“Aunt Becky’s” Lesson From The First Week Of School

My older child just started her freshman year at a state university that she has wanted to attend since she was 4 years of age.

She worked hard as a student. She did her homework. She learned from her mistakes. She learned to ask good questions. She took the SAT. The ACT. Both multiple times.

She took rigorous classes. She even took a class with her ninth favorite English teacher in the department at her high school.

That person would be her father.

She wrote her own essay responses for every college application and got her own recommendations.

Just this past week, she was told that all classes would be fully online. She wants to stay on campus as long as she can, but has a plan if there is a need for campus to be closed down for a while.

That’s an education in and of itself for her and her parents. It was hard to even predict something like that happening when she started applying to schools last fall. Just figuring out the finances to pay tuition when one parent is a public high school teacher seemed to be a 4-credit course in and of itself.

And I wouldn’t trade any of it especially when I see this:

One might say that two months is getting off easy. Well, it is.

But I tend to think of it this way:

“Aunt Becky” and her husband spent one-half of a million dollars to just try and getting their children into the University of Southern California.

In the court decision, her husband was sentenced to 5 months in prison and a $250,000 fine. Aunt Becky’s fine is $150,000. And USC isn’t giving refunds.

Collegesimply.com estimates that one year for one student at USC costs around $75,000.

Aunt Becky had two kids there.

The younger daughter was a freshman when the scandal broke. The older is a little under two years her senior. Presumably she was a sophomore when the scandal came to light. Already a lot of money had been spent on going to USC.

Now neither of the two is enrolled. Imagine how hard it will be for them to try and obtain admission into another school.

Now think of how much in legal fees that Aunt Becky and her husband have had to pay.

Now think of the lost revenue from lost acting gigs and potential deals for the father.

That’s a lot of money and a lot of bad publicity. Maybe that two-month sentence in prison looks a little different now.

Or not.

Odd that with the pandemic, colleges and universities are relying more heavily at other factors in applications than SAT and ACT scores. Plus, it’s harder to be recruited as an athlete if high school sports have been put on hold or even some club sports.

As a teacher, give me a student who excels at trying to make him or herself better inside and outside the classroom in authentic ways whether it be as a student, athlete, or citizen.

You can’t buy that.

Mark Johnson Is Just Trying To Save Face. He Should Not Be Enabled In Doing It.

This may not be a popular stance among all educators, but I don’t necessarily want to build bridges in this state with those who are making the very divides that separate us.

Yes, public education can be the ultimate bridge that spans socio-economic divides, that links the rural to the urban, that allows for social gains, yet the parties who are in the construction of those bridges must be in complete synchronicity as far as goals and intentions are concerned.

But after watching lawmakers like Tim Moore and Phil Berger hold this state hostage through unethical measures to pass budgets, hold special sessions, and pass legislation that continuously weaken our public schools it has become apparent to this teacher that these are people with whom you build bridges.

Mark Johnson is one of those people.

And after the stunt he pulled this past week with a public relations snafu trying to frame State Board of Education member as someone he is not, the fact that Johnson is a man who will not hold office next year is even more appealing.

And now he wants to save face.

EdNC.org ran a news piece yesterday about Johnson’s letter. Apparently, it received a lot of attention.

So much that EdNC changed it and made an explanation as to why.

Two emails received: one from Johnson and one from DPI’s communications guy, Graham Wilson.

EdNC.org did not publish the entirety of those emails, just a couple of lines.

They should have published them in full. It may help answer the multitude of questions that adding the “explanation” surely has given rise to.

Please remember that Johnson actually made a press release out of his initial email. HE WANTED TO MAKE IT ALL PUBLIC. It would have been nice if he was willing to post his entire “explanation” for all to see.

Here are the parts that EdNC.org published:

In Johnson’s email he writes, “The letter to James Ford actually encourages a response… which is not silence and is actually more conversation” (ellipsis in the original).

In Wilson’s email he writes, “He is calling on another state leader to not use inflammatory language so we can have productive conversations about these issues without excluding educators and parents who may hold moderate political beliefs.”

Go ahead. Read Johnson’s letter again. Think of the timing. Think of his publicizing it.

Think of his constantly avoiding having “discussions” with others over the last 3+ years whether that be the state school board or teacher advocacy groups.

Think of his invitation-only announcement session in February of 2019 that excluded teachers and educators.

Think of his never “rallying” with teachers during those iconic marches in 2018 and 2019.

Think of the shadowy way he conducted business and reorganized DPI.

