NC’s Use of an Erroneous School Performance Grading System to Fuel “School Choice”

From Public Schools First NC (

Budget fact

From the recent Public School Forum of North Carolina’s report on top ten issues in NC education:


From Lindsay Mahaffey, Wake County Board of Education – District 8:

16 states

If NC is the only state that puts more emphasis on proficiency than growth and counts proficiency for 80% for a school performance grade, then NC weighs proficiency at least 30% more than the next ranking state.

If one thing is for certain, North Carolina’s school performance grades are a confirmation that student poverty levels have so much to do with how schools perform.

The people who made the decision to institute and maintain the school performance grading system formula and still expand vouchers and rapid charter school growth ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFICIENCY AND GROWTH. IT HELPS TO VALIDATE THEIR WANT OF MORE “REFORMS.”

Interestingly enough, in the school year 2019-2020, the school performance grade scale will shift from a fifteen-point scale to a ten-point scale. Do you know what that means?


There will be more failing schools. This comes from a legislative body that endorsed the state board a couple of school years ago to institute a ten-point scale for all high school grading systems to help ensure higher graduation rates, but now shrinks scales for those schools’ performance grades.

With policies that still hurt the working poor and those in poverty (which in NC affects over 20% of students) and the refusal to expand Medicaid and the other policies that hurt poorer regions, it is almost certain that poverty will have as much if not a bigger role in school performance grades in the near future.

Guess what else is happening in 2019-2010? Voucher expansion!

SECTION 6.6.(b) G.S. 115C-562.8(b) reads as rewritten: “(b) The General Assembly finds that, due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students, it is imperative that the State provide an increase of funds of at least ten million dollars ($10,000,000) each fiscal year for 10 years to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve. Therefore, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the following amounts for each fiscal year to be used for the purposes set forth in this section:
Fiscal Year Appropriation

2017-2018: $44,840,000
2018-2019: $54,840,000
2019-2020: $64,840,000
2020-2021: $74,840,000
2021-2022: $84,840,000
2022-2023: $94,840,000
2023-2024: $104,840,000
2024-2025: $114,840,000
2025-2026: $124,840,000
2026-2027: $134,840,000

For the 2027-2028 fiscal year and each fiscal year thereafter, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the sum of one hundred forty-four million eight hundred forty Page 14 Senate Bill 257-Ratified thousand dollars ($144,840,000) to be used for the purposes set forth in this section. When developing the base budget, as defined by G.S. 143C-1-1, for each fiscal year specified in this subsection, the Director of the Budget shall include the appropriated amount specified in this subsection for that fiscal year.”

Read that first line again: “due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students.”

That “critical need” has been created in part by making sure that many schools look bad – i.e., school performance grades. With a shrinking scale, more schools will “fail” and most of those schools will have higher levels of poverty in their student populations.

Those are exactly the students who will be targeted for expanding vouchers, because the Opportunity Grants are supposed to help “low-income” students and newer charter schools are being create simply to provide “choice.”

They know damn well the difference between proficiency and growth – the less proficient public schools look in the eyes of the public through a lens that the NC General Assembly prescribes, the more growth for “reforms.”

Public School Forum Of NC Releases The Top 10 Educational Issues of 2018 & Challenges The NCGA To Do More for Public Schools

A heart-felt gratitude should be extended to the Public School Forum of North Carolina for their release of the Top 10 Educational Issues of 2018 report.


For any public school advocate, it is a must-read. For any lawmaker in North Carolina, it is a must-read. For any taxpayer in North Carolina, it is a must-read.

In a press release, Keith Poston, the President & Executive Director of PSFNC, stated,

“The erosion of North Carolina’s commitment to public schools for from the public good is clear. The emphasis on choice and competition has led us astray from the intended purpose of public schools.”

And the fact that it was released during National School Choice Week was a nice added touch whether it was intended or not.



It’s School Choice Week in NC – Why This Teacher Who Lives With A “Special -Needs” Child Will Not Apply For An Educational Savings Account in North Carolina

I am the proud parent of  two children. One is a highly intelligent and academically driven young lady who looks like her mother. The other one is what some in the educational field might call “special.”

