Here’s a new advance screening of the disingenuous advertising campaign being planned for NC teacher merit pay

Here’s your advanced screening of the sequel of Maureen Stover’s Pathways to Excellence testimonial video (I shared version 1.0 earlier this month). 

The video is part of an advertising series that now-infamous marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan is putting together to try to sell merit pay for North Carolina teachers. 

Stover serves as co-chair for the PEPSC Advancement and Development subcommittee and has also agreed to sit on the Board of Directors of Eckel and Vaughan’s UpliftEd Coalition, a group which is being formed to drum up support for the controversial plan.

In the first part of her video, Mrs. Stover talks about the importance of shifting from valuing “inputs” (certificates/credentials) to “outputs” in order to gauge teacher effectiveness.  This represents a shift from her first video when Stover complained about not getting paid for her two master’s degrees when she moved to North Carolina. However, it is in line with comments she has made in PEPSC subcommittee meetings:

Screenshot of Southern Regional Education Board notes on PEPSC subcommittee meeting.
More info here.

The latter portion of Stover’s testimonial is essentially the same song from version 1.0. 

Stover mentions how important it is to her to stay in the classroom because she is in it for the kids, saying the only current way to grow as a teacher is to become an administrator.  She says it would be “incredible” if teachers had opportunities to grow by mentoring other teachers and says she is “extremely excited” that North Carolina is now looking for ways to make that happen.

If you work in schools you probably know that mentoring is already a thing.  What we don’t have is time or money to do it well.  That’s not a problem requiring merit pay to fix.

Of course, Eckel and Vaughan’s advertising campaign isn’t going to be about the truth.  It’s going to be about finding messaging that will aid in getting a system of merit pay passed into state law.

This is not it.


You can view the video and a transcript below:

My name is Maureen Stover, and I am the 2020 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.

One of the things that is a challenge for teachers coming into North Carolina is that we don’t always do a good job of effectively identifying skills that teachers have that they are bringing to their classrooms from outside of the education world.  

So instead of looking just at inputs, something like a certificate or a credential that’s been earned, it’s important we’re also looking at the outputs to see how teachers are using that information that they have learned through those different courses to effectively teach their kids.  

There are many different opportunities for us to fully support our teachers and to have programs that will make teachers more impactful for their students in their classrooms.

Under the current North Carolina licensure system, the only real opportunity for me to grow and develop as part of my teaching practice would be to go into administration.  But as a classroom teacher, I am in the room for the kids.  And so I really want to remain a classroom teacher so that I can help them develop in their social-emotional learning and their academic learning needs.

When we have teachers who are excited to be in their classrooms, excited to be with their students, and excited to deliver instruction, it means that we have teachers who are going to impact their students in a positive way.  

One thing that would be incredible would be to give teachers the opportunity to lead not only in their classrooms but also among their peers by providing mentorship to other teachers that are also working in their schools.  And I am extremely excited that we are looking for ways to begin developing teachers and providing advancement opportunities for teachers who want to stay in the classroom and continue teaching their students and doing the best things that we need to do for all 1.5 million kids that are enrolled in North Carolina’s public schools.

 Long time Cabarrus County educator sues Board of Education over failure to turn over members’ text messages

An educator who spent more than 20 years teaching in Cabarrus County Schools before retiring due to her dissatisfaction with what she deems “North Carolina’s continued degradation of public schools” has filed a lawsuit in Cabarrus County Superior Court seeking “disclosure of public documents…along with the attorney’s fees recoverable under the Public Records Act.”

The complaint alleges the school district failed to turn over records related to school board business upon request, including board member text messages.

Kim Biondi began her teaching career in Cabarrus County in 1999.  She served as department chair and head of various school committees and was a finalist for Cabarrus County Teacher of the Year.  Biondi was also an active advocate for change in public education, including speaking up about pandemic safety measures. 

Biondi and others were vocal about the need for virtual learning and masking during the most dangerous points of the COVID pandemic.  They expressed their views in a variety of ways, including standing on public sidewalks holding signs outside Cabarrus Board of Education meetings.