And think of some of the polarizing public statements he has made in the recent past (some to the very board that Ford serves on).

deepstate6

If Johnson wanted a response from Ford, he should have gone straight to Ford. He made the state his audience. It became a public conversation.

And he got it thrown back into his face by the court of public opinion.

Much like his bid for the office of Lt. Governor.

In a way, if the letter was to encourage response. It did get a lot of responses.

Graham is not to be forgotten in this affair either. As the spokesperson for then governor Pat McCrory, Graham offered this “conversation starter” in defense of HB2, that onerous “bathroom bill.”

“Instead of providing reasonable accommodations for some students facing unique circumstances,” the school district “made a radical change to their shower, locker room and restroom policy for all students.

“This curiously-timed announcement that changes the basic expectations of privacy for students comes just after school let out and defies transparency, especially for parents,” Wilson said in a statement. “The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System should have waited for the courts to make a decision instead of purposely breaking state law.”

That quote was so out of line with what actually happened, it became probably one of the leading reasons that Pat McCrory was the first incumbent governor not to win a reelection bid in NC history.

And Trump carried the state in the same election.

Remember this?

When Justin Parmenter started raising legitimate questions about Johnson’s contract with iStation and began to reveal details that would make anyone question the ethics of the contract, Graham Wilson was quick to “start a conversation.”

For the record, Justin Parmenter is not simply a “blogger.” He’s a teacher. In fact, he’s been a teacher about ten times longer than Graham and his boss have been teachers combined. And Wilson tried to go after him.

He didn’t do it very well.

Maybe he was just trying to start a “productive conversation.”

EdNC.org ended its “explanation” with this:

Later in the school year? It better be quick. Johnson and Wilson are out of office in January and by November 4th, there will be no more candidates for superintendent as the election will be done.

Johnson willing to be in a conversation with a bunch of teachers? That might be a first.

And why is there no public invitation to James Ford?

I know as a teacher I would not be invited. I don’t want to build bridges with Mark Johnson or any of his cronies. I want them away from public education.

James Ford already builds bridges. Strong bridges. For people who really need them.

Isn’t that the person Johnson wanted to “talk” with in the first place?

Revisiting Some Reopening Plans From Forest, Berger, Trump, & DeVos

From Lt. Gov. Dan Forest this past June:

dan forest back to school
dan forest back to school 4

Don’t forget President Trump’s demand from July:

There was also VP Pence and Betsy DeVos:

And certainly there was Phil Berger trumpeting Trump’s wishes.

So, it would be interesting to hear each of these elected officials comment about the number of schools that started the year with in-person instruction that have had to modify those plans becasue of outbreaks.

It would be interesting to hear Berger and Forest talk about the two largest college campuses in the state having to go to online classes strictly with one already fully sending students home.

But the big question for all of them: “Have more schools gone to more in-person instruction since the beginning of the school year than those who have gone to more remote instruction?”

“Will Superintendent Mark Johnson’s letter have a chilling effect on teachers?” Nope.

No doubt many have heard about Mark Johnson’s letter to State Board member James Ford. EdNC.org (as well as many other outlets) has a post concerning it.

And in a tweet sent out to its followers concerning what happened, EdNC asked,

Will Superintendent Mark Johnson’s letter have a chilling effect on other teachers who see what’s happening to State Board member James Ford?”

The answer for this teacher is an emphatic “NO!”

Why?

If Mark Johnson had 1/100th of the professional integrity that James Ford has and used just 1/100th of it yesterday, he would have never even thought about writing that letter much less sent it.

Teachers should not be afraid to call out this state superintendent when his actions have shown an aversion to helping public schools and a fear of healthy engagement with teachers.

The only chilling effect that comes from Mark Johnson is the cold shoulder he constantly shows to the NC public school system.

If ever there needed to be a time for teachers to heard and for public school advocates to voice truth, it is now.

Please vote!

Maybe Dan Forest’s Personal Finance Class Requirement Should Be Extended To His Cronies

In June of 2019, the NC Senate passed HB 924 by an overwhelming majority. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest – who championed the bill – in one of his rare statements about actual public education other than bathrooms, vouchers, and his love for charter schools tweeted the following:

forest1

While this “bill” might seem like a winner on the surface, there were many reasons for the NCGA House chamber to consider not passing it.

1. It was not a standalone bill. In fact it is part of another larger issue that Forest and others have hijacked in order to make it pass.

2. HB 924 was a redundant bill. 

3. Students already encounter curriculum concerning personal finance. It’s part of the required course called Civics & Economics.

