Long before Mark Johnson was elected state superintendent, people like Phil Berger and those he controlled began to institute “reforms” into public education without fear of reprisal.
Those reforms turned a once progressive state system of public education into one of regression. Eliminating longevity pay, taking away graduate degree pay and career status from newer teachers, revamping the salary scales, and cutting teacher assistants were just a few of the actions taken to “reform” public education.
What Berger and others also started in 2011 and continue to champion today is making North Carolina the literal working laboratory for ALEC-inspired reforms that are targeting the vitality of public schools and enabling a variety of privatization initiatives that are padding the pockets of many at the expense of taxpayers.
In fact, in under a decade, NC has become the nation’s Petri Dish for harmful educational reforms.
These “reforms” are not original – just maybe some adjustments to make them especially “effective” in North Carolina.
Vouchers are certainly not an NC original, but the fact that the Opportunity Grants are the least transparent voucher system in the country was intentionally determined in Raleigh and most of the money from vouchers goes to religious schools.
The School Performance Grading system came from Florida. Make the formula favor test scores over student growth and then it becomes the North Carolina version. The Read to Achieve model also comes from Florida and has led to a number of interesting purchases and use of money like six million dollars in iPads for reading teachers. The latest scandal with iStation centers around Read to Achieve as well.
Charter School growth has gone rather wild with the number of charter schools doubling in the last few years and many of them are operated by out-of-state entities.
The Educational Savings Accounts for special needs students is more deregulated than most others in the nation and other states who use it report rampant abuse of the money.
Business model reforms have helped to guide policy on teacher pay with unsuccessful initiatives involving merit pay and bonuses for a select few.
North Carolina now has more than 50 standardized tests given to its students and all high schoolers have to take an administration of the ACT even if they are not college bound.
The push to “innovate” and “personalize” learning has led to more technology in the classrooms that seems to take away students from engagement with a professional teacher. Again, look at iStation and the virtual pre-school idea set forth by Rep. Craig Horn.
And then there was HB17 that was “passed” in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly after the 2016 elections and before the new terms began. That bill gave the office of the state superintendent more power over the public school system than any previous state superintendent had and removed part of the checks and balances that the state board of education provided.
In short, it was a power grab. And that new state super, Mark Johnson, walked into the office with more power than any predecessor. He also had by far the least experience of any in public school administration.
And Mark Johnson was not given this power to champion the public schools; he is there to champion those entities that want to weaken public schools and allow more private entities to take a foothold in North Carolina such as charter schools.
He is there to keep the Petri Dish that is North Carolina full of “reforms.”
The state board did not go easily after HB17. For the next 18 months Mark Johnson and the SBOE fought in court over control of the public school system. Johnson “won” in a state that has seen the NCGA try everything in its power to gain a stronghold of the judicial branch of the state government. After that win, Johnson reorganized DPI into its own silos.
That reorg made sure that Mark Johnson was in complete control of what happened in DPI without having to answer fully to the State Board of Education.
It also made sure that Phil Berger retained control of public education in North Carolina because it is more than apparent that the neophyte currently serving as the state superintendent is under the control of Berger.
But what happens if there is some sort of push back against what is happening in educational policy here in North Carolina? It goes against the person whose name is affixed in the head office at DPI: Mark Johnson.
It is Johnson who sends the emails, glossy flyers, and video messages concerning what is happening in NC education.
It is Johnson holding invitation only dinners for delivering news on public schools like TeachNC and #NC2030.
It is Johnson who has to attend the NC State Board of Education meetings.
It is Johnson who gets to deliver news to area superintendents like the following at the superintendents’ quarterly meeting in Asheville this week:
(That is an actual tweet from a school system superintendent).
Berger is in a position to break that association with Johnson if he needs to distance himself. But the converse is not true.
It makes one think though. What happens if there is a democrat who is elected state superintendent in 2019? Does Berger try and hold a special session to withdraw the powers extended to the office of the state super that came with HB 17?
That’s not a rhetorical question.
The elections for 2020 can not come soon enough because it’s time that this “experiment” of dismantling public education in North Carolina stops.