Platitudes and Buzzwords -The State Superintendent’s Continuous Empty “Vision”

Mark Johnson’s comments at the August 1 NC State Board of Education meeting are just another example of how appearances and reality can often be polar opposites.

From the News & Observer:

State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson says he’ll work to speed up approval of teacher licenses, reduce testing and hold charter schools accountable now that he’s in undisputed control of the agency that works with North Carolina’s public schools (


Ironically, the title of this report quoted is “After agency shakeup, superintendent lays out his vision for NC’s public schools.”

The operative word here is “vision.” This “vision” that was introduced by Johnson comes nearly 21 months after Johnson was elected. Approaching the third school year that his tenure has touched, Johnson is finally laying out his “vision”? Considering the “urgency” that he often referred to at the beginning of his term, he seems a little mistaken at what the word actually means.

Remember this? On Thursday, January 5th, 2017, just days after he took office, Mark Johnson stated the following at his first State Board of Education meeting:

“Every day that we don’t take bold actions for our students is a day that our students lose. Every day that we don’t take bold actions for our teachers is a day that our teachers lose. Complacency is the antithesis of urgency, so I ask that we act with urgency and not be complacent in anything that we do. If we don’t act with urgency, we will continue to betray students and we will continue to lose teachers and have difficulty retaining them and recruiting them.”

And at a board meeting 19 months later he was quoted as saying,

“As a team we can look at the positive changes we need to make to this organization to make sure we are using all the resources that we have, and we might not have as much as we used to, but all the resources that we have in order to do the best job we can to support schools.”

So, Johnson just said that in the last nineteen months we have fewer resources now than we did when he first took office and that he is still looking for positive changes to talk about? As the NC budget experiences surpluses, DPI has been reduced, people who affected positive change let go, and budgets slashed, Johnson wants to now begin to speed up licensing for teachers, reduce testing, and hold charter schools accountable?

That’s not a rhetorical question.

If Mark Johnson wants to speed up teacher licensing, then he might want to address the fact that there aren’t even enough people in the pipeline in teacher preparation programs to fill the teaching vacancies that we have now. Hard to get people licenses if people do not want to go into teaching. The drastic reduction in teacher candidates within our universities is an indication of people not wanting to go into an occupation that has been so under attack from its own state government.

And filling those teaching vacancies with programs set up by bills like Chad Barefoot’s SB599 or members of Teach For America is not a long term solution. It’s more like a weak Band-Aid. Consider the numbers of TFA candidates are dropping and that they do not stay in the profession over 2-3 years on average.

Like Mark Johnson did when he was a TFA member.

Reduce testing? Well, Johnson would first have to grow a spine and stand up to the very people he seems to kowtow to. Remember this past school year when he touted the new school report card system? Those grades are formulated by testing scores from standardized tests and put through a third party secret set of algorithms. Under Johnson, DPI has extended its contract with SAS for EVAAS. So while Johnson may be saying that he wants to reduce testing, he actually is championing a system that wants to use extensive testing as a means of measuring schools.

And hold charter schools accountable? Then make ALL charter schools transparent in how they use money and resources. And to say that he would not be afraid to close down a charter school that was failing? Then Johnson would have closed down the two virtual charter schools in North Carolina that have done nothing but fail. Yet, this past summer they were extended four more years.

If there is a sense of urgency that needs to be honored, it is making sure that people get out and vote in November to create a North Carolina General Assembly that does not prop up someone like Johnson and seeks to support people who are ready to lead and advocate for public schools.