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:

Re_-Follow-up_-NC-EHC-Roundtable-12.14.20-750a

“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).

PEPSC-Guiding-Principles-Handout_031521

(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.

RT-CoalitionInterimMessaging_040422

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.

eric.davis@dpi.nc.gov
jay.chaudhuri@ncleg.gov
gladys.robinson@ncleg.gov
rosa.gill@ncleg.gov
graig.meyer@ncleg.gov

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:
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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:

patrickmiller@greene.k12.nc.us
dempseyv@uncw.edu
afleming@harnett.k12.nc.us
abullock9@elon.edu
rdpenfie@uncg.edu
grahama@wssu.edu
CSmith@lncharter.org
maholland71@gmail.com
connie.locklear@robeson.k12.nc.us
woodw@wilkes.k12.nc.us
blantonc@wataugaschools.org
Catherine.Truitt@dpi.nc.gov
hank.weddington@lr.edu
efloyd@chccs.k12.nc.us
ericpatin@chatham.k12.nc.us
Shouston@bwfund.org

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:

eric.davis@dpi.nc.gov
alan.duncan@dpi.nc.gov
olivia.oxendine@dpi.nc.gov
reginald.kenan@dpi.nc.gov
amy.white@dpi.nc.gov
James.Ford@dpi.nc.gov
Jill.Camnitz@dpi.nc.gov
Donna.Tipton-Rogers@dpi.nc.gov
JWendell.Hall@dpi.nc.gov
john.blackburn@dpi.nc.gov
mark.robinson@dpi.nc.gov
dale.folwell@dpi.nc.gov

Shortlink to PEPSC Commission and State Board of Education emails: https://tinyurl.com/PEPSCcontact





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:

NCACTE-Recommendations-for-Roundtable-Pathways-to-Excellence-Licensure-Proposal-August-8-2022-Final

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 👉 link.ncae.org/ExperienceMatters4NC

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:

Working-Agenda-and-Facilitation-Guide-11-28-20.docx

Human Capital Roundtable January 28, 2020 meeting notes:

NC-Education-Human-Capital-Roundtable-Meeting-10-NOTES.docx

NC superintendent denies that paying teachers based on their perceived merit is merit pay

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt continued to insult the intelligence of North Carolina’s teachers this week, repeating her absurd claim that paying teachers based on their perceived merit is not merit pay.

Appearing on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, Truitt said there was “deliberate” misinformation out there on the subject and that “it is absolutely false to say [the Pathways to Excellence proposal] is merit pay.”

Mike Collins:  I want to talk about teacher pay, and so does Becca on Facebook, one of our listeners.  She says, "Given what Catherine has been saying just now about the inadequacy of student and teacher assessment, I'm surprised that she is still involved in pushing the antiquated idea of merit pay which is based on these assessment tools and has been proven to be ineffective time and time again."  Do you want to address that?

Catherine Truitt: Well, first of all, there's a lot of misinformation out there right now, some of it deliberate some of it not, about this proposed pay plan which is still in the development phases. And it is absolutely false to say that this is merit pay. Merit pay means that you are comparing a teacher against another teacher. That's not what this pay plan proposes. This pay plan does not compare teacher to teacher, it compares a teacher to her or himself. So, um, also what I would say is that this pay plan in its current form does not require test scores to be tied to licensure or to pay. It is but one, um, one measurement that a teacher could use to, um, uh, move up on an advancement ladder so to speak without having to leave the classroom.

Truitt’s definition of merit pay has evolved since April, when she said in a State Board of Education meeting that the licensure/compensation plan wasn’t merit pay because the definition she had apparently found on Google said it was “pay for performance based on a set of criteria established by the employer,” and somehow the proposal wasn’t that.

This is very simple.

Currently we pay teachers based on their years of commitment to public education. More years = more pay. The Pathways proposal is that we stop doing that and instead compensate teachers using various measurements of their performance. In other words, they’ll be paid based on their merit. Guess what that’s also called?

Even #1 Pathways to Excellence fan Dr. Tom Tomberlin, who works for Truitt at the Department of Public Instruction, has admitted that the proposal is merit pay:

Tom Tomberlin:  I can't get away from the fact that, arguably this is...I mean we’re saying we’re going to pay people based on their skills and their performance.  [laughs]

That kind of is the definition of merit pay.

Let’s be real. This is not about definitions. It’s about messaging. And Superintendent Truitt is receiving messaging advice from Eckel and Vaughan, the firm that recommends those who are pushing Pathways to Excellence “always speak about the plan in a positive manner”:

Since early April, when the Pathways to Excellence proposal was presented to the State Board of Education, DPI has been deluged by negative feedback from educators who absolutely hate the idea.

Here are just a few examples:

When teachers first began objecting to being paid this way, Human Capital Roundtable and PEPSC subcommittee member Brenda Berg (whose day job is running the pro-business lobbying organization Best NC) immediately suggested the phrase ‘merit pay’ was problematic and referred to “extensive test messaging” of terms that had been done to determine what teachers would be comfortable with.

You can read that whole email chain here.

We need to be clear that any efforts to claim that this proposal isn’t merit pay are coming from a place of needing teachers to get on board with the Pathways to Excellence plan. It’s spin and nothing else.

Paying teachers based on standardized test results or subjective measures such as principal evaluations and student surveys is a bad idea.

No amount of creepy test messaging or amateurish gaslighting can change that.

Who’s really behind North Carolina’s controversial merit pay push?  The answer is becoming clearer.

If you’ve been paying attention this summer, you’re probably aware of the controversial merit pay proposal that has gone over like a lead balloon with North Carolina’s long-suffering teachers.  But what you probably haven’t heard is how it started. 

Whose idea was the merit pay approach?  What was their motivation?  Incoming PEPSC Chair Dr. Van Dempsey observed recently that the plan would require “billions of dollars of state funding that many entities would like to have a stake in.”  Who are those entities, and how are they influencing policy development in our state?

With Human Capital Roundtable records still being withheld from the public by the Southern Regional Education Board, it’s difficult to answer all of these questions with certainty.  However, emails obtained from current PEPSC Chair Dr. Patrick Miller provide important insight about the outside forces that were involved in setting North Carolina on the path to becoming the first state in the country to stop paying teachers based on their years of commitment to public education.

What follows is a basic timeline with supporting evidence from the records.  Click hotlinked dates to view source documents:

October 11, 2017:  The General Assembly-created Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) convenes for the first time.  Dr. Patrick Miller is chair.  For its first several months, PEPSC’s work is largely limited to revising individual State Board of Education policies rather than considering a complete overhaul to the licensure and compensation system.

February 26, 2018 Then-Western Governors University Chancellor Catherine Truitt contacts Dr. Miller to pass along SAS Director of Community Relations Ann Goodnight’s request for an update on what PEPSC is doing.  (SAS produces EVAAS, the software at the center of the current merit pay proposal)

(Truitt was elected North Carolina’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2020.)

March 5, 2018 SAS Special Advisor on Education Susan Gates contacts North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association Executive Director Jack Hoke to seek a connection to Patrick Miller, telling Hoke she “would very much like to learn in more detail about the work of the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, created by SB599, that he is chairing and give him more information about ideas being developed through our convenings to discuss strengthening early math and literacy instruction in NC.” Gates adds “One of those ideas relates directly to the B-K and K-6 licensure structure.”

March 28, 2018:  SAS’s Susan Gates meets with PEPSC Chair Patrick Miller and pushes him to think about changing North Carolina’s licensure system.  The next day she sends an email recapping their conversation in which she notes that individuals who have attended SAS events “believe the focus should include an exploration of NC’s B-K and K-6 licensure structure to determine if it should be modified.” 

Gates invites Miller to attend a June SAS event focused, in part, on “teacher and principal effectiveness.”  I’ll reiterate that SAS is the company that produces EVAAS, software which claims to measure educator effectiveness.

Attached to Gates’s email are notes from a SAS working group including the following:

First, we need to collect evidence that change is needed  
We should focus on what the licensure bands should be
Is there an appetite in the community for the licensure bands to change?

The SAS document also explores who would be resistant to changing the licensure system:

Who will give pushback? 
NCDCDEE  
Licensure department at DPI  
Finance and HR leaders in school districts  
Principals 

April 6, 2018:  John Denning, Senior Program Officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, inquires about a meeting with PEPSC Chair Miller.

August 27, 2018 Belk Foundation Executive Director Johanna Anderson contacts Miller to invite him to attend a Seattle Gates Foundation event on teacher preparation in October with a “hand-selected group of North Carolinians.” She says his presence is especially important because he chairs PEPSC.

September 10, 2018Susan Gates of SAS contacts Miller again, tells him about a work group which will focus on teacher prep and explore ideas about modifying licensure structure.  Gates name drops UNC’s Julie Kowal.  (Prior to her job at UNC, Kowal was Best NC’s Vice President of Policy and Research.)

September 19, 2018 Gates Foundation’s John Denning contacts Miller and DPI’s Tom Tomberlin and Andrew Sioberg.  This time Denning floats the idea of the Southern Regional Education Board creating a group which will “simply be a bridge and conduit between you and the important work that you are doing in this space – with other important stakeholders doing similar work.”  The idea is framed as an informal collaboration, not at all as the creation of a group which would draft a proposal to the State Board of Education on behalf of PEPSC.

Denning suggests specific people to be involved with this “small working group,” including Tomberlin, Sioberg, Kowal and others. 

Both Miller and Tomberlin give their blessing to Denning’s plan.

September 25, 2018:  Denning emails Miller, Tomberlin and Sioberg again, this time introducing them to SREB President Stephen Pruitt.  He outlines the purpose of the proposed group and for the first time refers to it as “NC Human Capital Roundtable.”  Denning explains SREB’s plans this way:

...SREB’s development of a Human Capital Roundtable intends to:

• Cultivate a basic landscape analysis of current work and assets regarding teacher preparation in North Carolina (including insights from other commissions, organizations or stakeholder groups)

• Encourage research and knowledge gathering on teacher preparation best practices to inform policy priorities and focused initiatives

• Work with you as members of the Roundtable to then develop shared insights and information about opportunities to identify and align priorities, recommendations and implementation supports.

The Human Capital Roundtable still isn’t sounding like a group which intends to co-opt PEPSC’s legislative mandate, but it’s important to remember that Denning is proposing all of this to the Chair of the PEPSC Commission, Dr. Patrick Miller.  

In this message, John Denning also offers a more fleshed-out list of Human Capital Roundtable members.  This time the list includes space for a designee of PEPSC Chair Miller’s.

Denning-NCs-Human-Capital-Roundtable-and-PEPSCDPI

First week of October, 2018:  Miller, Tomberlin, Kowal, Representative Hugh Blackwell and others travel to Seattle for the Gates Foundation “Reimagining Teacher Preparation Together” event.  Their participation is organized by Belk Foundation’s Johanna Anderson.  In recapping major takeaways, Anderson identifies licensure change as a priority in the coming year for North Carolina.

October 9, 2018:  SREB President Stephen Pruitt emails Human Capital Roundtable members, introduces SREB Project Manager Megan Boren and mentions “teacher effectiveness” as a focus of the group. 

October 19, 2018SREB Vice President Joan Lord contacts State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis to explain how Human Capital Roundtable funding will work.  She lays out parameters for how HCR meetings will run and who will be involved.

November 1, 2018SREB Project Manager Megan Boren contacts Human Capital Roundtable invitees to give date/location for the group’s first meeting.

December 3, 2018:   First meeting of the Human Capital Roundtable is held at the Department of Administration building at 116 W. Jones St.  Afterwards, meeting notes and pictures are posted to a Google site which is maintained by SREB for HCR members.

The above documents and timeline clarify some very important points for those of us who are interested in better understanding the evolution of the current merit pay proposal.

One is that multiple outside interests targeted PEPSC Chair Dr. Patrick Miller for the purpose of influencing the path the PEPSC commission’s work would take. 

Those parties include SAS, a company which would benefit financially from an expansion of the use of EVAAS in North Carolina and even more if an EVAAS-centric model could be expanded to other states.  They also include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Belk Foundation.  This is an important point to keep in mind as the proposal moves through the process on its way to becoming official state policy.

Another is that these parties were successful in steering PEPSC’s work from addressing individual licensure policy changes to a major, system-wide overhaul of teacher licensure which centered student outcomes rather than educator experience in determining compensation.  And the “vehicle” they used to accomplish that change, to borrow John Denning’s term from the 9/19/18 email where he first proposed the idea, was the Human Capital Roundtable. 

The Human Capital Roundtable would work on its own vision for licensure/compensation reform from that December 3, 2018 meeting until February 4, 2021, when it made an official presentation to the State Board of Education.  In that presentation, HCR officially called on the State Board to consider its recommendation of a redesigned licensure system built around effectiveness, not experience.  

The signature page of the group’s official letter to the State Board shows PEPSC Chair Miller as a member.

When PEPSC subcommittees began to meet in spring of 2021 to work on licensure/compensation reform, their work began with the Human Capital Roundtable’s model as the starting point. 

A year later, PEPSC gave the State Board of Education a progress update. 

The proposal looked awfully familiar.

The records obtained from Dr. Miller shed some light on the early genesis of the merit pay approach and the Human Capital Roundtable, but many questions still remain about the group’s work.  What involvement did SAS, the Belk Foundation, and the Gates Foundation have in shaping the specifics of the plan? 

Until the Southern Regional Education Board changes course and allows the public access to more than three years of Human Capital Roundtable meeting minutes and related documents, the development of the merit pay proposal from December 3, 2018 until it was officially presented to the State Board of Education in early 2021 will remain shrouded in mystery. 

That’s not the transparency that North Carolinians deserve.