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

If you are an educator in the public schools of North Carolina, you might have received this missive from the state superintendent yesterday:

Educators,

Today, I had the pleasure of dropping my daughter off at school for the first time since the pandemic closed all classrooms. Her excitement, and the joy of other students, to be back at school cannot be expressed in words.

Thank you for everything you are doing for students. Thank you for your support of your communities during these trying times – whether your students are with you in the classroom or you are helping them remotely.

Despite all the challenges of this year, we still live in a country that has a dream named after it. Every student, no matter their background, should be able to work hard and reach their American Dream.

Education is one of our greatest tools to help every child succeed. Please know how much North Carolina appreciates our hard-working educators.

Mark R. Johnson

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction
@MarkRJohnsonNC

There’s a feeling that Johnson always seemed more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming the statewide instructional leader NC needed.

It’s that blind, vague reference to the “American Dream” he ends this feel-good letter with that reminds me of the total disconnect that he had with what was and still is really happening with our students.

While running for office in 2016, 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 never heard how Johnson planned on confronting the poverty that afflicts so many in our state when he championed 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 never heard any dialogue on the advancement of wrap around services in schools to help students who struggled to get essential services and resources to prepare them for school.

I never heard of any advocacy on Johnson’s part to extend Medicaid to help keep students healthy when health costs are so high.

I never heard or saw Johnson fight for higher per-pupil expenditures.

I never saw Johnson confront the NC General Assembly on funding issues for DPI that helped low-income districts get the professional development they could very much have used to help teach students who face socioeconomic stresses.

I never heard anything about increased mental-health services in schools from Johnson.

I never 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 had with the students in this state.

This Teacher Does Not Want To “Build Bridges” Or “Have A Seat At The Table” With Berger & Moore; I Want Them Out Of Power

Simply put, it’s hard to build bridges in this state with those who are making the very divides that separate us.

Before the 2008 Great Recession took hold of the country, North Carolina had what was considered one of the more progressive public school systems in the Southeast. That is no longer the case.

While other states have helped their public education systems recover, North Carolina’s General Assembly deliberately put into place measures that continued to weaken public education in the name of “reform” and privatization that included:

  • Removal of Graduate Degree Pay
  • Removal of Longevity Pay
  • Removal of Career Status
  • Removal of Due- Process Rights
  • School Performance Grading System
  • Bonus Pay Schemes
  • Vouchers
  • Charter Cap Removed
  • Class Size Chaos
  • Removal of Professional Development Funds

And there are many more.

When one surveys the terrain of North Carolina and sees just how many divides there exist, it might be easy to say that we need to “build bridges” and bring people back together again “at the table” to start a dialogue of how we can be great again.

But then it needs to be asked why those divides are there in the first place and why have certain parts of North Carolina been shut off from others.

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 not the people with whom you build bridges.

In fact, why would public school advocates even want to “have a seat at the table” with them? Time and time again, the powers in the NCGA have shown that not only will they not invite teachers to the “table” but that they will go out of their way to make teachers part of the menu.

Yes, there has been a lot of talk about “building bridges” and having a place at the table.

But that is not happening.

When in the last eight years of Moore and Berger has there ever been any indication that teachers and public school advocates would be given even a small role in the building of metaphorical bridges much less have a “seat at the table?”

That’s not a rhetorical question.

How can one build a bridge or sit a table with a state superintendent who when 20+K teachers come to Raleigh runs the other way to avoid having to “confront” their needs and concerns?

How can one build a bridge or sit a table with a state superintendent who while making platitudes and vapid speeches about what will bring back greatness to NC’s schools actually reorganizes DPI, helps slash its budget, and then removes the exemption status from many in DPI so that they can be fired more easily?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with lawmakers who actively promote the policies of the Koch brothers and their use of dark money?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with a governing body that actively promotes the use of secret algorithms to measure our schools and our teachers?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with people who allow North Carolina to be the only state that uses achievement scores more than growth to determine a school’s worth?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with legislators who actively fought against Medicaid expansion in a state where over 20% of our public school students lives in poverty.

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with legislators who deliberately passed a budget bill through a committee (nuclear option) rather than open up the discussion for debates and amendments?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with people who champion a voucher system that is considered the least transparent in the country and overwhelmingly goes to religious schools?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with people who champion charter school construction in places that jeopardize the very funds of the traditional public schools that already service those students?

How can one build a bridge or sit a table with people who knowingly allowed per-pupil expenditures to remain lower when adjusted for inflation than levels before 2008?

The list goes on and on….

And teachers know how to build bridges: differentiated structures that expand classrooms and curricula to bring students together in ways that help them achieve in academics and life. Teachers also know how to “set a table” that includes all stakeholders.