Beginning in early 2021, Biondi and other outspoken educators were targeted by members of a social media group called Make A Difference headed by a Cabarrus resident named Kenneth Wortman.  Wortman started a petition calling for the removal of dozens of teachers as well as that of Superintendent Chris Lowder.

The petition reads, in part, “The teachers continuously break county policy by demonstrating, protesting, and trying to force their views to make a change. This happens in front of the board, and the superintendent allows it to continue.” 

Superintendent Lowder, an extremely popular and successful leader who had devoted thirty years to the district, abruptly announced his retirement in February 2021.

In addition to launching the petition, Wortman filed hundreds of grievances against Cabarrus County Schools teachers and staff alleging bullying and indoctrination. The grievances resulted in judicial hearings conducted by the Cabarrus Board of Education. Wortman was represented in the hearings by attorney Jonathan Vogel. In all cases, teachers who were targets of grievances kept their jobs.

Weeks after the grievance hearings were held, Cabarrus Board of Education terminated its attorney (Brian Shaw of Raleigh-based Schwartz and Shaw) and hired Jonathan Vogel as its new legal counsel. Wortman is on the November ballot for Cabarrus County Commission.

In the wake of the superintendent’s resignation and the dismissal of the board’s general counsel, the Cabarrus Board of Education eliminated the role of Board Clerk, a position which for years had been responsible for documentation and record keeping.

In January 2022, controversy erupted among Cabarrus educators after the district’s executive staff and principals received 6% raises while teachers were given just a 2% salary supplement increase. Shortly afterward, Cabarrus County Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Kelly Kluttz suddenly resigned after more than twenty years with the district.

Kim Biondi was interested in learning more about how these controversial and highly impactful staffing changes had taken place. She had observed board members frequently on their cell phones during Cabarrus Board of Education meetings and suspected they were using text messages to communicate about official school business.

On February 4, 2022, the Cabarrus County Board of Education held an emergency meeting. Although the meeting was closed to the public, details about a confidential matter the board had dealt with during the meeting were soon being discussed by members of the “Make a Difference” social media group.

The next day Biondi filed a request for text exchanges between board members and text message communications between board members, their attorneys, and members of the public for the 10 days surrounding that closed board meeting.

In response to the request, then-Cabarrus County Schools Director of Communications and Public Information Ronnye Boone informed Biondi that “the district does not have access to board members’ personal cell phones.”

North Carolina public records law covers documents “regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if Cabarrus County Board of Education members were using personal cell phones, smoke signals or freaking carrier pigeons.  If they were communicating about school board business, the law is clear that those records must be furnished upon request.

Biondi also requested text messages involving the board clerk whose position had been eliminated.  She was informed that the clerk’s district cell phone had been “recycled,” so none of the data on it phone was available.

In June 2022 Biondi contacted Cabarrus County Schools leaders to urge compliance with her lawful information requests, giving them until August 1 to provide the documents “to avoid further legal action.”

On July 18, 2022, Biondi received a letter from Cabarrus’s Board attorney informing her that the district had decided to report her to the Department of Public instruction for the grievance that had been filed against her more than a year prior, despite the fact that she was no longer employed by CCS and no longer even had an active teaching license with the state.  Biondi perceived this move as retaliation for her dogged pursuit of public records. 

Biondi’s attorney filed a writ of mandamus in Cabarrus County Superior Court on September 16, 2022.  The complaint asks the court to compel Cabarrus Board of Education to produce the records Biondi requested, refrain from further destruction of public records, and pay for the legal fees she incurred in pursuing the records.

You can read Kim Biondi’s complaint and all supporting evidence below:


Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education member Sean Strain warned for “multiple infractions” of Board policy

In an April 2022 email obtained via public records request, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education Chair and Vice Chair warned District 6 representative Sean Strain over “multiple infractions” of Board policy, adding that further infractions could lead to “possible removal by the Board chair from any leadership or committee positions, and/or public reprimand/censure as a means of separating the Board’s focus and intent from those of the offending member.”

The infractions noted in the email include giving directives to CMS staff and sending confidential personnel information to the media.