He looks like his mother as well.

Specifically, that child has Down Syndrome and is also on the autism spectrum and needs modifications in school that help him to learn optimally.

Some may say that I am the parent of a Special-Ed, DS – ASD child.

I rather think of being a parent of a child named Malcolm who happens to have Down Syndrome and autism and an IEP.

And both my kids are special to me.

I also teach high school coming into contact with as many different personalities and learning styles that can possibly be contained in overcrowded classrooms with overarching standards.

In my twenty-year-plus  career, nothing has made me more attuned and more aware of the spectrum that exists in all classrooms for learning than being a parent of a child who happens to have special needs and requires modification in school.

That includes:

  • The need to keep engaging and reengaging students.
  • The need to have individual tie with students to focus on individual work.
  • The need to allow students to engage with each other collaboratively.
  • The need to allow students to be exposed to various options for learning.
  • The need to expose students to other students’ methods.
  • The need for sufficient resources and space.
  • The need to revisit parts of the curriculum to ensure mastery.
  • The need for unstructured time spent in curious endeavors.
  • The need to offer some choices in what is pursued as far as learning is concerned.
  • The need for students to be exposed to all subject areas as each student is intelligent is multiple ways.
  • The need for students to have self-guided learning.
  • And the list goes on and on.

And in my career, not many things have given me insight to how much schools in North Carolina have been hampered by under-funding and ill-gotten policies in allotment for teachers as going through an IEP process.

Remember that an IEP is a legally binding document. As a parent, I want to do everything for my child to help ensure his chances at success. As a teacher, I would want to be able to offer anything that could help a student. I see both sides. In an IEP meeting for my son, I am a parent. But as a teacher, I can reflect on how teachers and schools look at IEP’s.

The last IEP meeting we had for Malcolm was a great example of simple collaboration. The teachers in the room wanted what was best for Malcolm. The specialists in the room wanted was was best for Malcolm. The parents felt like they were listened to.

The people made it work. But imagine if there were more resources and time at their disposal. And does this happen at all schools?

There is something available to parents like me and my wife for students like Malcolm. It’s called the Personal Education Savings Account. It allows for a maximum of $9,000 of taxpayer money to be used on educational services that parents or guardians deem necessary. From (


We would qualify.  But we will not apply for it, and we would never criticize a family for using one. There truly are needs that require certain measures.

But there are a few reasons why we would not apply.

The first is that like many other endeavors in the reform minded views of lawmakers, the NC ESA is highly unregulated. It is crafted much like Arizona’s program and that one has been highly abused because it is not regulated. Instances of using funds for non-educational purchases were not uncommon.

Also, if you look at the requirements, using the ESA “releases the school district from all obligations to educate the student.” That can be interpreted in a few different ways, but ultimately it absolves the school system from being responsible for the services it would have already provided if the ESA was not used. An IEP would cover it, if that IEP was constructed so.

Furthermore, it would seem like taking money away from other students in a state where per-pupil expenditure still rates in the bottom rungs in the country.

If 10% of the state’s student population  is eligible for an ESA, and each of those ESA’s can go up to $9,000 per student, it makes one wonder why the state would not consider simply going ahead and adding that amount of money to the very public school that the student with special needs already attends.

In fact, it would be great if we as a family could apply for the ESA and simply give it to Malcolm’s public school.

But Raleigh made sure that was not the way it worked.

Major Announcements for Our Public School System But Only For a Private Audience: Mark Johnson’s February 19th Gathering

This invitation went to people throughout the state yesterday from the Office of the State Superintendent. It is for a dinner and a program.


As a public educator and a taxpayer, I did not receive my own invitation. And it makes the point that “NO TAX DOLLARS WILL BE USED FOR THIS EVENT.”

While February 19th is not on a weekend (it is a Tuesday), being able to reserve the Raleigh Convention Center Downtown in the state’s capitol requires some pull. That probably means that the money is coming from donations or strong outside interests.

And NC has wealthy interest groups with a vested “interest” in our public schools.

Remember when Jeb Bush came to town last June? He made a guest appearance with Mark Johnson at a Q&A session attempting to highlight positively spun educational reforms in North Carolina.

Alex Granados of reported on it in “New education organization brings Jeb Bush to town.” He opens,

Grow Great NC, Inc., a new group focused on education reform, kicked off its first official day as an organization yesterday by bringing former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush to town. Bush took part in a question and answer session with state Superintendent Mark Johnson at the City Club in downtown Raleigh, and spent much of the time highlighting his state’s educational achievements and congratulating North Carolina leaders on taking Florida’s lead. 

Not much has been heard from Grow Great NC, Inc., but that does not mean it is not working behind the scenes.

BEST NC has held various legislative “gatherings,” the most notable in recent memory was when it brought Michelle Rhee two years ago to NC in January of 2017 in which select invitees were able to hear about Rhee’s failed reform initiatives.

The featured speaker at this particular “Innovation and  Leadership Dinner & Program” is Kelly King, the CEO of BB&T.

It should be noted that Kelly also a board member of BEST NC.

But what is probably the most eye-opening part of this “invitation” is that it will be  “INCLUDING MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENTS FOR OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM.”

So a public official for the state is using his office’s power to have a private gathering with a private audience paid for by private money highlighted with a keynote address by a board member of a group that wants to “reform” public education  but remains fairly private about it in order to announce what will happen with public education?

Of course. It is Mark Johnson we are talking about. No wonder it won’t be a public announcement.

And I have yet to hear about a teacher receiving such an invite.

ACTUALLY, I have received verification that some teachers have received invites. They are teachers with the BEST NC FIT  program



“Racism” and “Segregation” Are Buzzwords Of Opponents of School Choice? According to PEFNC They Are.

Today the John Locke Foundation hosted a talk by Mike Long the new president of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC). It was a kickoff to School Choice Week here in NC and around the country.


PEFNC under its first leader, Darrell Allison, helped to craft and lobby for vouchers and expansion of charter schools during the years of the veto-proof GOP majority in the NCGA.

There is no empirical evidence that vouchers are working well in NC. And evidence shows that charter school growth in NC has also led to less diverse student bodies.

Justin Parmenter in his latest piece highlights,

“While charter schools in some states have been used successfully to improve academic performance for low-income students, in North Carolina they’ve been used predominantly as a vehicle for affluent white folks to opt out of traditional public schools.  Trends of racial and economic segregation that were already worrisome in public schools before the cap was lifted have deepened in our charter schools. Now more than two thirds of our charter schools are either 80%+ white or 80%+ students of color.  Charter schools are not required to provide transportation or free/reduced-price meals, effectively preventing families that require those services from having access to the best schools.”

That study he refers to in the above paragraph was conducted by three Duke University researchers for the CALDER CENTER. It is worth the read.

And on this day that we as a country celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Mike Long makes an interesting statement.


And it has not been well received by many public school advocates or even outlets for debate.


Saying that it is “shocking that on #MLK Day of all days the @PEFNC leader would so flippantly dismiss real issues like segregation and racism as buzzwords” is an understatement.




Over Halfway Into Mark Johnson’s Term – An Empty List of Accomplishments

“Today is Jan. 5, 2017. There will never be another Jan. 5, 2017 ever again. No matter how we use this day, if we make the most of it, if we waste it, it’s gone. Every day we don’t take bold actions for our students is a day we lose. Every day we don’t take bold actions for our teachers, is a day they lose.” – Mark Johnson

On that day a tad over two years ago, Mark Johnson spoke of “urgency.” He spoke of “change.”

And remember that the time he has been in Raleigh is longer then his actual time in a classroom as an educator. It is longer than his time as a local school board member.

On this very day, Mark Johnson is closer to the end of his first (and hopefully only) term than he is to the beginning of it and it might be worth maybe looking at a list of those “bold actions he has taken for our teachers.”

Actually there are none. But there is a long list of actions (or lack of) that have more than represented his time in the state superintendent’s office.

  1. Johnson said that he conducted a “listening tour” around the state to gather ideas and to help craft innovations in classroom teaching. He said at one time that he would present those findings when that tour was over in the first summer. But North Carolinians have not really heard anything except some glittering generalities.
  1. Johnson said that he would decrease the amount of standardized testing that NC would subject students. But nothing has really happened except announcements without plans.
  1. Johnson celebrated the “revamped” NC School Report Card website and further entrenched our state into a relationship with SAS and its secret algorithms. Furthermore, he made sure that a system that actually shows how poverty affects school achievement is more entrenched in NC.
  2. Johnson called for an audit of the Department of Public Education. And that million dollar audit to find wasteful spending actually showed that DPI was underfunded. So…
  3. Johnson did a reorganization of DPI and replaced high ranking officials with loyalists from the charter industry and made them only answer to him and not the State Board of Education.
  4. Johnson’s reorganization came after he won an empty lawsuit against the state board over having more powers over the DPI budget. That lawsuit lasted until the second summer of his term.
  5.  Johnson seemed rather complicit with the legislature cutting the budget for DPI while he was actually taking taxpayer money to fight the state school board over the power grab that the NCGA did in a special session that gave him control over elements of the school system that the voting public did not actually elect him to have.
  6. Johnson rallied for school choice advocates and never rallied with public school teachers. In fact, on May 16th, he left town.
  7. Johnson had such an acrimonious relationship with the state board that three of them resigned their posts before the expiration of their terms so a governor from the other political party could appoint members to oppose the agenda of the people enabling Johnson.
  8. Johnson bought 6 million dollars worth of iPads for some teachers. They never requested them. And the money came from where?
  9. Johnson supported both the extensions and renewed investment of two failed initiatives: Read to Achieve and the NC Virtual Charter Schools.
  10. Johnson championed the Innovative School District which to date has one school. One.
  11. Johnson has set up a personal website to act like a website for information about his job and initiative, but really looks more like a campaign website. And he used a hurricane as the reason for doing it.
  12. Johnson has used questionnaires and surveys to literally gather information that was already known. In fact, just this past week, he told us that teachers and parents do not like all of this testing.
  13. Johnson hosted Jeb Bush this past summer. Jeb Bush is a leading privatization champion of the public school systemics in the nation.
  14. Johnson said he would eat doughnuts and run a mile or two for us. Doughnuts.



10 Intentionally Cruel Ironies About Public Education in NC

  1. Mark Johnson literally sent out a statement about how he was going to “reduce” testing in a week where midterms and state exams (EOC’s and NC Finals) were being administered.
  2. Teachers fill out a working conditions survey every other year for the state that has no questions about how teachers feel the state handles public education.
  3. SAS releases EVAAS scores for a current class well after the school year has begun. In the case for high school block classes, these EVAAS scores come nearer to the end of the semester than at the beginning.
  4. Most of the exams for fall semesters take place after the winter break.
  5. The less experience one has in education magically makes that person more “appropriate” to be the state’s (or even the nation’s) highest public school official.
  6. Failed initiatives like NC’s virtual charter schools and the Read to Achieve program get added funding and more support when data shows they are failing miserably.
  7. The state spends money to hire a team to audit DPI to identify where money is being wasted and that team concludes that DPI is not spending enough.
  8. Leaders in the NCGA have boasted of an average teacher salary of over $53,000 in 2018-2019 when they released a salary schedule could never sustain that average.
  9. The School Performance Grading system does a better job of showing how poverty affects student achievement than it does showing how teachers help students grow.
  10. North Carolina has more NBCT’s than any other state, has arguably one of the better public university systems in the nation, and has a plethora of quality private institutions that offer teacher training, but the state has a manufactured teacher shortage.

If you can think of others, then please put in the comments section.





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.”