4. Students can actually take an extended personal finance class through the school’s CTE department. CTE stands for Career and Technical Education and it is a vital part of the high school academic setting.

5. A Personal Finance course would take away a US History requirement for most students. 

6. It won’t cover some of the glaring aspects of the personal finance challenges that many students will encounter.

But maybe before the students have to take that class in high school now, Forest’s cronies in Raleigh, espcially those in involved with state politics shoudl take the class as well.

This is week has shown that it is in high need.

From yesterday’s News & Observer:

One of the most powerful Republicans in the state legislature was charged with federal financial crimes Thursday, in what prosecutors say was a scheme to take money from his political donors for personal use.

Harnett County Rep. David Lewis has been a state lawmaker since 2003 and for the last several years has been chairman of the influential House Rules Committee. Thursday afternoon, he suddenly announced he was resigning from the state legislature, effective immediately.

Federal court documents show Lewis was charged Thursday with not filing taxes and making false statements to a bank, in relation to his campaign finance scheme.

From the N&O the day before:

Lindberg was tied to Dan Forest in a rather big way. From April (N&O) again,

And do not forget about this:

Writing Without Any Moral Authority: State Supt. Johnson’s Recent Letter

I am white.

I am male.

I grew up in a small rural Southern town in the !970’s and 1980’s.

I come from an upper middle class family who had the resources to send me to school.

And the older I become, the more I understand that I don’t understand. 

I think that has made me a better teacher over my career. That lack of true understanding of what many others have lived through, that knowing that my experiences are far different from other people’s experiences, and that need to listen to other perspectives authentically – they all remind me that there are uncomfortable conversations that need to be had.

Every year, I am in front of hundreds of students whose lives are filled with events and stressors that I cannot fathom. That means I need to listen to them and validate that they are experts of themselves. In that respect, I need to become the student and learn what have sometimes been uncomfortable lessons. Good teachers are good students.

But there are some things that I firmly feel I have an understanding of. I know what the State Superintendent shared today in a public statement concerning his letter to a State School Board Member might be one of the best examples of an echo chamber built with false moral authority I have ever witnessed.

I know it was callous. 

And I know that Mark Johnson needs to be called out for it.

Before even looking at the letter that Johnson sent to James Ford, it was already established that Johnson’s actions in his brief tenure as a state official have helped to create some of the very conditions that Ford has been fighting against on behalf of students and families who desperately need his voice.

Mark Johnson has been a very vocal proponent of school choice, especially charter schools when overwhelming evidence shows that charter schools here in North Carolina are helping student bodies to segregate themselves.

Mark Johnson has been a champion of the School Performance Grading system and school report cards even as the very school performance grades they produce stigmatize schools based on their poverty and lack of resources.

Mark Johnson has never shown any desire to pressure the state legislature to address and act on the Leandro decision. That very court decision was about equity in public education funding.

Mark Johnson has done nothing but rubber stamp the ideas and policies of the people who not  have only enabled his office but also passed legislation that redrew districts along racial lines and enacted a bathroom bill as a way to subvert transgender citizens. 

Mark Johnson as the highest ranking official of the state’s public school system has shown that actions and lack of action sometimes speak much louder than words.

What Johnson sent out today in a press release was a letter to James Ford asking him to resign from a position within the State Board of Education based on his interpretation of a tweet Ford sent out on his personal social media account.

It is below.

According to sources, he sent that letter to all DPI employees.

And he even made a press release based on it.

There is no question that Mark Johnson used his time as State Superintendent as a stepping stone to higher office. His political ambitions literally ooze out of his pores with his talk of the “Deep State” and “elite insiders.” He takes his cues from others and never really investigated what Ford was actually saying.

Johnson’s letter to Ford has the same tenor and narrow-minded viewpoint as a recent post from the Carolina Journal.

The Carolina Journal is a publication from the libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation funded by Art Pope.

Ford’s tweet makes direct reference to “Letter From Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Just read it or re-read it. When MLK, Jr. was fighting for equal rights, much of what he confronted was dealing with those people who talked a “good game” while cloaked in “holy robes” but whose actions said otherwise.

Interesting how many politicians still put Jesus on the ballot and use it as a resume builder.

I don’t understand what Martin Luther King, Jr. went through or the depth of his struggle. I have to listen to his words. I have to learn from him.

I don’t know all of James Ford’s story, but he has taken the time to talk with me in the most civil of ways. He is that consummate teacher.

Truth be told, I probably would relate more to Mark Johnson’s background than James Ford, yet I feel that Ford would do more to try and bridge any differences we had by finding common ground.

