The Silence of the NC State Superintendent on Public Schools And a Fear of Tough Questions


I don’t get to choose my students. Whoever walks into my classroom and is on the roll I receive from the school system will get the best instruction that I can offer.

And in those classes, I do not write a script. Students are always allowed to ask questions, especially tough ones. If I know answers, then good. If I can lead them to answers, then great. If I do not know the answer, then I tell them and we search for answers together.

The tougher the question, the better. It means higher order thinking is going on. It also makes me as a teacher keep striving to learn and be more prepared. It makes me accountable and “accountable” is a word that some in Raleigh use in talking about others rather than reflecting on themselves.

In fact, I should never shy away from an inquisitive student. Nor should any public official shy away from an opportunity to offer answers, clarification, and/or insight from anyone who is affected by his/her actions or lack of actions.

When State Superintendent Mark Johnson first took office over a year ago, he embarked on what he termed as a “listening tour” as he vowed to listen directly from teachers, parents, community leaders, and other stake holders in North Carolina.

But has Mark Johnson done any speaking about what he has heard? Has he come back to teachers, parents, community leaders, and other stake holders in North Carolina and shared those observations in an open forum where he could be asked pointed and direct questions?

He certainly had a chance this week.

Today, it was learned that Johnson declined an offer by Capital Tonight to debate NCAE President Mark Jewell on educator pay. Johnson turned down a chance to talk with an important public school advocate and offer explanation on his nebulous views on education.

He was not going to have any part of that. Maybe it was because of a scheduling conflict, but he could have offered an alternate date.

I believe it’s because it is a debate. He could not script all of his words and he would be forced to answer tough questions.

In the times that I have been able to glean any information from Mark Johnson about his stance on the many issues we public educators are facing now, it is from a prepared text carefully placed in chosen media.

And there has been nothing from Johnson about the class size mandate, the principal pay plan, or reductions in funding.

Interviews have been given to specific outlets. Video addresses are sent out after careful production. Op-eds are placed throughout the state without a chance for people to actively rebut. And when challenged in meetings like the state board meetings this past year, he remains vague or silent.

For a man who spends a lot of time talking about his teaching experience, Johnson should remember that teachers answer tough questions from really smart students about intricate subjects on a daily basis. Even the teachers who make 35K a year.

But the elected state superintendent who makes over 120K a year will not come on television and actively debate an educator concerning his own words about teacher pay.

Maybe it is a good thing he is not in the classroom any longer. There may be too many hard questions to answer.


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