Here’s the Human Capital Roundtable’s strategy to “gain greater control of the narrative” on NC teacher merit pay

Today in “North Carolina Department of Public Instruction documents the public needs to see” is an Eckel and Vaughan “proactive media strategy” memo sent to DPI staff and members of the Human Capital Roundtable (HCR) on April 13.  

Eckel and Vaughan is a Raleigh-based communications firm that someone has hired to market the merit pay plan.  (I requested an invoice from DPI and was informed they hadn’t paid Eckel and Vaughan any department funds, so it’s unclear who’s bankrolling their work.)

The memo notes a need to “gain greater control of the narrative” due to “recent media attention that PEPSC’s work has been receiving” (My first blog post on merit pay was April 2 and was widely shared, and others started speaking up about problems with the proposal around that time as well)

The E & V memo proposes the Human Capital Roundtable consider a three-phase approach.

Phase 1:  Positioning Maureen Stover and Johnny Belk to write op-eds and do interviews.  The memo says Stover would help with “gaining the trust of teachers around the state” while Belk’s involvement would get the business community on board and association with the Belk Foundation would bring legitimacy.

Stover is a former North Carolina Teacher of the Year who serves on two of the four PEPSC subcommittees that are working on the licensure/compensation proposal.  Belk is the former president and COO of Belk, Inc. and current chair of the Belk Foundation.

Phase 2:  Identifying teachers from varied parts of North Carolina to “submit an opinion piece in support to the [sic] changes to the system to a targeted outlet in their region.”  This approach would ensure that teachers all over the state would hear positive things about the proposal.

Phase 3:  Publish an opinion piece authored by former Governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin.  Eckel and Vaughan said this final phase would be crucial in giving the proposal legitimacy and gaining the support of legislators.

As background, I reported last week that the HCR is recruiting members to a group called the “UpliftEd coalition” to drum up public support for the merit pay plan.  An HCR recruitment spreadsheet has Governors Hunt and Martin listed as honorary co-chairs.  I have not been able to confirm their involvement.

The media strategy memo includes in its next steps “drafting the various opinion pieces.”  It’s unclear whether that means Eckel and Vaughan would be writing the articles and then pretending the teachers and governors wrote them.

Here’s the thing.

If you work in the light, involve stakeholders and craft good policy, this manipulative crap is unnecessary.  But none of that is happening here.

You can read the memo in its entirety below:


PEPSC committee member: Principal evaluations should not be used to make high-stakes career decisions

Today’s flowers go to UNC-Greensboro’s Dr. Christina O’Connor, although admittedly about two weeks late.

In addition to serving as UNCG’s Director of Professional Education Preparation, Policy & Accountability, Dr. O’Connor sits on the Preparation and Entry subcommittee of PEPSC, the organization that is working on the Human Capital Roundtable’s North Carolina teacher merit pay proposal.

At the June 10 meeting of that subcommittee, Dr. O’Connor reported back to the whole group on her breakout room’s thoughts about the proposal, voicing the same concern teachers have been raising ever since the merit pay plan became public: the NC teacher evaluation instrument used by principals (NCEES) is too subjective to be used to determine teachers’ salaries and career advancement opportunities.

“If we’re going to be making high-stakes decisions about people’s careers, we need to make sure we’re using instruments that have solid data quality behind them.”

NC Department of Public Instruction’s Dr. Tom Tomberlin, chief supporter of the merit pay plan’s current design, was none too pleased.

Audio and a transcript of this part of the meeting are below:

Dr. O’Connor We don’t believe NCEES  should be part of this.  

I saw that in the feedback too there was a lot of the feedback that I read that had a lot of concerns about NCEES being used for this and there was a lot of, you know, concern about the peer review process and so we tried to streamline it, simplify it and you know still have multiple pathways but keeping that bar of INTASC standards and validity and reliability. 

If we’re going to be making high-stakes decisions about people’s careers, we need to make sure we’re using instruments that have solid data quality behind them. 

Dr. Tomberlin: So, is there some evidence that NCEES doesn’t have validity and reliability?

Dr. O’ConnorI  think there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that it’s not reliable, that the scores on it are highly subjective and there’s not a lot of consistency.  The validity, you know, I think you could make an argument that it has some validity. There’s some validity evidence there as far as being, you know, cross-locked to the North Carolina standards and the INTASC standards, but as far as the training and the reliability of the data I think there’s lots of concern.  And I don’t think that there’s been, I have not seen any reliability evidence published on that.

Dr. TomberlinSo my concerns with the way it’s implemented are, I’m with you on that.  As far as an instrument whether…

Dr. O’Connor:  Instruments are not reliable.  Data is reliable.

Dr. Tomberlin I  understand that Dr. O’Connor.  

What I’m saying is that that tool passed those requirements for validity and reliability.  What is our theory of action that any other instrument we choose that has similar issues of, that has similar levels of validity and reliability is not going to be implemented in a way that’s problematic, that’s equally problematic to what we’re seeing with NCEES?  And my question is, is the evaluation process itself fundamentally problematic (laughs), or is it the instrument we’ve decided to use?   And given that virtually every other state in the union has the same issues that we have with evaluation it leads me to believe that it’s not instrument specific.  It’s some other quality of the process.


As a reliability-related side note, DPI’s Dr. Kim Evans reports directly to Dr. Tomberlin and is tasked with keeping minutes for PEPSC subcommittee meetings.

I’ll let you be the judge of whether the minutes from this meeting accurately capture this important exchange between Dr. O’Connor and Dr. Tomberlin.

Exclusive:  Internal documents reveal “Dream Team” called UpliftEd Coalition being assembled to hawk merit pay for NC teachers

**Update: Following educator outcry over the news, former Governor Jim Hunt has withdrawn from his position as honorary co-chair of the coalition. You can read his letter announcing the decision here.


Documents obtained through a Department of Public Instruction records request show a so-called “Dream Team” of former politicians, business magnates, and high-powered education leaders is being recruited to form an organization named the UpliftEd Coalition.

The coalition’s purpose will be to drum up support for the “Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals,” a merit pay proposal which is deeply unpopular with North Carolina’s teachers.

Planning for the coalition was undertaken by Raleigh-based communications firm Eckel and Vaughan, the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and the Human Capital Roundtable (HCR).  The coalition’s structure and recruitment strategy is laid out in this August 2021 memo:


In April of this year, Human Capital Roundtable members were sent a spreadsheet of coalition recruitment targets.  The “UpliftEd NC Coalition Recruitment Targets” document includes columns for identifying HCR members best positioned to persuade individual targets. It uses an A,B,C system of ranking to gauge desirability.

The spreadsheet lists the coalition’s Honorary Co-Chairs as former North Carolina governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin.  

Board Co-Chairs are former Belk Corporation president John R. Belk, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, and Edgecombe County Superintendent Valerie Bridges.  

The coalition’s Board of Directors includes the Chair of the State Board of Education (the body which will soon consider the merit pay plan for approval), the Executive Director of Teach for America NC, and Governor Cooper’s Senior Education Advisor, among others.  

Only one teacher, Maureen Stover, is included on the coalition roster.  Stover also serves on two of the four PEPSC subcommittees which are currently developing the merit pay plan.

By way of background, the Human Capital Roundtable is the secretive group that initially drafted the merit pay proposal before handing it to the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC).  

Despite state law requiring any body authorized to carry out a legislative or policy-making function to make their meetings open to the public and keep “full and accurate minutes,” Roundtable meetings have been held in private, and no recordings or minutes of these meetings have ever been made available to the public.  

According to this email exchange, last month EdNC reporter Alex Granados tried unsuccessfully to attend an HCR meeting, noting concerns that “the Human Capital Roundtable could be making decisions that impact the licensure plan without the public being able to see how those decisions are being made.”  SREB Project Manager Megan Boren told Granados the meetings were members only:

With public work on the licensure/compensation proposal now being carried out by PEPSC, HCR’s purpose appears to have shifted from building the merit pay plan to building what resembles a political campaign to ensure the controversial proposal passes.  

The UpliftEd recruitment spreadsheet contains two drafts.  The initial draft includes a number of noteworthy names that did not make the final cut, such as Ann Goodnight, Senior Director of Community Relations for SAS and wife of SAS Founder and CEO James Goodnight.  The Goodnights’ company produces EVAAS, the value-added software at the center of the merit pay proposal.  Also up for initial consideration were former UNC President Erskine Bowles and venture capital boss Bob Ingram.

Next to the two governors’ names on this early draft is a comment indicating concern about a “potential strategic conflict” with Hunt and Martin having agreed to serve as Honorary Co-Chairs of Governor Cooper’s NC Education Corps.

Whatever the strategic conflict was appears to have been resolved by Draft 2.  Both Governor Hunt and Governor Martin are listed with the heading “Final and Confirmed,” suggesting they’ve agreed to support the proposal.

The documents indicate UpliftEd will formally launch when PEPSC hands off the merit pay proposal to the State Board of Education:


Proposed coalition graphics are below, and the website was registered in November 2021 and is currently parked.

So why are the people behind this merit pay plan putting so much time, money and energy into marketing it if it’s actually a good idea? 

One reason is that the “Pathways to Excellence” plan has gone over like a lead balloon with those it will impact most directly: North Carolina’s educators.

Teachers have raised concerns about everything from the plan’s subjective and unreliable effectiveness measures to the potential for an increase in standardized testing to the damage an influx of unprepared teachers would do to our students.  (You can see one example of feedback the Department of Public Instruction collected from teachers in Davie and Caldwell counties here.) 

They’ve also questioned the wisdom of enacting this sweeping, highly experimental policy during a massive teacher shortage

The Human Capital Roundtable is no doubt hoping that the UpliftEd Coalition’s star power will drown out the voices of those teachers and help ensure that the merit pay proposal passes.


You can share concerns about the licensure and compensation proposal with key decision makers via email:

PEPSC Commission
(will take up merit pay plan for consideration in August/September)

North Carolina State Board of Education 
(will take up merit pay plan for consideration in October/November)