You can read the email below:


Strain’s reply to the warning is classic Sean Strain: brash, sarcastic and unapologetic:


SREB encouraged NC state employees to switch to private email, lied about existence of merit pay documents

A Southern Regional Education Board email obtained this week shows that when public information requests for documents related to the NC Human Capital Roundtable were filed this past spring, the Atlanta-based nonprofit immediately asked Roundtable members–including at least four North Carolina state employees–to switch to Gmail “in order to make sure the private meeting notes are kept private.”

SREB then falsely claimed the meeting notes didn’t exist.

In April I began researching the origins of the controversial Pathways to Excellence teacher licensure/compensation reform scheme. I was interested in learning more about how the merit pay proposal had come to be.

I soon discovered that all roads led back to the Human Capital Roundtable, a mysterious group of mostly public officials and state employees which had suddenly popped up in front of the NC State Board of Education in early 2021 with a draft proposal to completely change how all teachers in North Carolina are licensed and paid.

Soon that proposal–which would make North Carolina the first state in the country to completely scrap an experience-based teacher pay scale and replace it with merit pay for all–was placed in front of the Professional Educator Standards and Preparation Commission (PEPSC).

PEPSC was created by the state legislature in 2017 to make recommendations on teacher licensure and preparation. Since spring 2021, shortly after that HCR presentation to the State Board, PEPSC has been fine tuning the Human Capital Roundtable’s merit pay proposal. There have been no significant changes to what the Roundtable created. Pathways to Excellence will likely be approved and sent on to the State Board of Education this fall before eventually making its way before the General Assembly to become state law.

SREB’s website indicated the Human Capital Roundtable had been working on the project since 2018, so I was certain there must be lots of records of what occurred, what was said, and who was present in their meetings.

Since the Human Capital Roundtable included two high-ranking employees of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and a member of the State Board of Education, I assumed that the group’s meeting minutes would be held by DPI’s Communications Department.

I immediately filed a records request to retrieve them:

Here’s the reply I got:

I noted that PEPSC Commission Chair Dr. Patrick Miller was a member of the Human Capital Roundtable and figured I’d try him next.


The last house on the block was SREB’s Project Manager Megan Boren, who facilitated the work of the Human Capital Roundtable from the very beginning. So I emailed her the same request.

I didn’t get an immediate reply. However, that same day Ms. Boren sent the following email to Human Capital Roundtable members, including two representatives of Governor Cooper and employees of NC Community Colleges and the University of North Carolina:


In her capacity as SREB’s Project Manager, Boren appears to be asking state employees to switch from public email to private email so they could continue conducting official business in private without having to worry about the nuisance of nosy citizens like myself.

It’s important to understand that North Carolina’s public records law covers the transaction of public business on any platform, not just state email. If a state employee uses private email, WhatsApp, text message, Facebook message, etc. to conduct official business, all of those communications would still be subject to public information requests. So SREB’s suggestion of a switch to Gmail reflects a lack of understanding of how North Carolina law regarding public records works.

At any rate, at least one of those state employees was uncomfortable enough with SREB’s request to decline.

Dr. Lisa Eads, who serves as NC Community Colleges VP of Academic Programs, sent Boren this reply:


A week after she suggested the switch to private email, SREB’s Project Manager responded to my request.

Incredibly, Boren claimed the Human Capital Roundtable had never taken any notes of their meetings. She actually wanted me to believe this group had spent three years drafting an official policy to fundamentally change how North Carolina’s teachers are licensed and paid and never wrote anything down.

If you’re not familiar with the Southern Regional Education Board, SREB is a nonprofit based in Georgia which operates in 16 southern states, making recommendations on education policy. Although SREB’s work on the Human Capital Roundtable’s merit pay scheme was funded by the Gates Foundation, the nonprofit is getting nearly a quarter of a million dollars from North Carolina taxpayers this year for granting SREB membership to the UNC system.

That seems like a whole lot of taxpayer money to give to an organization that does such dishonest, unethical work in our state.

