This is the latest in a series of releases of documents related to the Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal obtained through Department of Public Instruction (DPI) records requests. The documents contain important information about the controversial proposal which has proven extremely unpopular with the state’s educators since details emerged earlier this spring.
You can find previous releases on my website, Facebook or Twitter.
Today’s release contains notes from a March 30 meeting which was held to discuss Education NC (EdNC) editor Mebane Rash’s offer to conduct a survey to gather feedback about the teacher licensure/compensation proposal. Meeting notes were taken by communications firm Eckel and Vaughan and provided to members of the Human Capital Roundtable.
EdNC is an organization whose stated goal is to “provide residents and policymakers with nonpartisan data, research, news, information, and analysis about the major trends, issues, and challenges bearing on education.”
EdNC’s website includes this note on journalistic independence: “EdNC… will never allow anyone – our board, our funders, or the people and organizations we cover – to control the content we publish. True independence requires clear accountability, and the accountable control over all EdNC content is vested in our editor-in-chief.”
Present at the meeting to discuss EdNC’s offer to collect feedback on the merit pay plan were the following:
*Superintendent Catherine Truitt
*DPI Chief of Staff Shelby Armentrout
*DPI Communications Director Blair Rhoades
*State Board of Education and Human Capital Roundtable member Jill Camnitz
*PEPSC chair and Human Capital Roundtable member Dr. Patrick Miller
*Southern Regional Education Board Project Manager Megan Boren
*Eckel and Vaughan staff
According to the meeting notes, Rash had offered to partner with DPI on the survey but also said that if DPI wasn’t interested she was going to do it anyway.
It’s clear from the meeting that the Department of Public Instruction’s primary goal is controlling messaging about the deeply unpopular merit pay plan. The notes reveal the team’s concern about having an outside entity conduct a survey because “who owns that data is important.” Superintendent Truitt expressed displeasure with EdNC’s previous coverage of PEPSC’s work and noted “the messaging on this has gotten away from us” and “we need to figure out how to get it back.”
PEPSC chair Dr. Miller was scathing in his criticism of Rash, saying she was “out of her lane, they’re supposed to be reporting on ed not making the sausage” and calling Rash’s plan “a threat.”
State Board Member Jill Camnitz added that if Rash “goes off on her own we have no control.”
DPI Chief of Staff Shelby Armentrout then got right to the heart of the matter, saying
That’s what this attempt to control public discourse on the merit pay plan is really all about.
The slimy marketing, the disingenuous spin, the work to assemble a coalition with enough star power to grab headlines. It’s all about trying to ensure that the widespread discontent North Carolina’s teachers feel over this poorly conceived merit pay plan is kept under wraps until the proposal becomes official policy. It’s much easier to accomplish that goal if you can control what is said.
“Control what is said”
That’s exactly what Southern Regional Education Board Project Manager Megan Boren advised DPI staff needed to do just three weeks later when another organization, the NC Public School Forum, offered to hold focus groups to collect feedback on the Pathways to Excellence proposal.
The Public School Forum (PSF) is a nonprofit that advocates for policy change that will benefit North Carolina’s schools.
In this April email chain, the Forum’s Executive Director Dr. Mary Ann Wolf had contacted PEPSC Chair Dr. Patrick Miller and State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis with an offer to conduct focus groups about the plan. The State Board of Education oversees the work of PEPSC and will be the body that considers the merit pay plan for approval before it goes to the state legislature, probably in 2023.
Chair Davis indicated his approval–but not for the purpose of gathering input that could help to make the proposal better. Rather, Davis saw PSF’s offer as an opportunity for “educating teachers and the public about this proposal and clarifying the current interpretations.” Dr. Miller’s response was that PSF might be able to help “counter the misinformation/negativity that’s out there.”
SREB’s Megan Boren was less enthusiastic. She noted that Superintendent Catherine Truitt wanted to “squash outside focus groups and surveys” and asked if Julie (Pittman, Special
Advisor to the Superintendent for Teacher Engagement) “will be working with them to control what is said.” (red highlighting is mine):
As background, the Southern Regional Education Board convened the Human Capital Roundtable in either late 2018 or early 2019 (SREB and DPI offer conflicting timelines). This group, which includes North Carolina education officials and employees of DPI, worked behind closed doors for two years to craft the merit pay proposal before handing it to PEPSC. At least one journalist (from EdNC) has been denied access to HCR meetings, and SREB has refused to provide meeting minutes upon request. More later on whether these actions could constitute violations of state open meetings and public records laws.
But back to the efforts to prevent independent organizations from collecting feedback.
Eckel and Vaughan’s notes from the March 30 meeting with Superintendent Catherine Truitt list as a “key takeaway” that Truitt will contact EdNC editor Mebane Rash and “dissuade her from proceeding” with her plan to conduct a survey about the licensure proposal.
Let me emphasize, this is North Carolina’s elected State Superintendent for Public Instruction, who serves on the PEPSC Commission currently overseeing the merit pay work and who will also co-chair the UpliftEd Coalition that is being set up behind the scenes to market the plan when it goes to the State Board of Education. And she is scheming with the chair of the PEPSC Commission and a member of the State Board of Education to use her power and influence to interfere with the operations of an independent media outlet in order to control public messaging about this policy.
It’s hard to articulate how messed up that is.
What North Carolinians deserve is media that is free from government interference, transparency in policy-making processes, and meaningful ways to offer their feedback to help shape proposals like this merit pay plan which would completely change the face of public education in our state.
That is not what we’re getting right now.
PEPSC subcommittees have one more round of meetings this month (two on July 15 and two on July 19). After that the proposal will go to the PEPSC Commission and then on to the State Board of Education for approval.
If you have concerns to share, you can reach State Board of Education members by email:
An embed of the March 30 meeting notes is below:Re_-Call-today-with-DPI-on-surveys-4-6
The April discussion of Public School Forum focus groups is below. Highlighting is mine.22control-what-is-said22-1