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:

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