North Carolina principals have begun their second year under a performance-based compensation system — one under which they no longer are paid based on years of experience, given longevity bonuses or paid higher rates for advanced degrees they have earned.
Instead, they receive salaries based on how much their students’ performance grew on standardized tests at the end of the year and how many students attended their schools.
State lawmakers initiated the change after North Carolina principal pay fell to an embarrassing 50th in the nation in 2016, vowing to “give more pay to principals who could move their schools to a higher performing level.”
It’s impossible to know what research lawmakers did before deciding that EVAAS test data was the best way to determine which principals performed at the highest level. But it’s a pretty safe bet their decisions weren’t shaped by the study “Can student test scores provide useful measures of school principals’ performance?”
In September 2016, the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences released the aforementioned report, which detailed findings of researchers who wanted to figure out whether the use of student test-growth data was an accurate way to measure principal effectiveness.
The study found “little evidence that any widely feasible test-based measures could accurately predict principals’ contributions in the following year.”
North Carolina’s principal pay plan also dismisses the value of experience in shaping effective school leaders. That’s a move that doesn’t stand up to research either.
A study of New York City schools found a positive relationship between principal experience and school performance, broadly defined to include not just test scores but other measures, such as student absences. Researchers suggested an important takeaway from their findings should be that “policies that lengthen principals’ careers will, on average, improve school performance.”
Leading a school is a tremendously challenging job that requires a complex set of skills. Many of those skills cannot be taught in graduate school but must be mastered through years of trial and error. Experienced principals are better positioned to cultivate relationships that will lead to success, support teachers instructionally, and train the next generation of school administrators in how to lead effectively. Their compensation should recognize and reward the value they bring to the job.
Principals are second only to teachers in their effect on student learning. It’s essential that we treat them in ways that will lengthen their careers and encourage the best among them to work in schools where their talents are needed most.
The General Assembly’s current approach to compensation does a grave disservice to our veteran principals and will further weaken North Carolina’s low-performing schools.
It’s a model in need of significant overhaul.
Justin Parmenter was named a finalist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher of the year in 2016. He now is a Design Team member with Hope Street Group’s N.C. Teacher Voice Network and sits on the Advisory Board of Red 4 Ed NC. He writes frequently about public education in North Carolina at notesfromthechalkboard.com, where this article originally appeared.