Marketing firm advised NC Roundtable behind merit pay proposal to avoid making stakeholders feel “decisions have already been made without their input.” They had.

Newly obtained records reveal some of the earliest advice Raleigh-based marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan gave to the secretive group which created the controversial Pathways to Excellence teacher merit pay plan currently making its way toward the State Board of Education.

That advice included a focus on convincing stakeholders that licensure reform was necessary and being aware of the danger of people feeling that “decisions have already been made without their input.”

Eckel and Vaughan was hired by non-profit Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) using grant funding from the Belk Foundation in the fall of 2020. (SREB facilitated the work of the Human Capital Roundtable to draft the licensure/compensation reform proposal)

In a December 2020 email to Human Capital Roundtable members, Eckel and Vaughan provided a “holding statement” to guide members as they spoke with stakeholders about the proposal to change how North Carolina teachers are licensed and paid.

The marketing firm advised it was important to convince people that the primary causes of North Carolina’s teacher shortage are problems with the licensure process and not enough options for career advancement:

The single best thing we can do to improve education in North Carolina is focus on keeping great teachers in the classroom and encouraging more to enter the profession. Right now, the path to become a teacher and limited avenues to advance as a professional discourages talented teachers from entering and staying in the profession.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The *actual* reason we can’t get people to become teachers in North Carolina is because for over a decade, leadership in our General Assembly has passed law after law making a career in teaching less and less desirable:

➣ Stripped master’s pay
➣ Removed longevity pay
➣ Eliminated due-process rights
➣ Cut retiree health benefits
➣ Uncapped class sizes grades 4-12
➣ Took away state funding for professional development
➣ Cut 7,000 teaching assistants
➣ Slashed taxes repeatedly, reducing available education funding
➣ Consistently passed raises that are far outpaced by inflation

Eckel and Vaughan also suggested “it’s in [HCR’s] best interest not to share details of the RT’s proposal” and that the primary goal at this point in the process was to “gain positive support and instill confidence in the RT’s work.”

The firm emphasized the importance of getting stakeholders to “feel heard and a part of the creation process”:

Approaching these early conversations in a collaborative manner without revealing everything the RT has already thought through will ultimately help create stronger buy-in and support from our stakeholders because they will get to see the process unfold, rather than feeling as if decisions have already been made without their input.

The Human Capital Roundtable would present its draft proposal of Pathways to Excellence to the State Board of Education less than two months after this email was sent.

Just weeks after HCR presented to the State Board, subcommittees of the NC Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) began working on licensure/compensation reform with the HCR proposal as their foundation.

PEPSC subcommittee members have consistently complained that their input on Pathways to Excellence has been ignored, and that any changes allowed have been cosmetic at best.

Almost as if decisions had already been made without their input.

It’s important to note that the Human Capital Roundtable had no legislative authority to carry out the work that it did.

PEPSC, on the other hand, was created by the state legislature in 2017 to “make rule recommendations regarding all aspects of preparation, licensure, continuing education, and standards of conduct of public school educators.”

The Pathways to Excellence proposal is now in the hands of the PEPSC Commission. That body will likely vote on it this fall before sending it on to the State Board of Education for approval.

You can read the Eckel and Vaughan email in its entirety below:


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