It’s blatantly apparent that Johnson’s publicity stunt was just that – a stunt especially after yesterday’s bluster over the need to have “blunt” conversations with software vendors.

When making a decision to listen to someone who uses the words that come from divisive politicians or someone who is using the words of a man who sought equality for all of God’s children, then that decision is easy.

James Ford was the NC Teacher of the Year in 2015. He then expanded his “classroom” beyond the walls of a single school building speaking truth and helping to build bridges over the widest of chasms. His words are not burdened with double-speak and spin.

Mark Johnson barely spent two school years in a profession he still “brags” about being a part of. But instead of expanding his “classroom,” he has ignored his “students.”

James Ford is a teacher we desperately need.

Mark Johnson is a man who thankfully has been voted out.

Still Not Willing To Take Responsibility: Mark Johnson, DPI, and Those “Technical Glitches”

Three days of remote instruction.

Two of those have seen major obstacles in accessing the online platform that enables that instruction.

From today’s N&O:

For the second time this week, problems with a statewide computer system are preventing many North Carolina students and teachers from logging online for virtual classes.

School districts across the state posted alerts Wednesday morning that NCEdCloud is having technical issues again after having been down for several hours on Monday.

The system is being put under greater stress than normal because more than 70% of the state’s 1.5 million public students started the school year on Monday with online classes only due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This is a DPI issue.

And DPI is run by one person: Mark Johnson.

His statement below is one that seeks to shift blame – not take responsibility.

Consider that we have been in this pandemic for months now and that we knew even early in the summer that we very well could have been in this situation.

Why did DPI not have the foresight to stress-test the system to make sure it could withstand this heavy use?

Johnson states in his release, “…rest assured that DPI will be having blunt discussions about these failures with the vendor and NC DIT in the days ahead.

Blunt discussions with vendors and NC DIT? Anyone remember the iStation debacle from a year ago that lasted months? In no way has Johnson shown an ability to conduct “discussions” with vendors unless there is some sort of odd previous relationship (think Doug Miskew and the ClassWallet / iStation contract procurement processes).

Furthermore, Johnson has always preached the need to be as technologically equipped with 21st century tools. Remember this from December of 2017?

“Also, we heard complaints from educators and community leaders about the lack of transparency and accountability at DPI. We worked closely with the General Assembly to secure an investment of almost $30 million to update antiquated software systems used by the state and by local school districts, and we are conducting an operational review of the entire department. These efforts will lead to greater efficiency and transparency, allowing you to better know how your tax dollars support public schools.”

Over two years ago. Plenty of time to “test” the veracity of the software.

And the summer after he said that, he reorganized DPI to be streamlined through his office. Below is what it was prior to the new reorganization.

chart1

This is what it looks like now.

orgchart

On the older chart some positions were titled with ALL CAPS and had a thicker border surrounding them. That meant that these people were Dual-Report Positions. In short, they answered to both the state board and to Johnson. However, that went away on July 1, 2018.

What that now means is that those people who held (or hold now) those positions not only answer to Johnson alone, but he has total control over what they do.

He’s at the top of that chain. The “buck” supposedly stops with him.

But his statement just proves that he is just trying to pass that buck.

Remembering All Of Those iPads Mark Johnson Bought Amidst This Pandemic

Remember not too long ago when Mark Johnson bought 24,000 iPads with Read to Achieve money that was just laying around?

From WRAL.com August of 2018:

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson announced the plan Tuesday morning, holding up an iPad for the media, the governor and other members of North Carolina’s Council of State. Johnson’s office put the statewide pricetag for the devices at about $6 million. It didn’t immediately have a per-unit price to quote.

The money will come from some $15 million in unused money the Department of Public Instruction has from previous budget years. Just why this money has been sitting unused is a matter of some dispute.

But many of them sat in a warehouse for about a year and Johnson still purchased some more. From WRAL August of 2019:

More than 3,200 iPads are sitting in a state warehouse – 2,400 of them have been there for a year – but North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson says the devices will be delivered to districts this school year. He plans to announce details next week about what schools will be receiving them.

Johnson bought 24,000 iPads for North Carolina’s K-3 teachers last year, but schools returned about 2,400 of them, or 10%, because they preferred other devices, such as Google Chromebooks. Last month, Johnson bought 800 more iPads using money from his superintendent’s budget, bringing the total in the warehouse to 3,200.

So after receiving criticism that there were some iPads collecting dust, Johnson then made sure to get them out to schools. He said that the hurricane season had caused delays the previous school year.

