About That Email from Mark Johnson Concerning “Important Updates”

Teachers in North Carolina received the following email from the State Superintendent last week as the school year ended for students.

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Thank you for all your work over the 2018-19 school year. This year brought unprecedented challenges. Your dedication to students helped us overcome these challenges and is so greatly appreciated — especially here at the Department of Public Instruction. 

I wanted to let you know of a few important updates going into the summer. 
Our legislative team and I continue to work daily with members of the General Assembly. Some highlights:

  • We have strong support from legislators on bills that would eliminate the NCFinal Exams as well as launch a collaborative effort with local leaders and take other steps to reduce the amount of testing in our schools.
  • My team and I have secured significant increases for classroom supplies in the state budgets presented by the Governor, the NC House, and the NC Senate. We are excited to continue our efforts to give teachers direct control of hundreds of dollars each school year out of the allotment for classroom supply funds.
  • We are working to secure more funding in the state budget to help keep students from going hungry with state funds to cover the cost of the meal co-pay for students who qualify for reduce-price lunches.
  • We are supporting legislative measures to reduce unnecessary burdens placed on teachers when going through the licensing process. Proposed legislation would move the requirement for passing certain licensing exams from the second year to the third year of an initial license, create a path for effective teachers to continue to teach in their local district before having to pass these exams, and reduce the requirement for a lifetime teaching license from 50 years to 30.

Also, our team is working with local districts on exciting launches this summer:

  • We recently announced our partnership with Sandy Hook Promise to launch an anonymous tip reporting system including the Say Something app (NC will be only the second state to have the Say Something app statewide).
  • ECATS, our new system that includes Special Education and Service Documentation modules, will roll out in July and the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) module will start rolling out during the 19-20 school year. All modules are free to schools and training began this month. 
  • For K-3 teachers: We will be launching the new reading diagnostic tool, Istation, as required by the Read to Achieve legislation. (See the separate email on Istation.)

One important note to math teachers: Yes, the math EOG scores will be delayed and won’t come until after the summer. The delay is because after the State Board of Education adopts new math standards (as it did recently), standard-setting must follow. The standard-setting process must wait until all tests have been administered and scored.

Thank you for everything you do for our students and your service to our state. North Carolina is fortunate to have you.

Stay tuned for more updates over the summer.

Johnson highlighted seven specific “highlights” and “launches.” The timing of this particular message certainly was purposeful, but it would be beneficial to maybe look at each a little more closely.

  1. The first actually mentions two items: reducing testing and legislative report. Please be reminded that on May 30th Johnson sent out an email concerning what all he had done for reducing testing so far.

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It was really not that much – three tests out of around 50 given in the state and a few that were reduced by a number of questions (which ironically makes each question still on the test that much more important to the grade).

Furthermore, to brag about legislative support in this state is not building hope on a strong foundation. Just look at graduate degree pay. It came up in the House budget and never was mentioned in the Senate budget. This teacher will not believe it until he sees it.

2. That “increase” in classroom supplies? This move has brought about so much criticism that it is rather surprising that Johnson keeps touting this as a victory. Actually Lisa Godwin, the 2017 NC Teacher of the Year, put it best in NC Policy Watch.

“I realized it was just a reallocation of funds,” Godwin said. “It felt like there could be repercussions for districts. Districts could be hurt from a purchasing stand point because they buy so many things in bulk and they have capacity to buy more at a lesser amount. If we took that money away from them that could prohibit them from being able to do that.”

Godwin said there could also be repercussions for teachers if the bill is approved by the General Assembly.

“This $400 is going to run out pretty quick, and they’re (teachers) going to go to their districts and say the need copy paper or toner, and the districts are going to say, sorry you got your $400,” Godwin said.  “I don’t want to do anything that would hurt districts or teachers.”

3. School lunches. No child should ever have to go without something to eat at school. And asking for extra funding for lunches should never have to be a selling point for a state official when the economy in NC is supposedly going so well. But if Johnson is going to ask for more money to feed students, he could fight harder to help ameliorate the causes of why students may be hungry in schools.

Over 20% of our public school students live at or below the poverty level.

4. Licensing burdens? Well, it might be interesting to look at some of the tests that prospective teachers must take to become licensed in NC. Take for instance the math test as reported last year in the Charlotte Observer.

The math exam that has made it difficult for hundreds of new North Carolina teachers to get their license could be phased out as early as February, based on a recent vote by a panel of state education experts.

In August, the state Board of Education learned that almost 2,400 elementary and special education teachers have failed the math portion of the licensing exam. Critics say the test requires middle and high school math skills that teachers of young children may not use, while failing to gauge whether licensing candidates will be effective teachers.

Want to know who constructs that specific test?

Pearson.

5. Anonymous tip line. This is a good step. But considering that we had a shooting at Butler High School earlier this year, it should have been in place much earlier. Like the same day. And it shouldn’t be something to brag about in an email as an accomplishment.

Oh, by the way – the NCGA made Butler High School make up that specific day even after the CMS school system asked for it to be forgiven for obvious reasons. From Fox 46 on May 8th.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Butler High School students will have to make up the day that was missing following a deadly school shooting. 

A message reportedly sent to families from Principal John LeGrand that was obtained by FOX 46 Charlotte, says the school is required by law to have students make up the day. 

The principal reportedly said school officials explored options which included seeking a special waiver from the NC legislature, adding 15 minutes to each day, or having the make-up day. The message says their waiver was turned down by the legislature and the second option would have caused logistical issues such as transportation and meal times.

6. ECATS. If there is a certain facet of the public education system that continues to have the most changes in software and documentation on what seems to be on a yearly basis, then it is special education. The administrative burden and time spent documenting by an EC teacher is quite big.

7. iStation and Read to Achieve. Johnson announced that “software” purchase to help with an initiative that has been shown to be rather ineffective just a couple of weeks ago.

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He stated, “I just signed the contract with Istation a minute ago, so we are informing you as soon as we legally could.”

Ironically, soon after he sent that memo, Dr. Amy Jablonski, a candidate for NC State Super in 2020 and someone who works at DPI, sent out this note:

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Seems that Johnson acted unilaterally on something that negates all of the money spent on the previous system just this year.

This is rather an empty list of accomplishments.