Dear Mrs. Berg,
As the CEO of BEST NC, you and your team have led a coalition of business leaders who have helped steer the conversation surrounding public education in North Carolina. While many times as a public school teacher I have disagreed with your interpretation and analysis of the variables, causes, and effects that have shaped the public school system, I have appreciated your willingness to converse and exchange viewpoints.
I also have not only read, but studied the materials that BEST NC has released, and I did it with the thought that your coalition’s purpose was to remain non-partisan and open to all sides of the discussion.
As soon as one visits the “About Us” page of your website, best-nc.org, the following appears:
BEST NC is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system through policy and advocacy. We do this by convening a broad constituency; encouraging collaboration around a shared, bold vision for education; and advocating for policies, research, programs, and awareness that will significantly improve education in North Carolina.
The word “non-partisan” really stands out to me, especially in a state where the public education system has been rather manipulated by partisan ideologies.
And then one can view the “Our Approach” tab and read:
BEST NC is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system through policy and advocacy. We work to…
- Convene a broad constituency of education stakeholders,
- Inform an engaged business community, and
- Advocate for policies, research, programs, and awareness that will move the needle…
- …toward a shared, bold vision for education.
The words that resonate most in this are “convene,” “broad constituency,”” advocate,” and “shared vision.”
And while you tout that your group is pro-public education and seeks to “collaborate” with others, news that BEST NC will be holding a “legislative gathering” on February 7th makes me rather suspicious that the non-partisan approach you claim BEST NC maintains is not real.
My suspicion is not caused by the fact you are meeting. It arises because of whom you are meeting with.
In my 18 years of teaching in public schools and in my active advocacy for fully-funded public schools, I have never encountered a more polarizing figure than Michelle Rhee. In fact, I (and many others) consider Ms. Rhee the antithesis of how to approach helping public schools. In every endeavor she has undertaken in “improving” educational outcomes, she has left disunity, damage, and a large void in her wake.
No one really needs to exert much energy to see that her tenure in Washington D. C. was disastrous. She clearly endorses high-stakes testing, elimination of due-process rights, and the closing of schools she deems unsuccessful because she values a test grade over student growth.
No one really needs to dig deep and realize that her Project IMPACT initiative in Washington DC has been widely scrutinized because of the use of a “carrot and stick” mentality and its adherence to “teaching toward a test,” both of which run counter to the very premise of having a “skilled citizenry.” Michelle Rhee simply champions efforts to make teachers “jump” through hoops to get students to do well on arbitrary tests rather than empowering students to grow in their skills. It pays no attention to other factors that affect student achievement like poverty, lack of funding, overcrowding, all of which exist widely in North Carolina.
However, it is what she stands for now that is even more frightening considering current trends in North Carolina. As a strong advocate for charter school growth and vouchers for private schools, Ms. Rhee represents efforts to privatize public institutions which runs counter to our state’s constitution which your site quotes.
The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools… wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.– Article IX, Section 2(1), North Carolina Constitution
The invitation to include George Parker only reinforces that BEST NC is uniting champions of school choice and value added measurements with lawmakers and business leaders who can further those causes. You claim in Billy Ball’s article in NC Policy Watch (1/27),
“The legislative gathering is always closed to media, always has and always will be as a promise to members. Because they want to feel comfortable asking elected officials and experts candid questions off the record.” – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/01/27/public-education-advocates-cry-foul-legislators-private-meeting-controversial-school-reformer-michelle-rhee/#sthash.Zn4WUvda.vHutAkcx.dpuf
So much for open dialogue and collaboration. In fact, it makes it all appear that it is part of a larger agenda.
Consider the timing. The election cycle has just passed. Gerrymandering has enabled the GOP to maintain majorities in the NC General Assembly. We have a president who champions school choice and vouchers. North Carolina already has been infected with several “reforms” and our state is a “right-to-work” state which has no unions, contrary to what Mr. Ball reported.
And the two groups that will not be involved in your “candid” discussion are the two groups who have the biggest stake in public education: public school teachers and the public.
Ball’s article later reports,
“Still, Berg said there’s nothing secretive or inappropriate about BEST N.C.’s gathering with Rhee and lawmakers, which she described as a reception with a guest speaker, followed by a brief Q&A session. No state policies will be on the table; nor will legislators be holding a discussion of state public policy.
“The beauty of this is we want our members to ask really blunt questions,” said Berg. She acknowledged, however, that she’s not surprised, given the press attention surrounding Rhee’s education reforms, that some would be anxious over her attendance.
“I don’t have concern with people being upset about the national speaker,” Berg said. “She shut down schools. That made some people mad.”
When it comes to public education, “blunt” questions do need to be asked, but those discussions need to involve all parties.
- Why is this “legislative gathering” about public institutions and public monies so secretive?
- Why allow someone who clearly does not have a good track record with actually improving schools come and educate selected people who can make critical decisions about our public schools?
- Why not have these discussions with actual scholars in educational research? Have they been invited?
- Why are there not any teachers or teacher groups involved in this?
There are very concrete reasons why people would be “upset about the national speaker.”
But I am more upset that a group that supposedly celebrates open discussion and collaboration would broker a meeting such as this when what will be discussed are most certainly reform ideas that run counter to really improving public schools and still profit a selected few.
That is the reason that I am writing you. And that is the reason that I am making this an open letter in hopes that all public school teachers can learn more about what might be happening when a known privatizer who devalues teachers is coming to speak with the very lawmaking group that crafts how well public schools are resourced and how teachers are treated.
That is the reason I am also asking that you reconsider actually having this meeting with Michelle Rhee or make it more open to other stakeholders because BEST NC’s credibility as being “non-partisan” will suffer.
It certainly has changed my opinion of BEST NC.