“Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” -A James Brown Dedication to the State Superintendent’s Latest Message

“Like a dull knife
Just isn’t cutting
Just talking loud
Then saying nothing. 

– “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” – James Brown, 1970

james brown

True to form, teachers received a “back to school” pep talk from Mark Johnson that leans more heavily on air than on substance.

The text of it is below.

Educators:
Welcome back to another school year. I hope you had a great summer. I have seen from recent visits how excited you are to get classes started.
Your excitement is infectious. Thank you for everything you do for our students and your service to our state. North Carolina is fortunate to have you.
I have been a student, a teacher, a local school board member, and now I have the honor and privilege of serving as State Superintendent. But everything becomes different for me this school year. In just a week, I become a parent of a child in our public schools when I drop my daughter off to start kindergarten.
At DPI, we wake up every day focused on making sure we better support you. I know that the best way to enhance my daughter’s education, and that of all our students, is more support, flexibility, and innovation for our educators.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to fill out the surveys we send. Your feedback is guiding my work.
This year, we will have updates for you on our progress to reduce high-stakes testing, improve school safety, highlight and encourage all career pathways for students, and recruit, retain, and reward our educators. I also want to share some highlights from last school year.
  • Support
    I’m proud that we secured funding for grants to help hire additional School Resources Officers across the state and to enhance mental health resources in schools and communities. In addition, we obtained $240 million in state lottery funds for low-wealth, rural counties to build brand new school facilities. We also got more money out of the state education agency and into the classrooms where it belongs.
  • Flexibility
    As you may have heard, the Rowan-Salisbury School District will now have flexibility in testing, school calendar, budget allotments, educator pay, and more. And with success there, this model can be scaled across the state to give more decision-making power to local leaders and teachers.
  • Innovation
    We are changing DPI policies to reduce time spent testing – and give you back time to do what you entered the profession to do: teach. We awarded more than $1.2 million in Coding and Mobile App Grants, and we developed a new statewide Computer Science Plan to connect students more than 18,000 open jobs in the computer science field. We also supported Career Pathways for all students with the Future Ready Students legislation for local communities to connect workforce needs with schools.
This school year, I am excited about continuing the conversation about how best to transform our public schools for parents, educators, and students. Through school visits, the NC Educators Perspective Surveys, and the work of the staff at DPI, we will continue to gather your thoughts and ideas about what we can do to serve you better.
Have a great school year. We appreciate everything you do for all of North Carolina’s students.
Sincerely,

One could play a “Buzzword Bingo” game with this letter, but the “highlights” that Johnson wants to talk about really need some more light shed upon them.

I’m proud that we secured funding for grants to help hire additional School Resources Officers across the state and to enhance mental health resources in schools and communities.” – What about more school nurses? What about more teachers who would help to increase the opportunities to help students and closely work with each an very one of them?

In addition, we obtained $240 million in state lottery funds for low-wealth, rural counties to build brand new school facilities.” Did Johnson ever fight for the $1.9 billion school bond that would have helped build so much more in this state that could have been on a ballot that will possibly have eight amendments on it – none of which help schools?

“We also got more money out of the state education agency and into the classrooms where it belongs.” You mean those iPads?

“As you may have heard, the Rowan-Salisbury School District will now have flexibility in testing, school calendar, budget allotments, educator pay, and more.” Actually it looks a hell of a lot more like a “charter district.”

We are changing DPI policies to reduce time spent testing – and give you back time to do what you entered the profession to do: teach. ” Johnson isn’t just changing DPI policies; he’s gutting it with the help of partisan puppet masters in the NCGA. And if Johnson is so into reducing testing, then he needs to take a stand against the overuse of the ACT in schools and the school report cards that do nothing more than champion the testing culture here in NC.

We awarded more than $1.2 million in Coding and Mobile App Grants, and we developed a new statewide Computer Science Plan to connect students more than 18,000 open jobs in the computer science field.” How about fighting for that $700 million plus pool of money that was supposed to be given to local systems in a 2008 court decision that said monies from civic fines and penalties would go to public schools? That money was to go to technology funds for each LEA. $700+ million dollars is a lot more than $1.2 million. A lot more.

Nice emails and pep talks may have the appearance of good intentions, but these words lack substance.

And merit.

And vision.

They just have volume.

Back to James Brown’s song from 1970. Below is the first verse:

“You can’t tell me
How to run my life down
You can’t tell me
How to keep my business sound
You can’t tell me
What I’m doing wrong
When you keep driving and
Singing that same old money song
You can’t tell me
Which way to go
Because three times seven
And then some more
You can’t tell me, hey”

It’s still ironic that a man who spent less time in teacher preparation and actual classroom experience can tell so many veterans “how to keep their business sound.”

And with recent budget cuts and suddenly found “funds” for iPads and $200 checks, it really is hard for a teacher in NC to look at Johnson’s words and not think, “You can’t tell me what I’m doing wrong when you keep driving and singing that same old money song.”

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