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Charlotte Plans 3-Level Track for Teachers

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Tenure might be awarded after four, five, or six years, based on a teacher's abilities and special needs, according to the new Charlotte-Mecklenburg plan for probationary teachers. All would spend the first year as probationary teachers; in the second year, they would either continue as probationary teachers or be terminated; in the third year, they would have to move forward and become career nominees or be terminated; in the fourth year, they could move forward to career-candidate status, remain as career nominees, or be terminated; the fifth year, they could be awarded tenure, or could remain as career candidates, or be terminated; in the sixth year, they could receive tenure, remain career candidates, or be terminated; and in the seventh year, they would have to become tenured or be terminated.


By Hope Aldrich

Amid the intensifying debate--which now includes even the White House--over master-teacher and merit-pay plans, officials in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District have been putting the finishing touches on a reform plan that goes well beyond most of the concepts currently being discussed.

School officials there dismiss merit pay as a "bandaid approach" to improving the quality of teachers--"a short-term fix" that helps to motivate and reward good teachers but does not begin to address the problem of how to produce more of them in the future.

The Charlotte plan, which, if approved, would go into effect in September 1984, directly focuses on the two areas most sensitive to teachers--tenure and evaluation. It also creates a three-rung career-advancement ladder for teachers that can lead to salaries higher than those earned by beginning school principals.

Last month, in a significant first victory for the plan, a bill upsetting the present tenure system was passed by both houses of the state legislature, despite the active opposition of teachers' associations. The bill exempts the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district from the present state tenure law, which says a teacher must be granted tenure automatically after three years unless he or she is dismissed. Under the new bill, the district could wait up to six years before deciding whether a teacher is good enough to receive tenure.

Superintendent Jay Robinson of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district called the bill an important bellwether of a new, more demanding attitude toward teachers. "It's extremely important that the community has a clear signal that it's not going to be business as usual anymore [if the new plan takes effect]," he said.

'Upset Present System'

State Senator W. Craig Lawing called the bill perhaps the most important piece of education legislation in 50 years. "Somebody's got to venture out and upset the present system," he said, adding that once the plan starts operating, "other states are going to fall in like a bunch of dominoes."

The increased flexibility the district is given under the bill to grant or withhold tenure is an essential part of officials' proposed plan to attract higher-quality teachers into their classrooms. The existing system makes it just too easy to get tenure, said Phillip Schlechty, chairman of the study committee that recommended the new plan. Its details are still being hammered out and have not been formally submitted to the school board yet, he added.

The district's initiative, called the Career Development Plan, makes substantial structural changes in the probationary period before tenure and in the career path that follows. The proposed probationary period would last from four to six years, depending on how quickly the beginning teacher can master the new requirements (see accompanying chart for exact progression). "We don't believe all folks reach a level of excellence in three years," said Mr. Robinson.

During the probationary years, the teacher would have to complete inservice requirements equivalent to those for a master's degree, said Mr. Robinson. These would include diverse activities, designed to test a variety of professional skills in the untenured teacher, such as course work provided by the district, some classroom teaching, and work with a master teacher on areas in which the teacher is weak.

Continual Evaluation

Throughout the four to six years, called the probation, a committee would be continually evaluating the teacher, said Mr. Robinson. That committee, he noted, would consist of administrators and teachers from many schools, "not just folks within your own school." Under the present system in the Charlotte schools, a teacher is evaluated only by the principal in his or her school, officials said.

The question of who and how many should conduct the evaluations has been a hotly contested issue surrounding merit-pay and other teacher-improvement proposals. Spokesmen for teachers have contended that when evaluation is solely the responsibility of administrators, merit-pay systems become subjective and unfair. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg plan includes teachers, but its concept of an outside evaluation team is also opposed by teachers, on the grounds that evaluators from other schools may not be able to fairly evaluate a different teaching environment.

After a teacher wins tenure under the Charlotte-Mecklenburg plan, he or she faces three new stages of advancement that each offer successively higher pay, more diverse work, more responsibility, and more prestige, yet still involve classroom teaching "the vast majority of the time," said Mr. Robinson.

The new career ladder for tenured teachers is based on the belief of Charlotte-Mecklenburg officials that one of the biggest problems for teachers is stagnation. Their salaries peak too soon--in less than 15 years--and their responsibilities do not necessarily change after their first day in the classroom, said Mr. Robinson.

"You stay on a plateau, with only cost-of-living increments; we think that's demoralizing," he said. Under the new plan, a teacher's options and responsibilities could keep changing every three to five years.

