Governor Jim Hunt has withdrawn as honorary co-chair of the UpliftEd Coalition, a group which will promote a controversial plan to do away with experience-based teacher compensation and replace it with a system of merit pay.
The Pathways to Excellence proposal, currently being worked on by the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC), has proven deeply unpopular with North Carolina educators since it became public earlier this year.
Many have expressed concerns about its emphasis on standardized testing and reliance on subjective measures such as peer evaluations and student surveys to make high-stakes determinations about teachers’ compensation and opportunities for career advancement. Others have questioned the wisdom of making such a drastic, experimental change in the middle of an ongoing pandemic and during one of the worst teacher staffing crises in recent memory.
In a July 5 letter to State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis, Governor Hunt called on those driving the licensure/compensation work to do more to involve educators in the policy design process, saying, “I want to encourage you and everyone involved in the coalition to ensure that teachers have a strong say in the development of major changes in their pay,” adding, “their involvement is critically important to the long-term success of any education reform.”
Governor Hunt’s decision to step down from UpliftEd comes after documents I obtained via public records request showed State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, State Board of Education member Jill Camnitz, and PEPSC Chair Dr. Patrick Miller discussing plans to prevent independent organizations from collecting educator feedback on the merit pay proposal.
The UpliftEd Coalition is the brainchild of marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan, the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and the NC Human Capital Roundtable. According to a memo from Eckel and Vaughan, the purpose of the coalition is to “advance the need for and widespread benefits of the new model.” Governor Hunt was recruited to be honorary co-chair because his name would “[add] credibility to the vision and coalition.”
The original plan was for the UpliftEd Coalition to launch once the merit pay proposal was officially presented to the State Board of Education for consideration. The launch timeline changed when I acquired North Carolina Department of Public Instruction emails detailing the group’s existence, marketing strategy, and recruitment efforts and published that information last month.
Many educators reacted to the news that Governor Hunt had agreed to support the Pathways to Excellence proposal with confusion and disappointment. Governor Hunt is widely embraced as one of North Carolina’s foremost champions for public education and a pioneer of many important education initiatives during his tenure as our longest-serving governor.
Among others, those initiatives include beginning the Smart Start Pre-K program, putting a full-time teaching assistant in every grade 1-3 classroom, establishing the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and creating the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (as a personal aside I’d like to add that I am grateful and proud to have been a National Board Certified Teacher since 2006).
Under Hunt’s leadership, teacher pay in North Carolina rose to 19th nationwide, coming within about $2000 of the national average during the 2001-02 school year. The state currently ranks 39th.
Governor Hunt’s decision to step down leaves the UpliftEd Coalition with only former NC Governor Jim Martin as honorary chair. Governor Martin is cc’d on Hunt’s resignation letter, which you can see below.
I’d like to offer my heartfelt thanks to Governor Jim Hunt for his leadership and vision for public education in North Carolina and also for calling for educators to have a seat at the education reform table. Governor Hunt is absolutely right that our involvement is critical to any reform effort’s success.
North Carolina educators who want to share thoughts with Governor Hunt about this decision or his public education legacy in our state can do so by emailing his longtime teacher advisor Karen Garr at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 5, 2022 Dear Eric: I have decided to step down from my position as honorary co-chair of your UpliftEd Coalition, just as I am stepping away from almost all of my public activities. As you may know, I have even stepped down from my active work with The Hunt Institute and the important work it is doing on education. I appreciate the work that you and others in your coalition are doing on behalf of North Carolina’s public schools. I have just come to the point in my life, at age 85 now, when I believe I should step aside and encourage new generations of leaders to step forward. As I step down as co-chair, I want to encourage you and everyone involved in the coalition to ensure that teachers have a strong say in the development of major changes in their pay. When I chaired the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards from 1987-1997, I made sure teachers were at the table and had a voice. Their involvement is critically important to the long-term success of any education reform. I also hope that you will ensure that National Board Certification continues to be an important component in deciding teachers’ compensation. North Carolina leads the nation in the number of National Board Certified Teachers, and the program provides great professional development opportunities for educators. I wish you good luck as you work on this important matter. My long-time teacher advisor, Karen Garr, can be available to help you as you go forward. She can keep me updated on your progress. You can reach her at email@example.com or (9**)***-****. Thank you very much for including me, and you have my best wishes as you go forward. My warmest personal regards. Sincerely, Governor Jim Hunt Cc: Governor Jim Martin