Veteran NC teacher questions Board of Ed chair’s good faith on merit pay plan for teachers
If there is anyone involved in the controversial North Carolina teacher merit pay work who should understand the importance of giving teachers a seat at the table when redesigning how they are paid, it’s the chair of the State Board of Education.
After all, the last time Eric Davis tried–and failed–to pass merit pay against teacher objections ended with the then-chair of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education apologizing for not adequately involving teachers in the work.
Meeting minutes from that period recorded Chair Davis’s pledge that in the future he would seek to “allow for meaningful dialogue with teachers; to create ways for our teachers to participate given their high workloads and demands beyond what is currently available; and to incorporate their constructive input into the process.”
Eric Davis served on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education from 2009 to 2017 and chaired the body from 2009 to 2011.
In 2011, Davis worked with CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman and Mecklenburg County Representative Ruth Samuelson to draft HB 546, a bill that would authorize Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools to go off the state’s mandatory experience-based teacher pay scale and move to a “performance-based compensation system.”
Superintendent Gorman’s team included analyst Tom Tomberlin and Director of Human Capital Strategies Andy Baxter, who worked on developing the new compensation model and (unsuccessfully) pitching it to wary teachers.
Both men now work for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and have been heavily involved in the current statewide merit pay push.
But back to 2011: When news of the proposed legislation emerged, Charlotte educators were not pleased–in large part because the bill would have allowed the district to make drastic changes to compensation without consulting teachers.
HB 546 represented a major departure from a previous state law passed in 2007 which allowed districts to pilot merit pay only if a majority of the teachers who would be impacted by the plan had approved it via a secret ballot vote:
Large groups of educators and concerned community members began turning up to CMS board meetings to speak against the proposed merit pay switch. Some board members began to feel HB 546 was the wrong way to go, most notably Reverend Tom Tate.
At a May 2011 board meeting, Tate expressed concern that the bill “was crafted without input from the teachers” and said this kind of work should be done “with teachers and not to teachers.” He recommended taking Representative Samuelson up on her offer to “park” the bill for a year and allow for more discussion of the matter before proceeding.
In response, Chair Davis indicated he did not agree that teachers should have the right to make decisions about compensation plans approved by elected officials, but he added that he regretted “the manner in which this was implemented because it has alienated our teachers and strained the relationship between our teachers and district leadership.”
Just two weeks later Superintendent Gorman abruptly announced his resignation from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. Although local work on pay for performance initiatives did pop up again from time to time (including in 2013 when Davis reminded board meeting attendees that he “deeply regrets the frustration, anger, and mistrust” caused by attempting to move teachers to merit pay without their consent), Charlotte teachers were never really threatened with removal of the experience-based salary structure again.
And this time it’s not just Charlotte-area educators who are facing the threat of merit pay, but every teacher in the state.
Under Eric Davis’s leadership, the North Carolina State Board of Education recently approved a blueprint which clears the way for switching the state’s teachers from an experience-based pay scale to the country’s first statewide system of merit pay.
Teachers’ compensation and ability to advance their careers in the proposed system will be determined by standardized test results, principal and peer evaluations, student surveys, and possibly other measures that have not yet been determined. The proposal has proven deeply unpopular with classroom teachers who are concerned about the emphasis on standardized testing and subjectivity of proposed evaluation instruments, among other things.
In a December editorial, State Board Chair Eric Davis vowed to “continue to listen to our educators” while changing teacher pay and licensure, as if teacher voice had been a priority for the state board since work on the current reform effort began four years ago.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as the following sequence demonstrates with crystal clarity.
Work on the Pathways to Excellence pay for performance plan began with the North Carolina Human Capital Roundtable, whose first meeting in December 2018 Davis attended before handing the role off to his fellow state board member and designee Jill Camnitz. The Roundtable was completely devoid of K-12 teachers and drafted the merit pay proposal in private, likely in violation of state open meetings law.
Public records reveal that Camnitz later schemed with State Superintendent Catherine Truitt and then-PEPSC Chair Patrick Miller to prevent media organization Education NC from independently surveying teachers to gather input on the merit pay plan over fears of losing control of the public narrative. They didn’t want to hear what teachers had to say unless they had absolute control over how that information would be used.
In order to help achieve the goal of public narrative control, the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction enlisted the help of Raleigh-based marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan (paid for via a Belk Foundation grant).
The firm suggested “It’s in our best interest to always speak about the plan in a positive manner.” It’s unclear whose best interest they meant but probably safe to assume that wasn’t a reference to North Carolina teachers and students.
Eckel and Vaughan also advised using former NC Teacher of the Year Maureen Stover to help with “gaining the trust of teachers around the state” and recommended identifying teachers from varied parts of North Carolina to “submit an opinion piece in support to the [sic] changes to the system to a targeted outlet in their region.”
When teacher outcry over the controversial plan began in spring of 2022, DPI hastily assembled its own “teacher listening sessions” which were open only to teachers who had received invitations. Feedback provided by teachers on the proposed changes was overwhelmingly negative. It was summarily ignored.
The PEPSC Commission, which is advising Davis’s board on the switch to merit pay, only includes one currently practicing traditional classroom teacher. That teacher rarely participates in PEPSC’s meetings, presumably because they are scheduled during the school day.
PEPSC is now putting together new committees to continue the design process. If PEPSC’s recent history is any indication, it seems likely the new committees will also meet when teachers are busy teaching, rendering invitations to classroom teachers to participate nothing more than a PR move which will allow Eric Davis and other leaders of the merit pay work to disingenuously claim they sought input from teachers.
Speaking of history, they say those who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it.
That saying applies to State Board Chair Eric Davis, who appears to have forgotten his 2011 promise to involve teachers with designing policies that impact their pay.
It also applies to North Carolina’s teachers, who need to speak up about their concerns with this misguided approach to compensation and efforts to silence teacher voices the way Charlotte Mecklenburg educators did back in 2011.
You can email State Board Chair Eric Davis at [email protected] to request directly that PEPSC committees include practicing classroom teachers and that meetings are held outside school hours.
Since any future legislation involving merit pay would require his signature, you can contact North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to share concerns about the proposal or the State Board of Education’s actions here: https://governor.nc.gov/contact/contact-governor-cooper
Veteran Mecklenburg County public school teacher Justin Parmenter comments on education policy at the website Notes from the Chalkboard, which first published this commentary.
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