Mark Johnson’s “Mad as Hell!” – The State Superintendent’s Feigned Twisted Sister Moment

Mark Johnson is “mad as hell” and “he’s not gonna test it anymore!” At least that is what he says in his latest op-ed posted by entitled “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna test it anymore!”


Two years into an enabled term as the least qualified state superintendent in NC’s history and Mark Johnson is finally “mad as hell?”

Two years as a puppet for Phil Berger and Tim Moore with their ALEC-styled reform efforts and Mark Johnson is now “mad as hell?”

Is this the same “mad as hell” Mark Johnson who skipped town when over 20,000 “mad as hell” public educators and supporters literally came to his town last May and let him and other lawmakers know that they weren’t “gonna take it anymore?”

Is this the same “mad as hell” Mark Johnson who only spent two school years as an educator to help change the landscape of public education?

Is this the same “mad as hell” Mark Johnson who never finished even one term as a local school board member before running for the highest public school office in the state?

Is this the same “mad as hell” Mark Johnson who after hearing the results of a million-dollar audit of DPI that DPI was actually underfunded but still let go of many DPI veteran employees in needed positions and then did a reorganization of DPI and placed proponents of privatization in leadership positions?

Is this the same “mad as hell” Mark Johnson who never showed any “mad as hell” anger toward the governing body that was not fully funding public schools in years of “economic prosperity” for the state.

Here’s a man who was literally given more powers as a state superintendent by a veto-proof majority in both branches of the NCGA, who had the legislative backing of the very bodies that could have spearheaded any efforts to reduce testing, who actually had a state school board of education controlled by his own political party, and now after the midterm elections has decided he is “mad as hell.”

How convenient.

Everyone should read this op-ed and then measure it against the actions and lack of actions attributed to a man who said when he took office that his mission was a matter of “urgency” and action.

He starts:

“As state superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools, I often hear from other leaders that standardized tests help hold students, teachers, and schools accountable. Accountability is important for our schools but also for our leaders. The testing system that the education-industrial complex built over the past decade forces our students and teachers to endure too many high-stakes tests layered on by federal, state, and local authorities.”

Ironic that much of this past decade on the state level has been dictated by the very people whose policies Mark Johnson seems to want to champion.

He continues:

“Since being elected superintendent, I have worked hard to give voice to those who have the most to gain and lose in our K-12 schools. Breaking new ground for the state education agency, we emailed parents directly a few months ago, asking them what they thought of standardized testing. More than 42,000 responded, and 78 percent told us that their child takes too many tests.


Our classroom educators agree. At the end of last school year, we asked teachers what they thought of standardized testing. More than 25,000 of them took the time to respond, and 76 percent said that North Carolina’s students are tested too much. I agree as well — as both an education leader and as a parent of a child in our public schools.”

It took two years for him to realize that we have too many tests? Did he really need questionnaires to ascertain that teachers and parents overwhelmingly want to reduce testing? Did he not run on this platform?

And it is rather funny that he would rather listen to people through a questionnaire rather than meeting large groups of teachers in person. Teachers have gotten together many times for discussions that he easily could have come to.

He adds:

“Clearly, there is too much testing. But parents, educators, community leaders, and education leaders also agree that we do need to strategically monitor progress. Otherwise, how can parents be assured their children are learning? How will teachers know what their students need? How will employers know that North Carolina high school diplomas mean students are ready for their next steps?”

Well, when the NCGA starts actually listening to teacher voices and even allows educators to be at the table of shaping education improvements, then this statement is nothing more than empty partisan spin.

“This is not a new dilemma. In fact, we have seen two decades of swings back and forth since the accountability movement went nationwide with the No Child Left Behind Act. It’s an old problem, but fortunately, there is a new solution to it.”

And yet the brother of the man who instituted the use of NCLB was Johnson’s guest over the summer (June of 2018) to teach even more ideas on how to “reform” education.

Later Johnson says:

“No child is standard. There is no “average” student. We are all unique individuals with different strengths. Yet, the education system relies on standardized tests that are designed based on what the “average” student should know.”

He finally figured that out? Any teacher could have told him that.

“To be sure, we must measure our students’ progress, but we can do that with fewer and better tests, and especially by using technology to replace outdated testing methods.

New, personalized learning technology allows teachers to get the information they need about students’ progress without high-stakes testing. Especially in the early grades, progress checks can feel like a normal, engaging lesson instead of an examination. In many cases, students won’t even know we are checking in on their progress.”

And he bought a lot of iPads and is now showing up on PowerSchool as teachers log in.

“We are working with local superintendents and state leaders to reform the system of over-testing that the education industry created. In doing so, we can get back the time for teachers to do what they entered the profession to do: teach.”

If he wants to really change our relationship with the education industry, then Mark Johnson should start by not letting Pearson have so much sway in North Carolina and not allowing the ACT to have so much power over measuring student achievement.

And Johnson’s op-ed is made even more intentionally vague with a list.

“Some of the ways we are attacking the problem of over-testing this year are:

  • Reducing the number of questions on tests
  • Reducing the time students must sit for tests
  • Changing testing policies to reduce stress at schools around testing time
  • Working with local leaders to reduce the number of tests
  • Pushing to eliminate tests not required by Washington, D.C.
  • Giving students other ways to show progress if they have a bad test day
  • Using the appropriate amount of technology as a tool for students and teachers to personalize learning and eliminate tests”

If one really looked at that list for what it says, then it shows the real disconnect Johnson has. Reducing the number of questions on tests now makes every question of a standardized test mean more in the “measure of a student.” Reducing the time students must sit for a test now makes those testing times even more stressful because less time is being used to “measure” the student.

Allowing students to leave tests after they finish as others are still working would create a rather confusing and noisy campus during exams. It would be a logistical nightmare and the safety concerns would be numerous. Just go to a large school and see how much timing and having personnel in the right places are essential to safety.

Has Johnson not had two years to push for eliminating tests not required by D.C.? Is he willing to eliminate the Read to Achieve failed initiative that actually adds to testing in the elementary grades?

If Johnson says that there should be other ways to measure progress, is he willing to fight for changing the way that school performance grades are used and measured to allow for schools to show student achievement? Actually, if we are going to “personalize” education, then each student’s growth and achievement should be measured individually. School performance grades are standardized. Johnson actually gives the argument to eliminate them.

And what technology is he talking about?

He ends with:

“We have already taken action on many of these points, and others are now in progress. See for more information.”

We can find more information on his personal site. Not the DPI site. A personal .com site that looks like a campaign website.

“Some of the ways we are transforming our education system so that it better supports students and educators are revolutionary. Some are common sense. All of them require us to hold the education-industrial complex at least as accountable as we hold students and educators. We are doing that, and the future is bright for North Carolina’s public schools.”

Revolutionary? Common sense? Holding the education-industrial complex accountable?

It’s none of those things.

That’s why it makes me “mad as hell.”


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