About Mark Johnson’s Vision of “Personalized Instruction” in North Carolina and the Need to Invest in PEOPLE

“At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.” – Mark Johnson from “North Carolina Public Schools Accelerating into 2018” in December of 2017 on

In 2018 we saw a reduction in budget and a reorganization at DPI.

And iPads. Six million dollars worth.

And hurricanes along with an election cycle that saw a vteo-proof majority in both branches of the NCGA taken away from the very people who have been “crafting” education policy for years in North Carolina.

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.” – Mark Johnson fromI’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna test it anymore!” in January of 2019 on

The term “personalized learning” has become a bit of a buzzword in North Carolina – a fashionable way to possibly veil an educational reform under the guise of something altruistic.

In its literal and denotative form, “personalized learning” is a rather noble concept. It would allow students to receive tailored-made lessons that match their learning styles, needs, and interests.

It also requires a great amount of time, resources, and PERSONAL attention from instructors.

Time, resources, classroom space, and opportunities to give each student personalized instruction are not items being afforded to North Carolina’s public school teachers. In fact, as state superintendent, Mark Johnson has never really advocated for those things in schools. Actually, he has passively allowed for the class size mandate to proceed without a fight, has never fought against the massive cuts to the Department of Public Instruction, and devotes more time hiring only loyalists and spending taxpayer money to fight against the state board.

And the fact that he is now starting to advocate for a statewide $1.9 billion bond seems more like trying to take credit for something that could have easily been on last November’s ballot when the party he affiliates himself with had the very supermajority to allow for it.

In November of 2017, Benjamin Herold of Education Week wrote an investigative article entitled “The Case(s) Against Personalized Learning.” It is a straightforward look at how the amorphous term of “personalized learning” has been used to actually advance agendas that really are not good for enhancing instruction. Specifically, he uses three arguments against “personalized learning.” They are:

  • “Argument#1: The Hype Outweighs the Research”
  • “Argument #2: Personalized Learning is Bad for Teachers and Students”
  • “Argument #3: Big Tech + Big Data= Big Problems”

If what Mark Johnson is trying to accomplish with his version of “personalized learning,” then does it not make sense that he would have to counter the arguments laid forth by Herold?

And why specifically counter those arguments now?

  • Because there has been nothing from Johnson’s office or even his own mouth to offer the research for his claims.
  • Because Johnson has been more concerned with rushing in technology for “technology’s sake.”
  • Because Johnson has not explained how personalized learning in his version will actually allow more teachers to spend more time with individual students.

One of the many people whom Herold refers to is Alfie Kohn, a heavy-hitter in the world of educational thought. He quotes Kohn from his book, Schools Beyond Measure.


With a “revamped” website controlled by a software company like SAS that uses secret algorithms to show how well schools are performing on standardized tests which teachers don’t even help to write, Johnson’s idea of “personalized learning” in a state that still has a very low per-pupil expenditure lacks credibility.

Alfie Kohn’s work as an author and critic is known the world over. In fact, his book The Homework Myth is one of the choice reads for my AP English Language and Composition classes (which ironically argues against the veracity of AP classes in general).

In February of 2015, Kohn wrote an entry in his blog entitled “Four Reasons to Worry About ‘Personalized Learning.’” In it he outlined four warning signs:

1. The tasks have been personalized for kids, not created by them.
2. Education is about the transmission of bits of information, not the construction of meaning.
3. The main objective is just to raise test scores.
4. It’s all about the tech.

I believe Kohn more than I believe Johnson. In fact, Kohn actually shows his research if you look at the actual post ( Footnotes galore and a bibliography at the conclusion.


Until Mark Johnson is able to communicate clearly, candidly, and convincingly how his vision and/or version of “personalized instruction” is going to allow teachers to give all students more individualized attention, then what he is selling is nothing more than a scheme to make a profit for someone else.

Johnson states further in his December 2017 op-ed in,

“Our society uses technology to personalize our news, social media, entertainment options, and even fast-food orders.”

The fact that Johnson equates the use of technology in the classroom with the use of technology in these other venues already shows his huge disconnect with the learning process.

