Welcome Back to School 2017-2018 – Mark Johnson’s Empty Video Address

With a new school year starting in North Carolina, it usually is customary for leaders of school systems and individual schools to offer words of encouragement and support to teachers to help inaugurate classes.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson offered his first “Welcome Back to School” video to teachers this past week, and while it seems to say all of the “right” things, listening closely to what he does actually state and claim is a very good indication of the disconnect that he has with our state’s public school system.

Here is the link: https://youtu.be/B5Dwf–SoVs.

As he talks throughout the 3 and ½ minutes of the video, the transcript of his words are shown.

johnson video

I would encourage anyone to watch it multiple times and then consider the following observations based on what he says and what he claims. The purpose is to show that Mark Johnson does not have a firm grasp of either what the job of the state’s instructional leader entails or what is the actual terrain of public education in North Carolina outside of what he is told by those who control the General Assembly.

1. “The challenges that come with your profession…” –The challenges that good teachers face really become opportunities to teach and reach students. The problem with what Johnson says here is that the challenges that many teachers face in the profession are factors and obstacles outside of the classroom. Consider lower per-pupil expenditures, fewer resources, elimination of due-process rights, and other policies enacted by West Jones Street and passively approved by Johnson and you will see that the challenges that really come with the teaching profession in NC have their roots in Raleigh.

2. “We here in Raleigh continue to strive to put you in a position that you do best – teach.” – It seems that if such were the case, then defunding the budget of DPI by 20% over the next two years, not increasing per-pupil expenditures, eliminating professional development funds, eliminating class size caps, and threatening teacher assistant jobs would not all happen. Those very actions actually increase the work load of teachers and decrease the amount of time for planning and instruction. The only way that these could help teachers be able to teach more is to add hours to the day – not the work day, but the actual day which would require slowing down the rotation of the earth and its path around the sun.

3. “We have already eliminated tests such as the ASW’s, PISA, duplicative math tests.” – To claim that he has spearheaded the elimination of the ASW’s and the PISA is laughable.

Why? Because the ASW’s are not a test. That is the Assessment of Student Work evaluation component for teachers of subjects that are not tested by state tests. In fact, ASW’s were eliminated because of budget cuts.

I personally was on the ASW evaluation system. Right after I turned in my portfolio of year-long reflection , I received this notification:

This notification will likely come as bittersweet news to many of you. While much of your feedback indicates that the ASW process allowed many teachers to dig more deeply into their standards, engage in more reflective teaching practices, and receive the same “validation” as tested subject areas, I recognize that participating in the ASW process also pushed the boundaries of some individuals’ technological comfort zones and was a time-intensive endeavor.

 Due to budget cuts to the Department of Public Instruction, the paid component of the 2016-17 review process ended on June 23.  A small cadre of reviewers are reviewing the remaining Evidence Collections for CEU credit.  We will review as many 2016-17 Evidence Collections as possible this summer.  If we are not able to review collections at the same level as previous years, the final decision as to whether we release the 2016-17 results will be made by DPI leadership.  

At this time, there are no plans to replace the ASW process.  Teachers who formerly participated in the ASW process or locally developed plans will not have a growth measure moving forward.  Teachers who participated in the ASW process will not receive school-level growth.

Thank you for your dedication in learning and implementing the ASW process over the past 4 years. The ASW process was one of continuous improvement, driven by your feedback and rigorous expectations for yourselves and your peers.  To support you in continuing professional learning, many of the current ASW resources will remain available to you or be adapted and posted either on the ASW wikispace or specific content area wikispaces.  ASW training materials are, at their core, about excellent instructional practices in our performance-based classrooms and we want to ensure your access to these helpful materials in the future. 

Best wishes,XXXXX

What Johnson is taking credit for is his not understanding of what he is referring to and the fact that he is perfectly fine with budget cuts.

And the PISA? That’s the Program for International Student Assessment that is regarded as one of the best measures of how US students compare to their global counterparts. Only 5-6 thousand US students take the test per year. So, what Johnson is saying is that he stopped 150 students (approximately) in NC from taking a two-hour test that many in his political party use to argue their viewpoints about the deficiencies of public education.

4. The Testing Transparency Report and the ability to see what tests are required by the federal government, the state, or local. – This is Johnson taking credit for something that already exists. It’s almost like someone giving me a map book of roads in NC when I already have Google Maps installed on my smartphone.

Besides, with the emphasis that this state will be adding to each student’s performance on the ACT, it will be an interesting exercise in transparency. Consider that the state will require every high school junior to take the ACT and if he/she does not make a high enough score or have a certain GPA, then those students will have to take a remediation component their senior year on top of what his/her academic load is already.

In other words, the state will be paying the ACT for a bunch of tests that teachers have no control over making and students who do not score high enough will then have to remediated with a program that is bought by the state and has to be administered in class while the actual curriculum is being taught. Oh, and the review materials for the remediation and retaking the ACT has to be bought.

How’s that for transparency? Which leads us to…

5. “Honor the things we do in a classroom.” – Teachers do not feel honored when they are having to champion an academic endeavor that they had no voice in helping fashion in a classroom already filled with other responsibilities and watch as third parties not only make and assess those tests, but profit from tax payer money in doing so.

That does not sound very honorable.

6. The link between high schools and community colleges. The community college link to local school systems is already in place. If funding was there, then more students could take advantage of it.

7. Teachers with “their own hard work, teamwork and leadership, have increased opportunities and success for their students.” – Those innovative teachers who have with “their own hard work, teamwork and leadership, have increased opportunities and success for their students” have been doing that for a long time. Claiming that it is a victory to have discovered these things is rather empty.

Interestingly, Johnson eventually makes the point that teachers’ time needs to be honored. If that were the case, then there would be more time for teachers to collaborate and have professional development that did not take away from their classroom planning. That time to collaborate and connect is how these great innovations become shared – from teacher to teacher, not teacher to Raleigh to teacher.

8. “I wish I could visit every school and talk with every teacher.” Johnson should make himself more available to the press, advocacy groups, and NCAE.

9. “Technology has made it possible to hear directly from every person.” – Hearing directly from people is different from listening to people. And communication has not been a strong suit of the Johnson tenure. In the summer of this year, Johnson instructed DPI to halt communications to districts through a key list serv. Hard to communicate when you are unwilling to, well, communicate.

10. “We want to know what you think.” – Johnson supposedly said he was going on an extensive “listening tour” when he came into office. He should already know what we think.

11. Short questionnaires. – I invite anyone to take any of these surveys and actually believe that the issues have not already been covered and commented on by teachers. The first claims to be about the school calendar. Much has already been offered by teachers on this subject. But if teachers had such a voice in this, then Raleigh would have already made the change instead of listening to the lobbyists for tourism.

12. “I want to represent your voice in Raleigh.” If anything, Johnson has shown himself to not represent teachers and public schools, but rather GOP lawmakers like Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore. The fact that he did not stand up and fight for funds for DPI and what it does for poorer more rural areas already shows that he is not a representative of our voices in Raleigh. It shows that he is part of the machine in Raleigh.

13. “The only country to have a dream named for it.” Johnson talks a lot of the “American Dream.” And it is true that we are the only country with a national ethos of a “dream.” But it is hard to dream and think it can happen when the reality of poverty levels and need in this state take away people’s ability to pursue dreams. They are too busy trying to get by.

Simply put, this video message is a clear indication that Johnson is not in touch with what his job entitles.

That is unless his job description is to help dismantle public education.