What Motivates Teachers?

teacherI’m (almost) convinced of the existence of a countdown calendar for education reform: every few years, somebody in a suit crusades to revamp North Carolina’s public schools. On March 19, the appointed day arrived again—this time in the form of Senate Bill 361.

SB 361, proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, dreams big. “The days of accepting a broken education system in North Carolina are over,” Berger promised. The bill would assign schools a letter grade based on student performance, state tests, and graduation rates, and give school boards more financial autonomy. Most controversially, SB 361 would end teacher tenure.

NC teachers currently achieve tenure after four or more years of service in the same school district. Schools may dismiss or demote a tenured teacher if that teacher violates one or more grounds set out in the Teacher Tenure Act. SB 361 addresses concerns that tenured teachers turn into slackers. Senator Berger argues that by withholding tenure, teachers will work harder to elicit higher scores from students on state standardized tests.

The bill’s opponents include State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, who argues that without the job security afforded by tenure, teaching will become a disastrously undesirable profession in our state. The salary alone fails to make a teaching career enticing; North Carolina teacher salary ranks 46th in the nation. Atkinson wonders why coveted teachers would teach for less money and no tenure in North Carolina when they can teach for more money and tenure in forty-five other states.

I get it. The mythic countdown calendar demands the proffering of education legislation. The heated debate over teacher tenure aside, let’s remember that North Carolina’s high school graduation rate has reached a historic high at 80.4 percent. We rank 12th in the nation for fourth-grade math and 24th for fourth-grade reading—despite being in the bottom 10 states for per pupil funding. So yay, North Carolina! With statistics like these, our current school system is clearly doing something right.