For Wake County English teacher Kiana Espinoza, one of the greatest joys of her job is working with students who are bilingual, like herself. Her face lights up when mentioning their progress in and out of the classroom.
But Espinoza thinks North Carolina’s proposed education licensing and compensation plan could make her passion slip out of reach.
Under the proposal, presented by the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, teachers would no longer receive pay raises based on experience. Instead, compensation would be dictated by a combination of standardized test scores, student surveys and peer and principal evaluations.
For educators like Espinoza, this system creates unimaginable ethical decisions. Although her bilingual students may grow tremendously throughout the school year, if they do not test at a certain level, Espinoza could have her pay stunted in the face of rising inflation.
She said the proposal penalizes teachers for working with students who have legitimate reasons for testing poorly, such as being non-native speakers of the language the test is written in.
‘We don’t need radical reinvention’
In response to the proposal, North Carolina Association of Educators members are speaking out as the new school year approaches. At a Tuesday news conference, NCAE’s message was clear: Experience matters.
“Pay educators based on experience,” said Bryan Proffitt, NCAE vice president. “We don’t need radical reinvention of the wheel.”
Proffitt described a vicious cycle of low pay driving veteran teachers out of the profession, leading to greater teacher shortages. That simultaneously deters new educators from entering the profession, exacerbating the problem.
“As much as I love this profession,” Espinoza said. “I see people leaving left and right.”
To combat this, Proffitt called for a $45,000 base pay for all certified teachers statewide and the creation of pay for student teachers. The financial burden of free labor as a prerequisite to entering the teaching profession is a massive hurdle to overcome, said Harnett County teacher Daria Fedrick.
“We need a real raise,” Espinoza said. “For everyone.”
Proffitt said teachers also should be compensated for the slew of roles they play outside the traditional classroom setting: mentoring early career teachers, training student teachers, advising extracurricular activities and taking on added work to help struggling students.
“My worth should be recognized annually, not just during my renewal year,” Fedrick said.
Proffitt said state standardized tests are designed in a way that ensures some percentage of students, no matter yearly academic growth, will fall below the curve and therefore drag down a teacher’s potential for a raise.
Susan Book, a Wake County parent of a child on the autism spectrum, worries that this program could force some of the most important educators in her child’s life to leave the profession or deter educators from working with students with disabilities.
“Children are more than a score,” Book said.