BEST NC and SAS are teaming up to help bring teacher merit pay to North Carolina

If you haven’t been following the wonky adventures of North Carolina’s Pathways to Excellence teacher merit pay proposal, the identities of the various players and their roles in developing this policy can be very confusing.

You have PEPSC, the Department of Public Instruction, the State Board of Education, the General Assembly, SREB, Eckel and Vaughan, the Human Capital Roundtable, the Belk Foundation and the Gates Foundation all with varying levels of involvement from the present going all the way back to when PEPSC was first created by state legislators in 2017.

However, there are two organizations that are flying well below the radar in terms actively pushing for North Carolina to move all teachers from an experience-based pay scale to merit pay: SAS Software and BEST NC.

SAS Software was founded by NC’s richest individual, James Goodnight. Goodnight continues to serve as SAS’s CEO, and his wife Ann Goodnight is the company’s Director of Community Relations.

SAS produces EVAAS, the controversial value-added software which SAS claims can measure precisely how much value a teacher adds to a student’s learning by using a secret algorithm to analyze student performance on end-of-year standardized testing.

Currently EVAAS data is used as a formative tool for North Carolina teachers but does not impact their base pay. However, the draft Pathways to Excellence policy proposes using EVAAS data to determine teachers’ salaries and opportunities for career advancement.

If North Carolina enacts Pathways to Excellence, it will mean a dramatic expansion in the use of EVAAS in our state. But if the model could then be spread to other states it would represent a financial windfall for the SAS corporation.

In March 2018, SAS’s Special Advisor on Education Initiatives Susan Gates began contacting PEPSC Chair Patrick Miller with the goal of pushing him toward a licensure reform model which would center effectiveness rather than experience (and what better way to measure that effectiveness than SAS’s EVAAS software?? 😬)

In September 2018 Gates again contacted Miller to talk about her work with the B-3 Interagency Council focusing on licensure modification and effectiveness. She mentioned a desire to coordinate with PEPSC and also name dropped Julie Kowal, who would be leading related work for UNC.

(Kowal had been in her position at UNC for only 3 months, having spent the 4 years prior to that as VP of Policy for BEST NC.)

BEST NC is a nonprofit which lobbies for education reform that benefits the business community. The organization is run by CEO Brenda Berg and was literally housed on SAS’s campus until just a couple of years ago.

SAS executive Ann Goodnight serves on BEST NC’s board. (Art Pope does too, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Several years ago BEST NC lobbied hard for changing NC principal compensation to a merit pay system using EVAAS scores which, remember, are produced by SAS and paid for by North Carolina taxpayers.

In 2017 the General Assembly passed a new system for compensating principals that was so flawed they immediately had to add a hold harmless clause to prevent a mass exodus of principals due to salary reductions.

WestEd’s 2019 action plan on Leandro noted the principal pay approach created a “disincentive for effective principals to work in underperforming schools.”

But back to BEST NC and the current push to now move teachers to merit pay based on SAS’s EVAAS software…

Brenda Berg was added to the Human Capital Roundtable (the group that drafted the merit pay plan) in January 2020 and was thereafter strategically positioned to have major influence on the development of the Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal.

Berg also managed to join two of the four PEPSC subcommittees that are currently working on the proposal–Licensure as well as Budget and Compensation.

She is in a great position to advocate for policies which will benefit SAS.

BEST NC holds an annual event called the Innovation Lab which in the past has been framed as an opportunity for educators and education stakeholders to brainstorm solutions to some of the problems facing education in our state.

Here’s their promo flyer from 2021 (purple highlighting is mine):

2022 is different.

As you can see from the below agenda, this year’s Innovation Lab is not about listening to educators or brainstorming solutions. Instead, the “lab” is purely a lobbying event aimed at advancing BEST NC/SAS’s agenda of passing the Pathways to Excellence merit pay plan. Nearly everyone who is presenting is either on PEPSC or the Human Capital Roundtable or works for DPI.

