How Pat McCrory Undermines His Own Good Ideas On Education


North Carolina badly needs a new system for paying and retaining quality public schoolteachers. The people in power in Raleigh understand this, and they’re responding with some deep foolishness.

As usual, the real nutjobs here dwell in the N.C. Senate, which has proposed a much-needed 11 percent pay raise for teachers who have gone without raises for five of the last six years. Hooray! Or not. To make room in the budget, the Senate plan would cut thousands of teachers’ assistant positions and give teachers a version of Sophie’s choice: To receive the extra salary, teachers would have to waive their right to appeal if they’re fired.

It’s the private-sector way. You can be fired at any time for any reason. So what’s the problem? If you’re good at your job, you’re safe, right? Well, no. Teaching is different. The right to appeal is one of the perks that makes teaching, a low-paying gig if ever there was one, tolerable for people to try.

Besides, education isn’t a commodity with value that’s precisely measurable and presentable via PowerPoint at a quarterly shareholders’ meeting. Class size, resources, educational and economic level of students, and multiple other factors affect a teacher’s “results,” which is why it’s lunacy to determine teacher employment, or salary level, on performance standards alone. (The same applies to students. That’s a whole other mess.)

Oddly, two people who seem to grasp that are Gov. McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis. The governor backs the House plan, which would raise teacher pay by only six percent but retain teacher assistants and open the door to McCrory’s Career Pathways for Teachers plan, which would factor in experience, market demand, difficulty, teacher leadership and other factors determined by local school systems in setting individual teachers’ pay.

The governor discussed the plan this week on Charlotte Talks on WFAE. The idea is a long-term rather than one-year reform of the teacher pay system that gives school districts flexibility and teachers more opportunity to advance and earn money–which sounds eminently reasonable, even laudable. It’s at least a starting point for educators and state officials to discuss fundamental, meaningful changes to the way North Carolina compensates its public schoolteachers.

Or it would be if educators could trust McCrory to act in good faith, which they shouldn’t.

McCrory has this weird tic about teachers’ unions, a common conservative bugaboo. On Monday, he told Charlotte Talks host Mike Collins that he’s stuck between the intractable right-wingers in the Senate and “the left,” that nebulous entity, consisting of “the unions, [who] don’t want any differential in pay … and this is primarily the left, unions, that’s the civil service mentality.”

As McCrory surely knows, North Carolina has no teachers’ unions. What it does have is the North Carolina Association of Educators, a toothless advocacy organization with no collective bargaining power.

As McCrory also surely knows, public school employees work under a compensation schedule determined by experience and approved every year by the General Assembly. The NCAE can raise as much ruckus as it wants, but it’s up to the legislature to set teacher pay, and educators work at their mercy.

But acknowledging that would interfere with his “stepping on toes on the right and left” narrative. So he creates a straw man to make himself look “moderate” rather than, heaven forbid, liberal, i.e., a halfway reasonable governor who understands the importance of quality public education in such matters as corporate recruiting.

The governor has danced this mendacious “the fault lies with teachers’ unions” dance before, and it’s profoundly annoying to hear the claim go unchallenged. It’s even more aggravating to think about the missed opportunity here: a governor willing to acknowledge that teachers need better treatment, and to propose a workable solution, who undermines his own achievement by casting blame on a boogeyman.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest