A Response to Mark Johnson’s Latest Missive – With Help From Ricky Bobby

Dear Supt. Johnson,

I read with great interest your recent op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina Public Schools: Accelerating into 2018” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/20/north-carolina-public-schools-accelerating-2018/).

And after reading your long extended comparison between the state’s school system and a fine-tuned race car, I found myself suffocating from the exhaust.

Why? Because what you said in that op-ed is a perfect example of how you are more concerned with a narrow-minded view of public education than actually investigating what really makes public education thrive.

In the first paragraph you state,

“Before race drivers start a race, teams fine-tune cars to ensure ultimate performance. At your N.C. Department of Public Instruction, my team and I have been inspecting and calibrating while simultaneously moving forward at a hundred miles per hour. We cannot waste another moment in making our education system better equipped to support educators, parents and students in your communities.”

That sense of urgency with which you defined your brief tenure may translate well inside a small circular course like a NASCAR track, but North Carolina is more vast with differing terrains and different roads.

It has been over a year since you were elected as the state superintendent, and if someone were to try and create a list of your accomplishments from your first calendar year as the leader of the state’s public school system, it would be hard not to see that the actions you have taken are in direct contrast to your campaign “promises.”

  1. 1. You said that you conducted a “listening tour” around the state to gather ideas and to help craft innovations in classroom teaching. You said at one time that you would present those findings when that tour was over in the summer.

But we have not really heard anything except some glittering generalities.

  1. You said that you would decrease the amount of standardized testing that we would subject students to, but this past week you announced that you want to “have proficiency indicators for kindergartners” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/n-c-kindergartners-will-soon-provide-more-data-for-parents/article_29c278bf-e00b-5c6a-8788-06dbca68de49.html).

That sounds like more testing to me.

  1. 3. In your op-ed, you celebrate the “revamped” NC School Report Card website and even went around the state to hand out certificates to school representatives who received high school performance grades. You said that people wanted more transparency.

But did you address the fact that the way the school performance grades will be calculated in the near future with a smaller grading scale and the removal of some indicators like Biology I scores will actually assure that more schools will receive failing grades? And did you acknowledge the fact that those new report cards actually show how much our state depends on SAS’s hidden algorithms to measure school success?

  1. 4. You have called for an audit of the Department of Public Education.

Yet your lack of planning and foresight will make it an intentionally rushed process that will not yield positive results. And if you are calling for an audit, will you allow it to highlight the fact that you are using taxpayer money to hire people to do tasks that are already being fulfilled within DPI? Will that audit state how much money you were given to hire people only loyal to you and to cover the legal bills of the current lawsuit when the state board has to use its own budget to defend its constitutional right?

  1. In this op-ed, you criticized the presence of unspent money in the Read to Achieve program by previous administrations.

Yet you never investigated how that money was earmarked and who was responsible for that. You even hired as your Chief Budget Advisor someone who is tied to that debacle (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/12/06/mark-johnson-accused-misleading-public-regarding-literacy-program-spending/).

  1. You did not even talk about the class size mandate debacle that is literally hurting every school district with our elementary schools facing a decision to cut “specials.” Yet you seem to celebrate the arts and music in our public schools, especially the elementary schools.


What have you done to help insure that the “specials” stay in our schools with a General Assembly ramming an unfunded class size mandate that threatens almost every local budget.

  1. Furthermore, you seem rather complicit with the legislature cutting the budget for DPI while you are actually taking taxpayer money to fight the state school board over the power grab that the NCGA did in a special session that gives you control over elements of the school system that the voting public did not actually elect you to have.

In fact, when you mentioned “hyper-partisan era of disagreement,” it metaphorically made that race car in the analogy backfire because you yourself and the state board of education are stuck in a lawsuit that is about to be judged AND YOU ARE OF THE SAME POLITICAL PARTY!

This is not accelerating into the new year. In fact, it is rather confining our students within a small venue forcing them to always turn in the same direction.

But here is the biggest disconnect with your analogy and perhaps the most telling feature of your op-ed. You state,

“While we conduct this important fine-tuning, we know that the best-running car won’t win a race if you drive the wrong way. Education efforts with outdated priorities will take us the wrong direction, so we are moving North Carolina public schools away from a one-size-fits-all approach. That outdated strategy does not work, and with technological advances, we no longer have to pretend it does. At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.”

While you talk about the “fine-tuning” of a car and the need for different tracks for different people it is tellingly ironic that you use an analogy that shows people “driving” on the same track in competition with each other. And your narrow-minded comparison seems only to focus on the car itself when the very people you seem to only answer to in the NC General Assembly should be helping more to provide fuel and make sure the track is safe to travel upon. That means addressing economic gaps, poverty, hunger, and investment in public education.

They also need to make sure that a pit crew is there to help.

Besides with everything that is taking place, it seems that we need more all-terrain vehicles that can go anywhere.

Even Ricky Bobby knows that.

ricky bobby