“Emptiness” – Concerning the State Superintendent’s Words on School Performance Grades

It is usually a good feeling that accompanies a “congratulatory” note from someone in a position of authority who recognizes hard work and accomplishment, especially in a field that constantly measures performance in such an arbitrary fashion.

School performance grades were released by DPI this week and quick to point out any “successes” that could be found in those grades and the reports that accompanied them was Mark Johnson, state superintendent.

This is what he said in his press conference as reported by Alex Granados of EdNC.org,

It’s great news that the top-line trends are in the right direction. We can all be proud, for instance, that most schools meet or exceed growth. But deeper into the data, the results show stubborn concerns that call out for innovative approaches. It is with innovation and personalized learning that we can transform incremental progress into generalized success” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/08/highs-lows-school-performance-grades/).

And this was part of a message that Johnson released as an all-inclusive email to educators in the state concerning the school performance grades:

No one can deny the correlation to poverty in the struggles those schools face in meeting growth. I saw it myself when I taught in a school that served students from an economically challenged neighborhood. Meeting the demands of growth and proficiency is very difficult when students come into classrooms already behind where we need them to be and, worse, facing serious struggles outside of school.

Importantly, you will see efforts from my office to emphasize methods and support that help you improve students’ growth more in the time you have them in your classroom and, critically, an increased emphasis on empowering parents and caretakers to help make sure their children are ready for kindergarten. If students come in ready for kindergarten, we know you will make sure they grow and are ready for 3rd grade, 6th grade, 9th grade, graduation, and success after school.”

I agree with what the superintendent says – to a certain extent.

But I must also point out that what he says in these messages seems to be in direct contradiction to his actions as the leader of pour public schools.

Johnson refers to “economically challenged” communities and the “correlation to poverty in the struggles” schools “face in meeting growth.” And it is true that looking at school performance grades across the state is like looking at a report on how poverty affects children in academic endeavors.

So why has Johnson not spoken up about poverty in our schools? Why did he not fight for more money and resources to be invested on not just a per-pupil basis, but also for the Department of Public Instruction that he heads which also underwrites a lot of the teacher development and initiatives that especially help impoverished school districts?

Did he speak up to the General Assembly to consider expanding Medicaid for people who may be sending students to these “economically challenged neighborhood” schools?

Did he speak up for the students affected by the rescinding of DACA who attend our schools – maybe even the one that he “taught in” during a teaching career that lasted less than two calendar years?

Johnson also mentions that we “will see efforts from my office to emphasize methods and support” to “improve students’ growth.” Did he not say at the beginning of this calendar year (rather, last school year) that he was going on a “listening tour” to report back to us in the summer ideas and methods we could use. Ironically, that tour is called the “NC Education and Innovation Tour.”

I am waiting for those innovations which probably will be teacher driven initiatives that have been in pace and could thrive more if more resources were devoted to them, but take a look at the budget.

Innovation usually means that there is some sort of investment involved. However, the words “investment” and “public schools” do not collide in the minds of the current NC General Assembly, and Johnson has shown himself to be nothing but a rubber stamp for the likes of Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore.

Additionally, the summer is over and for part of that summer Johnson directed DPI to not use widely used list serve options as a means to communicate to districts. But as soon as the school performance grades were released, he was quick to “communicate” to all of the districts about shared success and use the all-inclusive personal pronoun “we” in the process.

In reality, if any communication should be happening, Mark Johnson should show the resolve of a public school educator and have a “teacher/parent” conference with the General Assembly and explain to them what they could do to “empower schools and communities to help make sure our children are ready to learn.”

Dr. Atkinson sure would have, and even if the NC General Assembly did not comply, teachers and schools would know that their state superintendent was working for them.

Not working for the powers that be.

Like someone we know.

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