Again from that previous WRAL report:

More than 3,200 iPads are sitting in a state warehouse – 2,400 of them have been there for a year – but North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson says the devices will be delivered to districts this school year. He plans to announce details next week about what schools will be receiving them.

And then this occurred:

mjipads.PNG

Teachers were being told that they simply could “reach out” to ask for iPads.

mjipadsreachout

In this pandemic where over 70% of students in NC are now in a form of remote instruction, many districts are scrambling just to get some sort of technology in the hands of students so they can be virtually linked to their classes.

So, are any of those iPads being used for this purpose?

Any still in the warehouse?

Legit questions.

Phil Berger’s “Self-Own” About His Tweet Concerning The First Day Of School

Phil Berger owning Phil Berger.

When schools that had remote instruction in place were unable to connect this morning to state networks, Berger took a swipe at the state board and could not have slapped himself in the face harder.

Because it really it is his fault.

In more than one way.

Here’s his tweet.

Yep. He made it about political parties. But Berger forgot to mention something worth noting especially since as the leader of the NC Senate for the last decade, he should know how the current state board came together.

He forgot to tell you that Gov. Cooper got to appoint certain members to the state board a couple of years ago because people in Berger’s own party appointed by Berger’s gubernatorial stooge Pat McCrory wanted Cooper to have that ability. They were tired of policies hurting public education championed by Berger and endorsed by another stooge of Berger’s – the state superintendent, Mark Johnson.

When Bill Cobey, a republican, announced his resignation from the State Board of Education in July of 2018, it seemed coincidental. But then two other members submitted resignations from the SBE.

Seal_of_the_North_Carolina_Board_of_Education

Alex Granados reported in the summer of 2018 for EdNC.org:

“Also since the resolution of the Supreme Court case and reorganization at DPI, Cobey, as well as Board Member Becky Taylor, both announced their resignations. Today, Board member Greg Alcorn added his name to that list, announcing his resignation in a letter to Governor Roy Cooper” (https://www.ednc.org/2018/08/10/two-formerly-high-level-dpi-staffers-out-another-state-board-members-resigns/).

Granados then reminded readers that all three of these people were selected for their terms by Pat McCrory. They were republican appointees. They submitted resignations during Roy Cooper’s term, a democrat.

“Since the vacancies have occurred prior to the end of the Board members’ terms, Cooper can appoint new members to finish out their time on the Board without seeking legislative approval. Appointees to the State Board require legislative confirmation if they are being appointed to full terms, but not if they are filling a premature vacancy.

That may be particularly helpful to Cooper, who has had trouble getting his appointees through the General Assembly.”

And all three of the newer appointees are STILL ON THE BOARD. In fact, all of Cooper’s nominees in 2019 for the state board were actually confirmed by the NCGA which was heavily controlled by Berger’s own party.

Those nominees could have been rejected. But they were not. Berger allowed that to happen. In fact, Berger stopped one of those people from being appointed earlier.

Furthermore, the problem that happened with schools not being able to “sign into” state databases and state supported platforms resided with DPI.

Phil Berger is the phantom head of DPI.

Consider the reorganization that occurred at DPI in 2018 after the final decision of the lawsuit between the state board and Mark Johnson. That lawsuit pertained to a power shift given to Johnson during a special session right before Johnson took office. Berger led that special session. It eventually created the ability for Berger’s puppet to funnel all of DPI through one office and keep DPI from having to partly answer to the state board.

Below is what it was prior to the new reorganization.

chart1

This is what it looks like now.

orgchart

The first thing to notice is that on the older chart some positions were titled with ALL CAPS and had a thicker border surrounding them. That meant that these people were Dual-Report Positions. In short, they answered to both the state board and to Johnson. However, that went away on July 1, 2018.

What that means is that those people who held (or hold now) those positions not only answer to Johnson alone, but he has total control over what they do (or the person who controls Johnson), A man with less than two calendar years of teacher training and classroom experience combined along with an unfinished term on a local school board now “calls” the shots for all of those veterans in a DPI whose budget is being slashed by the very people who prop up Johnson.

Also in the older chart, Johnson reports to the state board. In the new one, the state board of education does not even really have any ties to DPI except through an internal auditor. It’s like they do not exist, which is just what the powers that run the NCGA wanted.

It’s what Phil Berger wanted.

In actuality the organizational chart at DPI looks more like this:

reorg.png

So when Berger says,

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… what the man who is trying to weaken public schools is really saying is that he was the one who really enabled this situation.