A few days ago I shared this new revelation about SREB encouraging state officials to switch to private email with Attorney General Josh Stein, State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis, and the four NC state legislators who serve on SREB’s legislative advisory council. (You can read that email here).

None of them bothered to reply to the email, although Rep. Graig Meyer mentioned on Facebook that SREB was now “done with their role in the process.”

The records indicate otherwise:

Of course, the records always tell the truth. That likely why SREB has resorted to scheming and lying to ensure that North Carolinians never get the full story on the work the Human Capital Roundtable did. It’s why the Roundtable followed a standing Vegas Rules policy (WHICH THEY LITERALLY PUT IN WRITING!!) to ensure that their work to draft what they intended to eventually become state law would remain secret.

I am convinced those three plus years of Human Capital Roundtable records contain information that powerful individuals do not ever want to see the light of day. I’m convinced that it’s a gross miscarriage of justice to try to hide these documents from the North Carolina public. And I am going to keep pursuing the transparency that all of us deserve.

It’s like a colleague of mine at school says when faced with a child who doesn’t want to do the right thing:

One of us is gonna get tired, and it’s not gonna be me.

SREB notes on PEPSC meetings show desire for shadowy Human Capital Roundtable to control NC licensure/compensation reform

Newly obtained public records give insight into the shadowy Human Capital Roundtable’s desire to control PEPSC’s licensure/compensation reform effort.

The 26 pages of notes on the second round of PEPSC subcommittee meetings were taken by the Southern Regional Education Board’s (SREB) project manager Megan Boren in April 2021 and provided to Roundtable members.

Ms. Boren also took notes on the first round of meetings, but that document is locked up tighter than Fort Knox to prevent the public from seeing it:

The meetings covered in SREB’s notes began just a couple of months after HCR presented the Pathways to Excellence merit pay framework to the State Board of Education. (Pathways was then handed over to PEPSC to serve as a starting point for its work.)

SREB’s meeting notes paint a very different picture from the HCR’s public narrative–suggested by marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan in documents I have previously published–that Human Capital Roundtable members “…are not experts on PEPSC’s proposal. We are simply following PEPSC’s work and support its foundational ideals.”

It’s really important to remember that, despite its obvious control issues, the Human Capital Roundtable had no legal authority to influence PEPSC’s work.  

PEPSC was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017 to study and make recommendations on licensure.  

The Human Capital Roundtable’s origins are secret, but it’s crystal clear the group–which includes a State Board of Education member, high ranking DPI employees, and Governor Cooper’s Education Advisor–does not have any legislative mandate whatsoever. That makes its attempts to influence the policy development process while pretending it’s just watching from the sidelines extremely troubling.

I’ll embed the entire notes document at the end of this piece but wanted to highlight a handful of sections that stood out to me.

1: The notes mention SREB sending a “never made public” Roundtable salary chart to Governor Cooper’s Education Advisor Geoff Coltrane during the Budget and Compensation meeting.  It sounds like the Human Capital Roundtable and SREB were literally trying to direct PEPSC’s subcommittee work from the outside in real time.

2. SREB’s Project Manager throws shade at subcommittee co-chairs Van Dempsey and Aaron Fleming, indicating neither has an appropriate understanding of the Human Capital Roundtable’s wishes.  (Dempsey and Fleming have since been selected as chair and
vice chair of the PEPSC Commission.)

3. Boren suggests that subcommittee co-chair Maureen Stover or (now retired) DPI employee Robert Sox may need to limit the input of UNCC’s Laura Hart in the meeting.  That seems bold to say the least.

Side note:  I’ve searched through the thousands of public records I’ve accumulated over the last six months and cannot find the secret Human Capital Roundtable salary chart mentioned in point 1.  It’s likely among the many official state records SREB is withholding from the North Carolina public on the Google Site it set up for HCR members back in 2018. 

A June 2021 email indicates Boren continued her practice of taking notes on subcommittee meetings for the Human Capital Roundtable, so many more documents such as this one likely exist. Those records would shed more light on how this secretive, unauthorized group of public officials influenced the development of the controversial merit pay proposal which is now poised to completely upend how North Carolina’s teachers are licensed and paid. 