Just in case the conflict of interest wasn’t obvious enough, BEST NC’s merit pay lobbying event is even being held on the SAS campus.

BEST NC’s event comes after months of loud educator pushback on the deeply unpopular merit pay proposal. It fits nicely with marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan’s counsel to take actions that will help Pathways proponents “gain greater control of the narrative.”

Of course the narrative is of secondary importance to the impact of this whole mess. And when the real motivation behind education policy change is money, our students and teachers are generally the ones who end up losing the most.

PEPSC continues to ignore teacher feedback on North Carolina merit pay proposal

At last week’s meeting of the State Board of Education, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt and State Board Chair Eric Davis delivered a long, scripted statement on the controversial Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal.

Besides attempting to explain why licensure/compensation reform was needed, both went to great lengths to assure skeptics that they were listening to teacher feedback and that it would be used to improve the proposal, with Truitt touting “…our commitment to seeking feedback, and our desire to improve the final product.”

Any North Carolina educator who has missed this summer’s series of public records releases revealing the disingenuous marketing strategy behind the merit pay plan might have felt relieved.

Of course, actions speak louder than words.

If the people leading this work were genuinely interested in teacher feedback, we would be seeing meaningful changes to the proposal coming in response to the many concerns that educators are raising about the plan.

So are we?

This week co-chairs of the PEPSC subcommittees currently working on the merit pay proposal met to discuss Pathways to Excellence.

Maureen Stover, who co-chairs the Advancement and Development subcommittee with DPI’s Dr. Michael Maher, was eager to talk about a change she felt showed the group was “honoring and respecting the feedback that [they’ve] gotten from teachers.”

Stover:  I think the other thing that's good about this one is, you know, there has been some concern from teachers and other stakeholders that that original infographic was created by SREB or created by the Human Capital Roundtable.  This infographic was designed and created based on the feedback that we were getting from teachers on this green infographic.  So this one is a North Carolina created by two teachers with the input of lots and lots of teachers who said, "Hey, this is gonna work a lot better" and so I think that that's really important in making sure that we're honoring and respecting the feedback that we've gotten from teachers in those sessions that we needed to redesign infographic to make it clearer and then actually asking teachers for their input on, "Hey, what do you think about this?" and where I talked about needing to include the hyperlinks.  That also comes from feedback from teachers.  So I think it's really important that we're acknowledging that teachers are at the center of everything we're doing in this work and that we really need to be listening to the teachers from around the state and making changes to the model and making changes to the draft that are, that are, you know, the, in in light of what we're learning from teachers and hearing from teachers.  And so, while I don't disagree that introducing a new infographic may be somewhat confusing, I also think it's important that we update the infographic to make sure that this is something that is done by and for teachers in our state and ensuring that we're listening to the teachers when they're giving us feedback.

That’s right, the “change” is a new picture. Not an actual change to the proposal itself, but a new graphic that simply explains how the proposed system of licensing and compensating North Carolina teachers works.

With all due respect to the people who worked on this very nice infographic, it is not a meaningful response to the thoughtful feedback teachers have offered on the Pathways to Excellence proposal.

I’m not claiming that teachers didn’t complain about the Human Capital Roundtable infographic being confusing. It is, and they probably did.

But having spoken with teachers who participated in the invite-only DPI teacher listening sessions and having reviewed some of the concerns that were expressed in those meetings, I can assure you that the vast majority of feedback offered had everything to do with the actual substance of the plan:

Take this handful of examples from the Davie/Caldwell County teacher listening session:

➢ It lowers the bar for teaching and will diminish teacher quality

➢ A limited number of advanced positions will create competition and harm collaboration and morale

➢ Increases pressure on administrators

➢ Too much subjectivity in proposed measures

➢ Principal evaluation post-conferences will become a negotiation

➢ Adding high-stakes to EVAAS data will bring resurgence of testing

➢ Single test score can’t measure teacher effectiveness

➢ Student surveys that impact teacher compensation will put pressure on students

➢ Proposal minimizes the importance of experience

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.

