The Lack of “Innovation” and Mark Johnson’s Urgently Depersonalized Definition of the “American Dream”


Innovation,” “urgency,” “personalized” and “American Dream” – the four most overused, underdefined, and glossed over buzzwords that have continuously flowed forth from Mark Johnson’s rehearsed speech given in multiple forms.

This past week Johnson was a keynote speaker for the North Carolina PTA’s annual convention in Charlotte. His presence as the state superintendent makes him a logical choice for being invited. Yet his actions and lack of actions concerning public school education as the state superintendent makes him one of the most least qualified to speak in front of parents and public school advocates. In fact, many people boycotted his talk and many tried to have him taken off the program altogether.

But from those who heard him speak, many spoke of the “prepackaged” manner and amorphous use of big cloudy words that have become synonymous with Mark Johnson:  “Innovation,” “urgency,” “personalized,” and “American Dream.”

Actually they have been so overused by Johnson that it is almost becoming his own “American Dream” to “urgently” use them in every depersonalizing public address he delivers.

How non-innovative.

Urgency” is a word that Johnson used early in his term. Remember when Mark Johnson said the following?

“Complacency is the antithesis of urgency. So I ask that we not be complacent, and act with urgency in anything that we do.” – Mark Johnson, January 5th, 2017.

Then he issued a statement recently that asked teachers and activists to “put off” taking a “bold action” and “acting with urgency.”


Personalized learning” is also becoming overused and underdefined. Remember this?

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 from “I’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.

How “innovative.”

And Johnson’s concept of the “American Dream” might be the most nebulous of his buzzwords.

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.”

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.”

And what is “innovative” about the following which is a list of “accomplishments” under Mark Johnson’s tenure as state superintendent?

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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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…
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7.  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.
  8. Johnson rallied for school choice advocates and never rallied with public school teachers. In fact, on May 16th of 2018, he left town. And this past May 1st he never made it to Halifax Mall even though he was in an adjacent building.
  9. 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.
  10. Johnson bought 6 million dollars worth of iPads for some teachers. They never requested them. And the money came from where?
  11. Johnson supported both the extensions and renewed investment of two failed initiatives: Read to Achieve and the NC Virtual Charter Schools.
  12. Johnson championed the Innovative School District which to date has one school. One.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Johnson hosted Jeb Bush this past summer. Jeb Bush is a leading privatization champion of the public school systemics in the nation.
  16. Johnson said he would eat doughnuts and run a mile or two for us. Doughnuts.

That’s just a lack of “innovation” in an urgently depersonalized “American Dream.”

North Carolina deserves better.