The gerrymandered lawmaking body in Raleigh that claims altruism CAN NOT AND WILL NOT.

In 2020, this state can set a new table and bring in a new “construction crew” to build bridges. The first step is voting for candidates who truly champion collaboration with teachers.

What we have in Raleigh is a group of people who have no interest in truly “building bridges” and bringing people “to the table.” Those people are more concerned with creating divides and putting public schools on the menu and teachers under the table.

So vote in 2020.

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About This School System’s COVID Dashboard

Today doors will start opening in WSFCS schools for selected students for in-person instruction.

One of those students is my younger child.

Below is the latest NC DHHS Covid dashboard.

Below is the latest info on Forsyth County from that same site.

The following headline appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal last week detailing a reporting of a positive case by a teacher before the school board issued its plan for what “metrics” it would use in reopening.

This is the current “dashboard” provided to the public concerning any cases in schools.

It says there are exactly ZERO cases within the WSFCS community.

Doesn’t seem transparent.

And this teacher does not trust it right now.

Catherine Truitt and Jen Mangrum “Debated” & One Cited Her “Direct Experience.” Might Want To Look At That.

“Of the two of us, I’m the only one who actually has direct experience working with the governor’s office and the State Board of Education and local superintendents.”

-CATHERINE TRUITT, SEPTEMBER 10TH AT THE STATE SUPERINTENDENT CANDIDATE FORUM

On September 10th in a socially distanced manner, both Catherine Truitt and Jen Mangrum participated in an open forum answering questions about their candidacies for the office of state’s highest public school office.

That quote above by Truitt is one that references her history as a senior advisor for Pat McCrory. And making that claim was supposed to be a positive.

But just examine the record that Truitt had as that senior advisor to the former former governor – particularly claims that she made in the past.

Here are some of the statements she made in 2016 in an op-ed for the News & Observer.

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About “fully funding schools:”

“K-12 education funding has increased by 18 percent under McCrory. In fact, 57 cents of every taxpayer dollar spent goes to fund education. That means that 57 percent of our $22.3 billion General Fund budget is spent on education, compared with a national average of 46 percent. Funding for textbooks and digital resources has tripled under this administration, and we are leading the nation in school connectivity.”

About teacher pay and “recruiting” people to teach:

“Teacher pay in North Carolina is growing faster than in any other state in the country under McCrory’s leadership. Since 2013, North Carolina has invested more than $1 billion in teacher raises, and the budget signed by McCrory increases average teacher pay to more than $50,000 for the first time in state history.”

In an op-ed for EdNC.org that same year, she made these statements:

About what Read to Achieve’s goal:

“He (McCory) also signed legislation that will dramatically increase access to summer reading camps to ensure every student achieves the needed literacy by third grade.”

About the Opportunity Grants:

“In 2014, the governor increased choice for low income parents by enacting the Opportunity Scholarship that provides financial assistance for alternative schooling for students who are not succeeding in a traditional school setting.”

Funding, teacher pay, Read to Achieve, and vouchers are all hot-button topics, but they are not the trophies that Truitt made them out to be.

And she should be called out for it.

Truitt has mentioned in the past that there are three sources of financing for NC public education – federal, state, and local. And she has said that 57% of that coming from the state is far higher percentage than the national average.

But that’s because it is supposed to be. The state constitution declares it.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education.

However, I do want to point out that before we had a Republican governor (McCrory) and a Republican-controlled legislature, the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED.

Her assertions about teacher pay are interesting as well. The operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of over ten percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. It was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay.

Oh, and under McCrory, graduate degree pay bumps were eliminated for new teachers.

Truitt talked about Read to Achieve as a success back in 2016. But is this a success?

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Truitt argued that the Opportunity Grants could help alleviate high tuition costs, but if the grants were targeted for lower income students, then how can those families even think about allotting their already limited funds for a private education, especially when NC has refused to expand Medicaid services for many who would qualify to obtain an Opportunity Grant? That’s not really giving families choices.

If you scroll down on the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority website for the Opportunity Scholarship and click on the link called “Current List of Nonpublic Schools”, you will find a list of schools participating in the grant program. Notice a vast majority of those schools have religious affiliations. Ironically, many of those schools are already supported by churches that do not have to pay taxes. And now those entities are getting more taxpayer money to support curricula and processes that are not even regulated like those of public schools?

If Truitt became the state super for PUBLIC schools, is she going to keep supporting private schools?

If Truitt thinks that it is necessary for funds to be given to people to get them a good education, then why not invest that very money in the very public schools the state super would be constitutionally supposed to support to help those very students succeed in their public schools?

Yep, that “direct experience working with the governor’s office” doesn’t sound so great. So why brag about it?