Mark Johnson’s Version of the “American Dream” Neglects the American Reality For Many of Our Students

If you are a parent of a student in the public schools of North Carolina, you might have received this missive from the state superintendent today:

Parents and caregivers,

As you know, your child is unique. Just as all students have different strengths and likes, all students’ pathways to success will be different.

For too long, many education leaders made students feel that the only way to success was to earn a four-year degree. Teachers, other educators, and employers know this is not true. Together with parents, we need to work to change this incorrect narrative.

Students can find successful careers right after high school, join the armed forces or other public service, attend community college, or – if it is what is right for them – seek four-year degrees. Each one of these choices is a pathway to success.

Please visit to find out about high-demand career pathways in North Carolina that your son or daughter can take to success.

For young students, let’s keep them on track learning their fundamental skills. For students in middle and high school, let’s start having conversations about the many great opportunities in fulfilling and fruitful careers that exist in North Carolina, such as web developers, electric lineworkers, dental hygienists, and first responders.  Not all great careers require a four-year degree.

Thank you for helping us encourage every student to find their right path, work hard, and reach their American Dream!

Mark R. Johnson

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction


P.S.: Right now, my 6-year-old daughter wants to be a veterinarian, a park ranger, a teacher, a baker, a gymnast, and a mommy. We have time to narrow that list, and I will support whichever paths she chooses!



There’s a feeling that he seems more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

And there’s that constant push to go to his personal website to engage with his office rather than DPI’s actual site.

But it’s that blind, vague reference to the “American Dream” he ends this feel-good letter with that reminds me of the disconnect that he has with what is really happening with our students.

While running for office, Johnson penned an op-ed entitled “Our American Dream” in which he talked about this rather nebulous concept of the “American Dream.”

One excerpt states,

“We are blessed beyond measure to be citizens of the United States, the only nation ever to have a dream named after it. No matter who you are, your background, your neighborhood, or your race; you should be able to go to school, work hard, and reach your American Dream.”

Yet, I have yet to hear how Johnson plans on confronting the poverty that afflicts so many in our state when he champions a school performance grading system that literally shows the effects of poverty on student outcomes. Over %20 of our children in NC live in poverty.

I have yet to hear any dialogue on the advancement of wrap around services in schools to help students who struggle to get essential services and resources to prepare them for school.

I have yet to hear any advocacy on Johnson’s part to extend Medicaid to help keep students healthy when health costs are so high.

I have yet to hear or see Johnson fight for higher per-pupil expenditures.

I have yet to see Johnson confront the NC General Assembly on funding issues for DPI that help low-income districts get the professional development they could very much use to help teach students who face socioeconomic stresses.

I have not heard anything about increased mental-health services in schools from Johnson.

I have not heard Johnson defend the students who are “Dreamers” or who have been affected by the increased actions of ICE within North Carolina.

And the list goes on.

When I talk to students from various backgrounds, their concept of what the  “American Dream” is to them is far different than the rose-colored version Johnson amorphously purports. That’s because for many of our students, the idea of someone else’s version of the “American Dream” never aligns with the actuality of their “American Reality.”

That’s the deliberate disconnect that Johnson has.


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