One of the things I love best about Durham is that people here actually do things–no committees are formed to study an issue to death or just talk about a problem. In the Bull City, if you think it’s a problem, you do something about it.
One of the most notable issues we face in Durham and North Carolina is our public school system. It’s well documented that North Carolina ranks near the bottom in teacher pay (47th as of 2013-14) and that states like Texas have proactively recruited away our teachers for better wages. In fact, when you adjust for inflation, teacher pay in NC has actually declined more than 13 percent since 2001-2002. Would you take a job where pay was declining that rapidly? Or move to a community that ranked near the bottom of the pay scale? I didn’t think so.
But what if Durham stepped forward–away from the noise in Raleigh and lack of leadership on this issue–and actually led? What if Durham paid its teachers $20,000 more per year than any other school district in the state? I’d contend we’d flip this conversation about pay very quickly and make our community a destination for the best teachers in the state and even nation. This would require strong vetting of candidates and current teachers and necessary conversation about performance metrics. It would also require a thoughtful funding mechanism. For the sake of a short post, I’m not going to dive in on that here (though ideas are welcome!)–my point is simply that we need a bold move forward that shakes the system and tries a new path. I’ve seen the benefits of fresh thinking and new approaches first hand working alongside the entrepreneurs of the American Underground.
Durham’s opportunity is to take a different approach to education that puts our money where our mouth is and prioritizes compensating some of the most important members of our community–our teachers and our kids. I wonder how that might affect the trajectory of our city economically and in preparing people for work in the 21st century.
I’m not a policy expert or educator but have run this idea by a few and reactions have been curious and positive. I’d welcome your thoughts on this idea–and more generally on the notion of how our city can advance new ideas and change that broadly benefits all. It’s what Durham does best.