Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CMS teacher-pay bill moves forward amid criticism

The controversial teacher performance-pay bill crafted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff and introduced by state Rep. Ruth Samuelson moved another step toward approval today in a 25-17 House committee vote. But some legislators were wary, noting the huge amount of criticism they've heard from constituents. One called it "an example of ready, fire, aim."

Superintendent Peter Gorman told the committee what he's been saying here in Charlotte: The performance-pay plan is a good one, but he and his staff haven't communicated it well. MecklenburgACTS, a local parent group that opposes the bill, countered with an open note to Gorman on their Facebook page: "The problem here is not ineffective communication. The problem is that parents do not support the massive expansion of high-stakes standardized testing that pay-for-performance, as currently conceived, will require."

Reporter Jane Stancill of the Raleigh News & Observer was there; here's her report from the Under the Dome blog:

A House education committee gave the OK to a bill to allow Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools to create a new program to pay teachers according to their performance.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg is the only N.C. district that has been approved to alter the state pay schedule under a 2007 performance-pay pilot bill that would require approval of a majority of teachers. The current House Bill 546, which applies only to CMS, would grant the district freedom to change the way teachers are evaluated and paid -- without teacher approval.

The bill, which was drafted by CMS staff, has been greeted by outrage from teachers and some parents, who object to the dozens of new tests the district is rolling out to help generate teacher ratings, reports Ann Helms of the Charlotte Observer.

The bill passed the committee 25-17, largely on party lines. One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican, urged passage Tuesday but said the district had work to do to win support from the community before a final version is approved. That will take time, she said, but in the meantime the bill needs to pass one chamber to stay alive before a key deadline next month.

Several lawmakers said they were uncomfortable moving forward with a problematic bill on an issue that is so heated.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, said it had been years since he received so much e-mail on any one issue. Rep. Ray Rapp, a Mars Hill Democrat, said he was surprised at the intensity and the volume of the e-mails. He suggested a study committee be formed to look into the issue further. "I think this is an example of ready, fire, aim," he said. "It just seems terribly premature to go ahead with this."

Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Matthews Democrat and former teacher, said a third grader had called her during Easter weekend to oppose the bill. There are serious trust issues in the school district, she said. "You cannot do this to teachers, you must do this with teachers."

Teacher performance pay is a major part of Superintendent Peter Gorman's plan to improve student performance; he believes rewarding teachers for results, rather than longevity and credentials, will help attract and keep good teachers.

Speaking to the committee Tuesday, Gorman said he wanted to work with teachers to smooth out problems, and stressed that various measures other than tests would go into the evaluation of teachers.

"We have not done a good job of communicating," Gorman said. "We are committed to do that."

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