We live in a country where we have a president who trashes most news outlets, where social media companies seem to be more concerned with accruing data to sell for a profit, where entertainment makes us question what actually is reality, and where fast food offers cheap non-alternatives for substantial dietary options from a prefab menu (but great for entertaining college football’s national champions.

And Johnson wants us to rely on their examples to personalize how we teach our students?

Kohn also uses a fast-food reference in his post on personalized learning. But Kohn makes a better choice for the palate of the American education system.

“For some time, corporations have sold mass-produced commodities of questionable value and then permitted us to customize peripheral details to suit our “preferences.” In the 1970s, Burger King rolled out its “Have it your way!” campaign, announcing that we were now empowered to request a recently thawed slab of factory-produced ground meat without the usual pickle — or even with extra lettuce! In America, I can be me!”

I guess Johnson would like to “supersize” that.

But first I might order some “specificity” as an appetizer.

Fewer Questions? Shorter Tests? No Proctors? And Some Serious Questions.

It was welcome to hear that there is an effort to reduce testing in public schools.

growth proficiency

Mark Johnson released a statement today regarding testing. As reported in today’s News & Observer:

State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson announced this week several changes that the state Department of Public Instruction will make for testing this school year that he says should reduce the amount of stress on students and teachers. Changes include state exams with fewer questions, allowing students to leave the exams sooner and easing rules requiring exam proctors.

“We will be working with local superintendents and state leaders to reform the system of over-testing,” Johnson said in a press release. “That way, we can give the teachers the time to do what they entered the profession to do: teach.”


The number of questions on the state end-of-grade math exams, science end-of-grade exams and biology end-of-course exams are being reduced, according to Drew Elliot, a DPI spokesman. He said changes in the state’s language arts end-of-grade exams will begin in the 2019-20 school year.

The reduction in questions will shorten those exams. Currently, the exams are expected to last three hours with a maximum of four hours to finish them. Elliot said the exams will now take two hours with up to three hours allowed.


But new rules will let teachers discuss test-taking strategies with students on the day of the test.

“Teachers can’t discuss the content of the test,” Elliot said. “But it didn’t make sense for them to not discuss testing strategy.”

Another change could end the annual scramble to find thousand of volunteer proctors. Elliot said it will now be a local decision whether a district or charter school wants to have proctors.

  • Fewer questions?
  • Shorter testing time?
  • No proctors?
  • Students can leave after taking actual tests?

Overall that sounds great. But there are some serious questions and considerations that need to be answered and fleshed out.

First, if there are fewer questions for tests, will the tests still themselves count the same amount in the students’ final grades? As of now, an EOC or NC Final in high schools counts for %25 of a student’s final grade for the course. Would fewer questions on a shorter test still carry the same impact as previous tests with more questions on a longer test? If so, that would mean a student’s final grade will depend on fewer test questions.

That’s more room for error and a shorter amount of time would be used to dictate a student’s final grade.

Secondly, these tests would still be used in determining school performance grades. Remember that %80 of a school’s performance grade is based on achievement scores – scored derived from standardized tests.

That would mean if school performance grades still look to follow a formula of %80 achievement and %20 growth, then fewer questions on those tests would mean that each standardized test question would actually have more power in measuring achievement and, therefore, a school’s performance grade.

And there could be more pressure on students because room for error would be smaller. Fewer variables would be at work.

Johnson may be claiming that this will “reduce the amount of stress on students and teachers.” In a sense, he is right. But…

… the stress of standardized tests is the effect they have on student achievement and how schools are measured. Lowering the amount of testing and not reducing the effect of testing on school report cards actually has the effect of placing more emphasis on each question on those standardized tests.

That could induce a lot more stress.  That is unless Johnson is willing to to change how standardized tests are used to “measure” student achievement. He could actually push to eliminate many of the state tests. That would reduce testing.

And he could push to change how school performance grades are used to measure schools and change the formula by which school performance grades are calculated.

In fact, he could push to simply eliminate school performance grades.

Until then, what was proposed today looks good, but needs further explanation and thought.