Speaking Out For Public Schools: NCAE’s Decision to Not Invite the State Superintendent


The decision by the North Carolina Association of Educators (the state’s largest teacher group) to not invite the current state superintendent to the annual NCAE conference was the absolutely right action to take.

Mark Jewell, NCAE’s elected president, announced this week that Mark Johnson would not be invited. Many may say that it breaks a tradition of over 48 years in which NCAE has asked the current superintendent to come speak at the conference. However, this NCAE member does not see it as NCAE breaking with tradition.

I see it as Mark Johnson breaking with tradition of not advocating for the state’s public schools.

Keung Hui’s recent report in the News & Observer from Monday 29th outlines Jewell’s explanation for not inviting Johnson to March’s convention.

From “NC teachers’ group snubs state’s school chief, calling him ‘clearly destructive’”:

The state’s largest teachers’ group is publicly snubbing state schools Superintendent Mark Johnson, whose support of private school vouchers and whose controversial comments about teacher pay have drawn complaints from some educators.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, announced Friday that Johnson was not invited to the group’s annual convention in March – breaking a 48-year tradition of asking the current superintendent to attend. The announcement came a day after Johnson publicly said the base state starting salary of $35,000 for North Carolina teachers was “good money” and “a lot of money” for people in their mid-20s, especially in rural parts North Carolina.

Jewell said the decision to not invite Johnson was made months ago due to what the group considers the superintendent’s support of policies that are “clearly destructive” to the state’s public schools. But Jewell said the pay comments “devalued” the teaching profession and caused him to want to publicly announce the non-invitation (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article197227699.html?__twitter_impression=true).

I applaud what Mark Jewell did in making that announcement, and it was the absolute right action to take because what Mark Jewell did was not only his duty as a leader in taking a stand, but he was doing exactly what he is supposed to do: advocate for public schools.

One of the ways to advocate for the public schools is identifying and confronting those elements that stand in the way of improving our public schools, even if one is in the form of a 34-year-old educational neophyte who has the title of the State Superintendent of Public Schools.

Not only is Mark Johnson the state superintendent, but he is:

  • An official of the state elected by the public.
  • Leader the state’s public school system.
  • The head of the Department of Public
  • Controller public
  • Overseer of taxpayer money that comes from the public.

But that has egregiously morphed into something altogether different –something like:

  • The State Superintendent of the Privatization of Public Instruction.
  • An official of the state elected by the public but given powers by a General Assembly in a secret special session.
  • Enabler of vouchers and unregulated charter schools.
  • The puppet of the NCGA in weakening the Department of Public Instruction.
  • Controller public information but remain private about it.
  • Overseer taxpayer money that comes from the public but helps it get siphoned away from public schools.

Hui reports:

“When the $35,000 comment came out, I just had to speak out,” Jewell said in an interview Monday. “I couldn’t have someone who speaks out on so many issues that we oppose.”

Jewell did speak out: loudly and clearly.

Johnson rarely speaks out for public schools. Not during the class size chaos. Not about unregulated charter growth. Not about vouchers. Not about the principal pay plan. Not about per pupil expenditures.

When Johnson does speak he polarizes and hides behind the shiny, glittering generalities of baseless reforms like “school choice.”

Further in Hui’s column, Johnson is quoted as saying,

“Unfortunately, there are some who still want to play politics with the facts. I am disappointed but not surprised this group wants to shut out diversity of ideas on how we improve our schools.”

Actually, no one in education plays politics more than Johnson. He is totally enabled by politicians.

And it’s interesting that Johnson use the word “diversity” in defense of his inaction because he literally was just speaking out on behalf of “school choice” and charter school advocates at a rally last week in Raleigh. It would be interesting to hear Johnson’s inexpert opinion on a recent study by UCLA and UNCC on charter school and segregation just released entitled “Charters as a Driver of Resegregation” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EMBARGOED-Charters-as-a-Driver-of-Resegregation-012518-final_v2b.pdf).

Furthermore, a vast majority of parents and students choose to attend traditional public schools.

Johnson is not speaking out for them.

Mark Jewell is.