Common Core was discussed in North Carolina’s legislature starting in 2013 and running through 2014. The result of the discussion, meetings, hearings and testimony was Senate Bill 812. This bill ordered an appointed commission (ASRC) to review and replace the Common Core State Standards in a fashion that was transparent to the public. That commission has begun work and are rolling up on their 4th meeting.
Transparency has been mentioned multiple times during these ASRC meetings and for good reason. The adoption of Common Core in most states was done almost by stealth and questions about the non-governmental entities and businesses involved in the creation of the standards have become a national hot button issue. Arguably, transparency and local control are at the heart of much of the Common Core debates and that of education issues in general.
Having said all of that, it would appear from a PowerPoint presentation I have received that there is another group working on education issues, including looking at academic standards in North Carolina. This group has met multiple times since late Summer 2014. This presentation, titled “K12 Standards Working Group – Mtg 1 notes“ carries in it the name “Vision 2020 Initiative”. I will embed this document at the end of this article.
Is this necessarily a nefarious or secret group? No.
Is this businesses and various elected officials kicking around education issues away from public scrutiny like we saw with Common Core? Maybe or maybe not. Keep reading.
One of the key organizations behind the presentation is BEST NC. In speaking to BEST NC’s CEO, Brenda Berg, I was informed that the ‘top-line’ recommendations from their work groups would be presented to the NC General Assembly sometime in January. After those ‘top-line’ recommendations were revealed, there would be a ‘grassroots conversation’ orchestrated across the state. Berg also told me that a web portal related to their initiative would be appearing possibly sometime in April 2015. Berg indicated the purpose of this initiative was that “we want to take away the politics” and “stop the infighting” when it came to education issues facing North Carolina. The idea was to ‘create a platform to move education forward’.
Ms. Berg gave me the following description to share with readers:
BEST NC is a non-partisan group of business leaders who care deeply about education. Recent discussions around education have been far too politicized and have left smart, well-intentioned North Carolinians without a forum to work together. We believe that breaking down those barriers and having a shared plan is the best way to move education in North Carolina from good to great.The 2020 Vision process is designed to give all education stakeholders including families, educators, and elected officials a forum where they can share their ideas and strategies for improving education in North Carolina. The initial working groups helped form the high level plan. It was a diverse, inclusive group of people who care and think deeply about education. The website will be up by April and we invite anyone to engage wherever they have ideas on how we can improve education for all students in North Carolina.
So, what is going on here and who is BEST NC?
BEST NC is formally known as North Carolina Business Leaders For Education (D.B.A BEST NC). They are a 501(c)3. Their membership seems to be exclusively businesses. Membership can be costly and is based on the number of employees your company has. For a business of 1-50 employees, the cost is $5,000, and for a business with 500 and more employees, the fee listed starts at $30,000 and spans up to $50,000. View BEST NC’s mission statement here.
BEST NC held meetings at SAS Institute that were apparently held on a bi-weekly basis and have since concluded sometime before Thanksgiving. The formation of these work groups apparently sprang from an event BEST NC held on the SAS campus earlier in 2014.
Working under the aforementioned title, ‘2020 Vision Initiative’, participants have been divided into work groups composed of NC legislators, NC government officials, NC board of education members, NC non-profits/think tanks on the Left and Right, other high-ranking NC education officials and includes SAS lobbyist, Susan Gates. There is of course the considerable amount of business interests behind BEST NC which are likely in the mix as well. Those opposing Common Core are likely shifting uncomfortably in their seat viewing that list and then realizing the money that is behind it all.
Here are all the names from the BEST NC presentation material, the ‘focus areas’ and ‘working group’ they belong to. On the list are former Superintendent Heath Morrison and former State Board of Education member Marcella Savage who both resigned their official positions in recent months. Also present in the list are various legislators involved in the passage of SB 812.
Strangely, Superintendent and CCSSO President, June Atkinson, is listed as being on the “Accountability, Transparency & Communication” team even as many continue to question whether she has been accountable, transparent or communicative during the Common Core investigations or with the public in North Carolina.
I’d like to call attention to the 13th slide in the presentation. The title is ‘2020 headlines and barriers’, but formatting on Scribd cut off the ‘barrier’s part. Looking over the list of barriers, it could arguably read like a complaint list from Common Core proponents.
Beyond Brenda Berg, I also reached out for comment to the Lt. Governor’s office, Civitas and John Locke Foundation who were named in the presentation. I received confirmation that these work groups started to form near the end of summer and concluded sometime before Thanksgiving after holding a handful of meetings.
Jamey Falkenbury in the Lt. Governor’s office told me that the Lt. Governor got involved to be part of the conversation on the facilities and technology piece, which is relevant to work the Lt. Governor is currently doing. Falkenbury also made mention of contact with individuals in Massachusetts who are currently revising their standards after finding Common Core didn’t stack up as necessarily better than what the state had in place previously. Suggestions and advice from individuals in Massachusetts were being taken under advisement during at least one 2020 Vision work session and discussion ensued on how to replicate what Massachusetts was doing.
At Civitas, Bob Luebke also said there was debate about getting involved with the BEST NC venture, and it was decided that it was better to have a seat at the table and be able to give input than stand on the sidelines. Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation echoed Luebke’s sentiments on that front. Both made statements to the effect that they had no idea what the final ‘top-line’ recommendations were going to look like and that, if in fact those recommendations did not line-up with policies they supported, their sign-off on the final product might not occur.
One final note, which may or may not be related and merely coincidental. Both the Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County school districts also have ‘new’ strategic plans and both utilize the terms “vision” and “2020” in them.
— LL1885 – A.P. Dillon (@LadyLiberty1885) December 24, 2014