But until the Southern Regional Education Board, the State Board of Education which holds its strings, and the four North Carolina legislators who serve on SREB’s Legislative Advisory Council have a change of heart on their responsibilities regarding transparency for North Carolina, we will remain largely in the dark.

You can read SREB’s complete notes on the second round of PEPSC subcommittee meetings below:


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:


“Guiding Principles” document shows Human Capital Roundtable’s desire to control PEPSC work on teacher licensure and compensation

Today’s merit pay public records release is a document developed for the Human Capital Roundtable (HCR) by Eckel and Vaughan and SREB called “PEPSC Guiding Principles.”

This March 2021 document was created after the Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal the Human Capital Roundtable had drafted was turned over to PEPSC but before the PEPSC subcommittees began working on the plan.

The document lays out guardrails that are intended to guide the work of those PEPSC subcommittees, demanding “subcommittee members will refer to these guiding principles to ensure that the goals of this work remain in the forefront.”

Principles which subcommittee members are expected to abide by include maintaining the Human Capital Roundtable’s “output-driven” focus (meaning that scrapping the experience-based teacher salary schedule that NC and the 49 other states currently use is non-negotiable).


(You can see the original email this document was attached to here.)

Why this document matters:

PEPSC was created by state legislators in 2017 and given a vague mandate to “make rule recommendations regarding all aspects of preparation, licensure, continuing education, and standards of conduct of public school educators.”

The Human Capital Roundtable’s origins are much more murky, but it appears to have been dreamed up by SAS and the Gates Foundation.  The group is not authorized by state law to do anything at all, much less direct PEPSC’s work. 

After HCR drafted the Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal, gave it to PEPSC to serve as the foundation of subcommittee work, and (apparently) imposed parameters on subcommittees, SREB and Eckel and Vaughan wanted the group to retreat back into the shadows and pretend it had nothing to do with the plan.

In April 2022, Eckel and Vaughan sent this memo to Human Capital Roundtable members, advising them to say “We are not experts on PEPSC’s proposal. We are simply following PEPSC’s work and support its foundational ideals” as if all of this were PEPSC’s idea.


Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Not only was this proposal created by the Human Capital Roundtable, PEPSC subcommittees have been prevented from making significant changes to the model.  

In a statement released last month, the NC Colleges of Teacher Education voiced concern about just that:

From the beginning, the proposal seemed to be driven by DPI personnel. Right or wrong, DPI  personnel became the “go to” people to interpret the proposal, answer questions, take  minutes, schedule meetings, and synthesize the feedback. It was clear that DPI personnel had  been involved in the Human Capital Roundtable meetings and had been tapped as the ones  now to push it through. At the first subcommittee meetings, members were told in explicit  terms that their role was not to change the proposal but only to figure out a way to implement  it. What was the point in even holding subcommittee meetings if no feedback for potentially  improving the model would be accepted? 

This might be a good time to mention that Department of Public Instruction Director of Educator Recruitment and Support Dr. Tom Tomberlin–who often acts as if he’s the facilitator of PEPSC subcommittee meetings–is a member of the Human Capital Roundtable.

It’s unclear what the final version of “Guiding Principles” looked like, how HCR’s demands were communicated to PEPSC, and how they were received.

That’s because the vast majority of the documents the Human Capital Roundtable generated during more than three years of behind-closed-doors meetings going back to December 2018 are still being withheld from the public by SREB, the group that oversaw and facilitated HCR’s work.

SREB has even gone so far as to lie about the existence of records (see images below).

Because SREB is withholding these records, instead of having a complete picture of how this teacher licensure/compensation reform proposal was developed, North Carolinians have to rely on a combination of Eckel and Vaughan’s slimy marketing and the documents I’m able to scrounge from a handful of sources–documents which often paint a very different picture from the one being presented publicly by Eckel and Vaughan, DPI, SREB, and the State Board of Education.

If you believe SREB should release the Human Capital Roundtable records, you can contact North Carolina’s members of SREB’s Legislative Advisory Council and State Board of Education chair Eric Davis below and urge them to use their influence to bring us the transparency we deserve.

SREB Project Manager absurdly claiming HCR never took notes
The same SREB Project Manager informing HCR members about meeting notes

Here’s an exclusive sneak preview of the upcoming NC merit pay marketing campaign

Draft graphics from Eckel and Vaughan’s marketing campaign

If you missed yesterday’s Facebook and Twitter news, here’s your sneak preview of a draft testimonial video of 2020 NC Teacher of the Year Maureen Stover singing the praises of the North Carolina Pathways to Excellence teacher licensure and compensation overhaul:

Retrieved via public records request, the video is part of an upcoming Eckel and Vaughan ad campaign intended to garner support for the switch to merit pay.

Eckel and Vaughan and SREB provided this video to Human Capital Roundtable members in October 2021, asking for feedback and cautioning “Please don’t share this version with others.” 

For context, Eckel and Vaughan is the Raleigh-based marketing firm who infamously advised DPI staff to “always speak about the [Pathways to Excellence] plan in a positive manner” and to avoid discussing its “complexity or the burden it may put on districts to manage.”

The first half of the video is about Stover’s struggles with getting credit for graduate degrees and years taught in Florida when she began teaching in North Carolina.  

Without providing any supporting data, Stover claims that this is a widespread problem, saying “Many teachers who transfer from another state are not given credit for the years that they have taught outside of North Carolina.” 

Without evidence it’s hard to know how many teachers experience that problem.  For me, getting credit for out-of-state teaching was just a matter of filling out and submitting DPI’s verification of experience form. Comments on my Facebook post of this video indicate plenty of other NC teachers who came from out of state had no difficulty with this issue.

It’s also unclear why this very specific problem would require us to completely scrap our whole experience-based pay scale and move to merit pay for all North Carolina teachers instead of simply fixing issues with reciprocity.  

The rest of Stover’s testimonial focuses on the need to provide teachers with pathways to career advancement besides going into administration.  She says it would be “incredible” to give teachers the “opportunity to lead not only in their classrooms, but also among their peers by providing mentorship to other teachers that are also working in their schools.” 

Of course, NC teachers already mentor colleagues–we just aren’t provided with time or compensation for doing so.  Here again there’s a relatively easy policy fix.  State legislators just need to commit additional resources to public schools to solve the problem.  Of course it would require more legislators who value public schools over tax cuts.

Stover also says that “The consequences of not having a clear advancement and development process for our teachers is that we will begin to lose teachers from our classrooms.”  

There’s no “begin to lose teachers” about it.  We’ve been losing teachers for years, and it has very little to do with their frustration over options for career advancement.  It’s because they’ve had enough of the low pay, lack of respect, and unsustainable workload that are primarily the result of bad policy by our General Assembly.  This merit pay proposal isn’t the answer to any of that.

When Pathways to Excellence goes to the State Board of Education for consideration, likely this fall, Stover’s video will be used as part of a flashy Eckel and Vaughan marketing campaign to drum up public support for the deeply unpopular merit pay plan.  

More recent documents indicate Stover’s video is now being finalized and that videos by Pitt County Asst Superintendent Steve Lassiter and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt will be a part of the marketing campaign as well.

You can view Dr. Lassiter’s draft video, in which he asserts that “We need to move away from a test-based licensure model to an effectiveness model,” below:

Of course the merit pay proposal Dr. Lassiter supports uses standardized test data to determine whether teachers are “effective.”

Both Stover and Lassiter will also sit on the Board of Directors of the UpliftEd Coalition, a group being assembled by Eckel and Vaughan and the secretive Human Capital Roundtable to serve as the public face of the campaign to reform how North Carolina teachers are licensed and paid.

In addition to Stover, Truitt, and Lassiter’s video testimonials, an email by State Board of Education member Jill Camnitz reveals a plan to have the current NC Regional Teachers of the Year also create videos in support of the proposed policy.

Both Stover and current NC Teacher of the Year Leah Carper will speak at the invitation-only September 7 Best NC Innovation Lab, which is shaping up to be a Pathways to Excellence love fest.

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: