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 http://www.upliftednc.com 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:
(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)