At least at this Davie/Caldwell meeting, it sounds like teachers didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not the graphic looked nice.

It’s also important to note Stover’s admission that one reason the infographic was redesigned is because it was not created by PEPSC but rather by SREB and the Human Capital Roundtable.

I’ve written at great length about the shadowy origins of the Human Capital Roundtable and its questionable practice of drafting public policy on behalf of North Carolinians in secret meetings. I’ve published public records that show the group’s facilitator the Southern Regional Education Board denying journalists access to Human Capital Roundtable meetings, lying about the existence of meeting notes and refusing to make any of the group’s documents public. These scandalous revelations have not landed well with a public that rightfully expects honesty and transparency in our public policy processes.

So it comes as no surprise that DPI and PEPSC would want to distance itself from the shady activities of the Human Capital Roundtable and attempt to rebrand the project as their own work–even though it isn’t. But trying to play this change off as evidence of incorporating teacher feedback into the process in a meaningful way is ludicrous and insulting.

Once the infographic discussion was finished, DPI’s PEPSC program coordinator Dr. Kimberly Evans gave the PEPSC co-chairs an opportunity to respond to educator feedback that had been provided on the Pathways plan following Truitt and Davis’s performance at last week’s State Board of Education meeting.

She had sent them the feedback in advance of the meeting, and it was posted to the State Board of Education website for the public to access as well.

The feedback document is 21 pages long and consists of 26 individual messages about the Pathways proposal. Every single one of them is critical of the plan–many echoing concerns similar to those raised in Davie and Caldwell. (As a side note, not one of the messages mentions the infographic.)

Please take a moment to play the video below so that you get the full effect of how PEPSC co-chairs reacted to the serious concerns offered by these North Carolina teachers.

Evans:  Speaking of teacher feedback, I shared with you prior to the meeting a new round of teacher feedback after, some of you may know that the state superintendent and Mr. Eric Davis, who's the chair of the state board, had a discussion at the end of the second day of the state board meeting in support for the work that we're doing now for the teacher licensure reform model draft model and so I wanted to share that feedback with you that has come in since that discussion.  Um, it's quite a bit of feedback, but I wanted to give anyone an opportunity to comment on that feedback or to ask any questions.  And if you haven't had a chance to look at it, please feel free to email me any questions that you might have, so that we can make sure that we clarify anything.  Because we continue to get more feedback.  

PEPSC co-chairs:

Evans:  Ok, we have about thirteen minutes left, and I wanted to spend the rest of the time giving you an opportunity to think about what you want to do for your August meetings...

In the transcript above I’ve added one cricket for each second of silence.

That’s 12 painfully awkward seconds which captured everything the co-chairs had to say in response to 26 messages of concern by North Carolina teachers who will be most directly impacted by PEPSC’s proposal.

If anyone is in a position to actually make substantive recommendations on changes to the merit pay proposal it’s the PEPSC subcommittee co-chairs. They’re the ones who run the monthly meetings which often include a lot of healthy dialogue about flaws in the current proposal. They’re the ones who ostensibly should synthesizing the feedback of the many experts on their subcommittees into improvements to the model. They’re the ones who are given heartfelt messages written by teachers who are fearful about what this experimental plan might mean for the quality of their students’ education and for their own livelihoods.

12 seconds of crickets. And how many seconds spent talking about a nice new infographic?

We should all be very concerned about where this project is headed.

But it’s very important to remember that just because you get the feeling someone isn’t listening to you doesn’t mean you should stop talking.

North Carolina teachers (and concerned community members as well) need to continue to inform this process whether those in charge really want to hear it or not. Express your views out loud, in public and on social media where the whole world can hear and see. Send those private messages as well, understanding that there are probably decision makers involved who know deep down that what is happening is wrong on a lot of different levels. They might just need some added encouragement to do the right thing.

