing it,” she said.

Samuelson’s bill, prepared by Gorman’s staff and introduced last week, sparked outrage among some teachers. A 2007 bill authorized up to five N.C. districts to pilot performance pay if they meet certain conditions, including approval of a majority of teachers on a secret ballot. CMS is the only district that has applied to participate.

But the Samuelson/CMS bill would allow the CMS board to revise teacher evaluations and pay without approval of those affected. CMS leaders, along with many educators and policymakers across the country, believe basing teacher pay on student performance is key to helping kids learn better. Under the current N.C. system, teachers get raises for experience and credentials.

The presidents of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators and the Classroom Teachers Association held a joint press conference Thursday to denounce Samuelson’s bill.

“If you want buy-in to any kind of performance pay, this is not the way to go about it,” said CMAE President Mary McCray.

The 2007 bill was sponsored by three Mecklenburg Democrats: Reps. Martha Alexander, Beverly Earle and Becky Carney. Alexander is co-sponsoring Samuelson’s bill, as is Rep. Ric Killian, a Mecklenburg Republican.

Alexander and Carney did not respond to requests for comment.

Earle said Friday she hasn’t decided whether to support Samuelson’s bill, but she doesn’t have a problem with removing the teacher vote.

“I would expect that most of the teachers would say, ‘No, don’t do it,'” she said.

Earle said her hesitation comes from giving the CMS board authority to launch a new way of evaluating and paying teachers before district leaders spell out a plan. “I want to be sure we have the best-qualified teachers and have a way to weed out those who are not so good.”

Gorman plans to launch teacher performance pay in 2014. His staff is working on a “value-added” calculation that aims to tease out the amount of student progress, as measured by test scores, that can be attributed to the teacher. This week CMS begins rolling out dozens of new tests to evaluate teachers whose students don’t take state exams.

Gorman has always planned to use additional measures to rate teachers, such as classroom observations and student learning goals designed by teachers. The Samuelson/CMS bill spells out that test scores must be one measure used for a CMS rating plan but cannot be the only one.

Some CMS teachers have already volunteered for study groups to design those measures. Last week Gorman sent employees a video clip of himself urging teachers to “get engaged” by participating in focus groups and surveys related to teacher effectiveness.

Samuelson said Saturday that national experts at the conference said having the power to shoot down performance pay discourages teachers from getting involved.

“Human nature is ‘If I can avoid change, I will,’ because change is scary,” she said.

Samuelson served on the House Education Committee for four years. She said her memory of the 2007 performance-pay bill is that the requirement for a teacher vote was inserted late in deliberations at the request of teacher groups.

Samuelson said she asked not to be appointed to the committee this year because she was getting discouraged at the slow pace of reform.

As newly named majority whip, she was invited to attend the bipartisan conference in Chapel Hill on effective education, sponsored by the nonprofit State Legislative Leaders Foundation and the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy. It featured speakers from national education groups such as the nonprofit Education Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Samuelson said she still supports school choice, such as vouchers and charters. But hearing speakers laud Gorman, CMS and the district’s reputation for working with its teachers restored her hope that traditional public schools can adapt to the 21st century, too.

“I am 100 percent convinced that this is what we need to do,” she said. “What we’re looking for is not an outcome that cuts the teachers out, but an outcome that entices the teachers to get as involved as possible.”

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