Tenured teachers on the first step on the Charlotte ladder, called Career Level 1, would be required to test new materials being considered for classroom use, to evaluate probationary teachers, and to conduct some inservice programs, as well as carry out classroom teaching duties, according to the plan. They would earn $2,000 extra when they reached Level 1, Mr. Robinson said.

All teachers would be evaluated continually and would undergo a "summary" evaluation every three to five years, whether they chose to move up the career ladder or to stay at Level 1; and each time a teacher passes an evaluation, he or she wins a $2,000 salary increase, according to Mr. Robinson.

'Outstanding Ability'

After three years, teachers would be eligible for Career Level 2 if they have already shown "outstanding ability in the classroom." At this stage, they must be willing to transfer from school to school as the need for their special skills requires, and they would be expected to undertake other educational assignments--possibly drafting a plan for classroom research or helping to formulate staff-development projects, said Mr. Schlechty.

Level 2 teachers would be on a salary schedule starting approximately $2,000 above Level 1 teachers. Level 1 or Level 2 teachers might not want to be promoted further, but under the plan, the opportunity for advancement is there, officials explained.

At Career Level 3, the highest level, some teachers might work mainly as curriculum specialists, area coordinators, or inservice specialists but still spend some time in the classroom, according to the plan. Others might spend most of their time teaching, if that was the area of their special interest. All Level 3 teachers should be capable of organizing and managing research projects, said Mr. Schlechty. The salary schedule would begin about $2,000 above that for Level 2.

Under the plan, a teacher on a 12-month contract could eventually earn about $40,000 a year--at least $15,000 more than under the present single-step pay system, Mr. Robinson said. A teacher who stayed in the district 30 years, for example, would undergo about six evalua-tions and be rewarded with at least $12,000 for passing them; and if the teacher reached Career Level 3, he or she would earn at least $6,000 in promotion bonuses.

Tennessee's Plan

A much-publicized merit-pay plan in Tennessee that was defeated by strong opposition from teachers' groups this spring also proposed a three-tiered advancement plan for teachers. But the Tennessee plan differed from Charlotte-Mecklenburg's in emphasizing higher pay, rather than diversity of responsibilities and course requirements, as the principal component of advancement.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg plan would cost the district about $6 million per year and increase its annual budget by about 10 percent, Mr. Robinson said, adding that he did not expect community opposition to the increased costs.

But the proposal is still strongly opposed by teachers' organizations. John Dornan, executive secretary of the North Carolina Association of Educators, which succeeded in defeating the tenure bill the first time it reached the House floor in April, said that delaying tenure decisions for five or six years is useless and unnecessary.

"People in industry know in six months whether someone will work out on the job," he said. "They [district officials] just wanted to prove to the community how tough they were."

Mr. Dornan said his organization, which claims a membership of two-thirds of the state's 60,000 teachers, won some significant compromises from the bill's supporters before they brought it to the floor a second time in May. These included provisions that the bill must be reviewed again by next year's legislature and by the state board of education.

Passage of the bill next year is far from assured, he predicted. Only the intervention of Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. carried it to victory this year, he said. North Carolina does not have a law requiring collective bargaining.

A spokesman for another teachers' association said he objected to the simulated master's degree proposed in the plan for pre-tenure teachers. "It's a futile effort for someone to work for the graduate-certificate and then move to a place that doesn't recognize it," said Terry Parker, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg affiliate of the Classroom Teachers' Association, which also opposes the plan.

The district's planning process began two years ago when Mr. Robinson, the superintendent, said he became alarmed that new teachers coming into the system were getting "weaker and weaker." Mr. Robinson said he decided to call together a special study group of teachers, administrators, and school-board and community members to look into the possibility of adopting a merit-pay plan. "I told them, 'I want you to look at merit pay. I've been told it won't work, but we've got to do something different,"' Mr. Robinson recalled.

The 12-member committee soon dismissed merit pay as a solution to the teacher crisis, said the group's chairman, Mr. Schlechty. Merit pay recognizes good teachers who already exist, but it does nothing to generate more of them, he said.

At that point, the study group drew on the expertise of its members in the business community, Mr. Schlechty said. The group adopted the opinion of a member from Southern Bell Telephone Company, who advised that teachers should be viewed as "managers" with diverse responsibilities, not assembly-line workers, Mr. Schlechty said.

They also adopted the view, argued by business representatives, that all management-level employees should undergo frequent evaluations, said Mr. Schlechty, who has taken a leave of absence from his university post to work full time for the district on drafting the plan.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, the largest in the state, includes 102 schools, about 4,000 teachers, and about 70,000 students. It received national publicity in 1971 when it was the subject of a landmark desegregation case in which the U.S. Supreme Court first upheld mandatory busing of students.

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