The PEPSC Commission will take up the Pathways to Excellence proposal for consideration this fall. After that it will be the State Board of Education’s turn to deliberate on the merit pay plan before it goes to the General Assembly, likely next year.

Here are email addresses of those bodies. I’ve also created a shortlink which you can share with others and will include that at the end.

You can reach members of the PEPSC Commission here:

After the PEPSC Commission, the State Board of Education will consider the proposal for approval.  It’s not too early to let them know how you feel:

Shortlink to PEPSC Commission and State Board of Education emails:

NC Colleges of Teacher Educators push back hard on controversial licensure proposal

This week the North Carolina Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (NCACTE) released a position statement on the controversial Pathways to Excellence proposal.

It’s highly worth your time to read in its entirety.

NCACTE noted many problems with the proposal, including

➣ The lack of legislative authority of the Human Capital Roundtable and the Southern Regional Education Board to engage in drafting official policy

➣ The absence of teachers, district Human Resources directors, and university-based staff at the crucial early stages of development

➣ The inability of PEPSC subcommittees to make necessary changes to the proposal

➣ The overly complex and burdensome nature of the plan

➣ The lack of annual teacher salary increases

➣ The emphasis on alternative entry as “the future of teacher preparation”

NCACTE offered a series of five recommendations that it believes can help to salvage a proposal which has proven deeply unpopular with North Carolina’s educators, including the need to “engage educational stakeholders as partners, not obstacles.”

You can read NCACTE’s entire position statement below:


Sign NCAE petition to address teacher shortage through needed policy change, not merit pay

If you haven’t already, please sign and share NCAE’s petition to PEPSC, the State Board of Education, Governor Cooper, and state legislators calling on them to support the teacher pipeline solutions we desperately need rather than the current Pathways to Excellence merit pay plan.

Click petition link here 👉

NC Human Capital Roundtable used “Vegas Rules” to ensure its work on Pathways to Excellence remained secret

According to meeting notes obtained via public records request, the North Carolina Human Capital Roundtable had a policy of following “Vegas Rules” to ensure its work on creating the Pathways to Excellence teacher licensure/compensation reform proposal would remain secret.

The Human Capital Roundtable, which included high-ranking employees of the Department of Public Instruction and a member of the State Board of Education, was convened in early 2019 under the facilitation of Atlanta-based nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

The group worked for two years on drafting the framework for the controversial merit pay plan. Meetings were never announced to the public, and journalists who did get wind of meetings were barred from attending by SREB’s project manager. That same project manager also claimed that “minutes were not taken”:

To date none of the group’s meeting notes–which definitely do exist–or working documents have been made public by SREB.

Notes from the group’s January 28, 2020 meeting reveal the extent of the Human Capital Roundtable’s focus on secrecy.

At this meeting, a small focus group was invited to listen to a presentation of an early draft of Pathways to Excellence and then provide feedback. Human Capital Roundtable member and PEPSC Chair Dr. Patrick Miller kicked off the meeting by welcoming focus group participants and advising them that Vegas Rules were in effect (highlighting is mine):

After the focus group had concluded, the meeting continued with just Human Capital Roundtable members present.

During that portion of the meeting, the Human Capital Roundtable gave member Geoff Coltrane permission to suspend Vegas Rules and discuss the group’s work with another entity

The Human Capital Roundtable was engaged in drafting what the group hoped/hopes will become official North Carolina public policy. The fact that this group very intentionally eschewed transparency while it did so should concern all North Carolinians.

An agenda for the meeting and the meeting notes document are embedded below. Besides revealing the group’s hyper focus on secrecy, the January 28, 2020 meeting is also noteworthy in that it was Best NC CEO Brenda Berg’s first meeting as a Human Capital Roundtable member. The last 4-5 pages of the notes document are Berg’s thoughts.

Human Capital Roundtable January 28, 2020 meeting agenda and facilitation guide:


Human Capital Roundtable January 28, 2020 meeting notes: