Emails show NC officials are taking the wrong approach with new teacher pay plan

Jessica Banov/jbanov@newsobserver.com
·3 min read

North Carolina’s long-suffering educators can’t catch a break. After two years of a pandemic that has turned public education on its head, those of us who haven’t left the profession are now facing an effort to move all the state’s teachers to merit pay.

Under the authority of the State Board of Education and with facilitation by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) has been working on a new model for teacher licensure and compensation for more than a year. The commission is proposing a system which would end experience-based compensation and instead determine pay and career advancement through teacher effectiveness–something no other state has ever done. Effectiveness would be assessed through standardized test scores, principal evaluations, and student surveys.

Teachers have raised concerns about everything from the plan’s subjective and unreliable effectiveness measures to the likely increase in standardized testing to the damage an influx of unprepared teachers would do to our students.

We’ve also questioned the wisdom of enacting this sweeping, experimental policy at a time when staggering numbers of educators are quitting and NC’s teacher pipeline is in shambles.

Given our front line perspective and the fact that we’d be most directly impacted by the policy change, you’d think the people leading this work would prioritize gathering teacher feedback and using it to improve the proposal and gain educator buy-in.

You’d be wrong.

Multiple internal emails obtained through Department of Public Instruction (DPI) records requests reveal an overarching strategy of disingenuous spin and suppressing dissent on the part of those leading this work.

Eckel and Vaughan, the Raleigh-based communications firm contracted to market the merit pay plan, has advised DPI staff to avoid “phrases that emphasize the plan’s complexity or the burden it may put on districts” and to “always speak about the plan in a positive manner, emphasizing its benefits rather than pointing out possible complications.”

When the Public School Forum recently offered to hold focus groups on the plan with educators and district leaders, State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis indicated his approval, although not for the purpose of hearing from teachers but for “help in educating teachers and the public about this proposal.” PEPSC Chair Dr. Patrick Miller alluded to the need to “counter the misinformation/negativity that’s out there.” But the SREB project manager responded that “CT” (state Superintendent Catherine Truitt) wanted to “squash outside focus groups and surveys,” then asked whether DPI staff would be able to “control what is said” at the events. She also referenced State Board member Jill Camnitz offering Eckel and Vaughan’s services for the teacher listening sessions DPI was planning to conduct.

It’s unclear why collecting teacher feedback would require a marketing strategy.DPI did hold a series of virtual roundtables for teachers to weigh in on the merit pay plan. So far there is little evidence of educators’ overwhelmingly negative feedback having any impact on the proposal.

Public records also show a star-studded coalition is being recruited behind the scenes to drum up public support for the controversial licensing and compensation overhaul. UpliftEd is made up of former politicians, business and education leaders and will launch when the merit pay proposal goes to the State Board of Education.

The problem North Carolina is facing isn’t ineffective marketing, a splashy coalition deficit, or an overabundance of uninformed, negative teachers. It’s our leaders’ hubristic insistence on crafting policy that is bad for public education and passing it over the protests of a steadily dwindling number of educators.

It’s time we really listened to teachers for a change.

Justin Parmenter is a 7th grade teacher at South Academy of International Languages in Charlotte