Another Day, Another Teacher Pay Article

I doubt there is anyone in North Carolina who doesn’t know that teachers are dissatisfied with their pay, yet local media continues to write about it almost daily with a long string of regurgitated statistics, none of which are ever explained, linked to or given context.

Let’s be clear, I think teachers should have their step-raises reinstated at the bare minimum; ideally retroactively raised back to when Bev Perdue froze them.  I’m not beating on educators here, I’m beating on the holes of a media narrative and obscuring of facts that alter the perception of a story.

Anyway, News and Observer has just such a piece up today, entitled, Teachers’ jobs are getting harder. Miraculously, the lengthy article fails to mention Common Core a single time as contributing to the increase in teacher workload. Amazing.  Side note: The article also includes videos. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a video embedded in an N&O article before, much less three of them. Here’s some video of my own to add to it.

For some history, I’ve previously written extensively on the salary debate here and here.

Some quick points:

Claim: “Teacher turnover in 2012-13 reached the second highest rate in a decade. Early retirements are up. And in the UNC system – the largest producer of new teachers – enrollment in teacher training programs declined by nearly 7 percent in 2013.”

First, there is no supporting statement or course in the article backing up the claim NC turnover last year was the highest in a decade.  It’s helpful to know that the teacher turnover report was “adjusted” by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) at the end of last year between November and December for some reason. Second, the November report showed the biggest thing teachers leave NC schools for is… other NC schools.

Early retirements are up? How much? Article doesn’t say. Gee, might that have to do with the Common Core at all? You know, that set of “standards” thrown at teachers with no input from them with ridiculous data entry requirements, high stakes testing attached and no training or supporting curriculum supplied?  Maybe the Baby Boomers just had enough and are retiring because of it as Superintendent Atkinson herself claims?

Enrollment drops doesn’t necessarily equal a teacher shortage. With the removal of the recruiting program, it  makes sense that there is now a drop in enrollment. Studies have shown obtaining a masters isn’t tied to teacher excellence.

Claim: “Teachers point to several reasons for the departures. Despite a 1.2 percent raise in 2012, average teacher pay is 46th in national rankings, with nearby states outpacing North Carolina.”

Yeah, we do but look at NC’s in context with the other states. Washington Post has a nice color coded map that’s fairly accurate. DPI put our average at $45,938 and Washington Post has it at $45,947.  The greenish color is pay in the 40’s and low 50’s. The bulk of the map is that color. Yes, the neighboring states have a higher average, let’s put them in order and look at the gap based on the Washington Post map:

  • $49,869 Virginia  – $3,922 higher than NC
  • $48,289 Tennessee  –  $2,342 higher than NC
  • $47,924 South Carolina  – $1,977 higher than NC
  • $45, 947 North Carolina

It is nearly a 4k difference with our highest paying neighbor state. Yet, the media continues to compare NC salaries to top paying states like NY and the national average when the bulk of the country falls within 10k of our state. It’s disingenuous. The national average according to the same article, is $56,383 – but the top paying states skew that average. Beyond half the states, 35 to be exact, pay less than that average. Only 15 plus the District of Columbia pay more.

The N&O article used different numbers than Washington Post apparently and again, doesn’t link to the source material but at least named it. At any rate, their fairly close. Odd how multiple places have different dollar amounts, yet our state’s is constant but not what DPI reported.  N&O Numbers:


    National rankings of the average salaries of public school teachers, 2011-12, place the state below its neighbors.

    30. Virginia, $48,703

    38. South Carolina, $47,428

    40. Tennessee, $47,082

    46. North Carolina, $45,947

    U.S. Average: $55,418

    Source: National Education Association


Fun Facts: The Legislature sets the pay scales, but the local districts have supplement pay they add to those base salaries. It is at the discretion of the district what that supplement will be. In Wake county last year, it was $6,318 and all 9,437 teachers took that supplement.  Wake county was the third highest in supplement amount, coming in behind Charlotte Mecklenburg $6,376 and Chapel Hill at #6,441. You can view the whole list here.


Claim: “The state ended a teacher recruitment program meant to draw top students into the profession with college scholarships and enrichment opportunities. Tenure is being phased out, and after this year, teachers will no longer be able to boost their salaries by earning master’s degrees.”

The recruiting program was removed. There is no evidence to support masters degrees equal better teachers. We have great teachers in North Carolina who do not have their masters, in fact according to the 2012 stats from DPI about 71% didn’t have a masters. I’m sure many teachers wanted to swat Education Secretary Arne Duncan upside the head when he said in 2010, “Districts currently pay about $8 billion each year to teachers because they have master’s degrees, even though there is little evidence teachers with master’s degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers.”

Yes, tenure is being phased out but the latest rumblings is that might get reversed. Personally, I think if it is reinstated should just be overhauled or tiered. As it stood, teachers only had to be there for four years and it’s automatically assigned. By the way, on the teacher pay scales, that’s under the number of years required to move up to the pay level next step – which is 5 years. So, a teacher is tenured at 4 years but no pay bump until 5 years. That’s strange. At the end of the day, the tenure argument boils down to job protectionism versus rewarding on the basis of merit.

Fun facts: There are over 1,000 employees under the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) with salaries ranging from just over 28k to over 155k. Their salaries combined are approximately $67,441,246.  The top paid person is Ms. Rebecca Garland, the Associate State School Superintendent at $153,824. That’s more than the CIO for DPI and she got a legislative increase in 2012. In fact, most DPI employees have received increases between 2008 and 2012. Imagine that. Superintendent pay is no longer reported by DPI along with the district supplemental pay list. Wonder why? Where is the big write-up in the N&O? WRAL? ABC11? Crickets.


Claim: “At the same time, teachers say they work in increasingly difficult environments, with many disadvantaged children, larger class sizes and old textbooks. In lower grades, there are fewer teacher assistants even as the state imposes new demands for reading proficiency. Teachers are being told to embrace technology, track their students with detailed data and move all children toward college or career readiness.”

Teachers are being told to embrace technology, track their students with detailed data and move all children toward college or career readiness.” How Bonner managed NOT to mention Common Core here is astounding.  There must be an embargo on the words.

The vagueness of “increasingly difficult environments” is a nice touch.  The rest of the laundry list is the same complaints teachers have had for a decade, only now with a Republican legislature has it seemingly become a protest worthy issue.  On class size, the cap was removed by the legislature, but gave control back to the individual districts to decide how big or small to make their classes based on their needs and budgets.

On the new demands for reading, you’ve got a fan there. Read to Achieve is basically Common Core lite with its own slew of testing. DPI signed off on it though and put itself as a key to formulating the implementation of it, yet now are finger-pointing.

Fun Facts: The education budget is that spending per pupil in NC is $8,436, yet over 90% of the education budget is spent on salaries and benefits. According to DPI,  “Of the $7.2 billion State Public School Fund for FY2010-11, all but 10.4% was used for salaries and benefits.” This spending number includes adjustments for growth per the state budget.  So, how much more can we squeeze for salaries or will taxes have to go up again? Also, NC spends more in state dollars than most states – in fact we rank 11th in state spending per pupil and 2nd in the Southeast.


Other Observations:

The teachers interviewed are used to being interviewed. It has become common practice by NC media and elsewhere to obscure any background or information on any interviewees.

Fanta Freeman & Emily Corbett -As the articles mentions, both are involved with Teach for America. The article does not mention that the organization that has been harshly criticized by its own alums:

Indeed, in my experience Harvard students have increasingly acknowledged that TFA drastically underprepares its recruits for the reality of teaching. But more importantly, TFA is not only sending young, idealistic, and inexperienced college grads into schools in neighborhoods different from where they’re from—it’s also working to destroy the American public education system.


However, unpreparedness pales in comparison to the much larger problem with TFA: It undermines the American public education system from the very foundation by urging the replacement of experienced career teachers with a neoliberal model of interchangeable educators and standardized testing.

Haley Brown – the N&O has used her before and pushed her husband’s opinion piece of which it made clear to the reader that it was a big deal…. according to the N&O:

Brown’s husband wrote an opinion column about his wife’s decision that was a viral sensation after it was published in The News & Observer.

It was such a big deal, they didn’t link to it. Maybe because it is signed Matthew Brown, banker.  I will link to it though, and it’s nothing new or “viral”.

Jill Wendstrand – How did her salary jump from entry-level  range $37,900 in North Carolina to $52,100 in Kentucky when Kentucky’s average salary is $50,326? Are we to assume that’s her base salary or salary with the supplement?

I already pointed out earlier in this article that Wake County has the third highest supplement rate. So, because the article isn’t clear about Wenstrand’s salary pre or post supplement, let’s assume instead that  salary of $37,900 included taking the Wake supplement of $6,318. If that’s so, she’s been teaching 8 years with only a bachelors according to the DPI pay scale going by base salary. The base for that number of years without supplement is $33,030. So did she then really go from 33,030 to $52,100? That’s a heck of a jump.  It’s a math mystery the article doesn’t bother to explain. Maybe it’s Common Core math.

My sympathy lessened more here:

Wenstrand’s pay had actually declined when she worked in Wake, she said, because deductions ate away at the 1.2 percent raise she got two years ago.

What deductions? You mean the ones every single working person has out there or are you a member of the NCAE and are alluding to their dues?

Karina Colon – Told this story to the N&O on why she left:

Colon, her husband and three daughters reluctantly left the state last year because, she said, all the things that made North Carolina an innovator in education were eroded. She now works as an instructional coordinator in a Maryland suburb outside Washington, D.C.

“I can’t be an effective teacher if I’m worried about where my next meal is coming from,” she said. “I can’t be the best teacher that I can be and be worried about my family. That was the catalyst for me to leave.”

Told this story about their move not beingbecause of her job, but because of her husband got a better one:

Help Karina, Katch, and their 3 girls make a home for themselves in Maryland.

Karina was a successful teacher in North Carolina, struggling to make ends meet. When her husband, Katch, was recruited by a company in Maryland to work in apartment maintenance, they moved their family of 5 to start a new life. Karina found work, and they settled into their new apartment. [More]

That move was despite the Kenan Fellows 10k stipend and the apparent affiliation with the NCAE.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a freelance journalist and is currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_
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