Our State Superintendent Will Rally, Just Not For Public Schools

Rally (noun) –
1a : a mustering of scattered forces to renew an effort
2: a mass meeting intended to arouse group enthusiasm (merriam-webster.com)

The following tweet came from our state superintendent on June 25th of this year.

Farmers

It is the right of every American to come together and peacefully speak out for an issue. What someone rallies for speaks for their interests and values.

When a lawmaker or an elected official attends a rally, it can show his priorities and/or his loyalties like Mark Johnson.

According to the job description of the state superintendent, Johnson is responsible for the “day-to-day” management of the North Carolina public school system. It seems that if anything was to threaten the public school system, then Mark Johnson would be the first to “rally” for the public school system and the students in the public school system.

This past January a rally was held in Raleigh at the Halifax Mall of public school advocates calling for a fix to the class size mandate that threatens most public school systems. This unfunded dictate would cause LEA’s to make decisions on what classes must be eliminated and how to navigate certain obstacles on classroom space and teacher allotment.

That rally was to petition Raleigh’s lawmakers to do the right thing. FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Mark Johnson was not there. Didn’t even tweet about it. Yet a former state superintendent was present, Bob Etheridge. He was rallying for public schools.

But that does not mean Mark Johnson did not “rally” for people in January.

rally

Johnson was there. He was even the keynote speaker. He will rally for charter schools in a state that has gone out of its way to deregulate charter schools, ramp up vouchers, and use taxpayer money to fund those endeavors when no empirical data shows an overall increase in student achievement.

That’s the same taxpayer money that is not now being used for public schools and not being used to actually fund the class size mandate.

Fast forward to another rally. IMG_6484

When nearly a fifth of the state’s teaching force showed up in Raleigh on May 16th, where was Mark Johnson?

Not there in Raleigh. He didn’t even tweet about it.

But he did tweet about the NC Farmers on June 25th. And they certainly need all of our support, but did Johnson ever approach the NCGA about their decision to protect hog farm corporations in lawsuits when they are clearly encroaching on quality of life for people who live in the rural areas near them?

Ironically, when Johnson tweets support for agricultural studies in rural ares he is supposedly showing support for counties whose school systems may rely on DPI to help with professional development and other resources. If Johnson wanted to help some of those rural areas, then maybe he would have fought harder for DPI to keep both their budgeting and their staff who service all students.

Hard to be a leader of the public schools when you don’t rally with teachers or for public schools, but rather seem more interested in being friendly with those who seek to privatize public schools like in the following instance:

Jebbush.png

That was on June 26th, the day after the rally for farmers. By the end of the week, Johnson laid off over 40 DPI veterans. The Human Resources Dept. did the laying-off. Johnson wasn’t there.

There’s a pattern, and it shows that Mark Johnson simply refuses to rally for, with, and among teachers in support of public education.

How Easily Supt. Johnson Could Have Prevented the Recent Department of Public Instruction Purge…

…but it would mean going against the wishes of those who control him, and it would also break tradition of actually serving the public school system.

From WRAL’s Kelly Hinchcliffe this past June 29:

State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced Friday that the Department of Public Instruction is eliminating 61 positions – 40 employees and 21 vacant positions. The layoffs are in response to $5.1 million in budget cuts lawmakers made to the agency.

The cuts mainly affect employees in two divisions – Educator Support Services, which helps some of the state’s lowest-performing schools, and Information Technology. The General Assembly reduced the agency’s administrative funds by 6.2 percent this school year and 13.9 percent next school year.

“I support the decisions we made, but we did not make them lightly,” Johnson said in a statement. “I thank all the affected employees for their hard work in support of our public schools. Each will have the option to receive transition assistance, and we are adamant about helping each affected employee who wants our help to find new employment” (https://www.wral.com/40-state-education-staffers-laid-off-21-vacant-positions-eliminated/17665067/).

That was $5.1 million in budget cuts. Yet Johnson has more than accounted $5.1 million in spending above and beyond what this year’s budget already allotted.

Remember when  Johnson was given 700,000 dollars to hire people loyal only to Johnson who were performing tasks already fulfilled and to cover legal fees in a lawsuit with the state board.

432

300

Johnson also spent a million dollars to pay Ernst & Young to perform an audit to find supposed “wasteful” uses of funds in DPI.

The audit concluded that DPI was underfunded.

There’s $1.7 million right there.

Then there is this from this past March:

The Department of Public Instruction is distributing a total of $4.8 million from funds allocated by the state in 2016 as part of its Read to Achieve initiative for “literacy support” in early grades. Johnson, in his time as superintendent, has emphasized the importance of reading proficiency and early literacy education(https://www.ednc.org/2018/03/09/superintendent-johnson-continues-push-early-literacy-announces-200-k-3-reading-teacher/).

Dr. June Atkinson shed some light on this “magic” funding last December. It might be worth reading this report from NC Policy Watch – “Mark Johnson accused of misleading the public regarding literacy program spending.”

Yes, that money Johnson “found” went to teachers, but it seemed to magically appear out of nowhere. On purpose.

Ironically, Johnson could have fought for more early literacy funding in this year’s budget. It seems to be his big endeavor. And if it that important to him, then would he not actively fight for additional funds for that initiative from the very same lawmakers who are lowering corporate tax rates AGAIN and bragging about a surplus?

Plus, look at the positions eliminated by Johnson and Raleigh.

$1.7 million + $4.8 million = a hell of a lot more than $5.1 million.

In fact, it could allow for those DPI veterans to remain working with low-performing schools and fill the vacant spots with literacy coaches and have money left over to hire more people who can help with reading initiatives around the state.

 

 

 

The State Superintendent Meets With Privatizers on Monday, Then 40 People Were Laid Off at DPI on Friday

On Monday,  Johnson was busily entertaining former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a multitude of other politicians who have made it their job to privatize public education in North Carolina.

meeting1

jebmark1

On Friday, he laid off 40 people from the Department of Public Instruction due to a budget cut made by many lawmakers in the same room as Johnson and Bush in a year where the state supposedly had a surplus.

From T. Keung Hui in  today’s News & Observer,

Layoff notices were given Friday to 40 employees at the state Department of Public Instruction — including several who work with North Carolina’s low-performing schools — to help meet a $5.1 million budget cut ordered by state lawmakers.

Most of the cuts were in Educator Support Services, a division that helps low-performing schools and districts, and in the Information Technology Division. In addition to the 40 layoffs, 21 vacant positions were eliminated, according to State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson.

“Today, we implemented the budget reductions required by law for the 2018-19 fiscal year,” Johnson said in a written statement. “The plan we developed, drafted by members of the DPI leadership team with the understanding and support of the State Board of Education, was informed by the recommendations contained in the third-party operational review of the agency completed earlier this year by Ernst & Young (EY) “ (https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article214065504.html).

Those same state lawmakers also gave Johnson 700,000 dollars to hire people loyal only to Johnson who were performing tasks already fulfilled and to cover legal fees in a lawsuit with the state board.

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Those same lawmakers also gave Johnson a million dollars to pay Ernst & Young to perform an audit to find supposed “wasteful” uses of funds in DPI.

They concluded that DPI was underfunded.

1.7 million dollars is exactly a third of the amount of money cut from the budget for DPI. Wonder how many jobs that would translate to?

Johnson’s remarks in the N&O report were submitted by a written report. He could meet Jeb Bush personally, but was he there to give the DPI employees who have been there much longer than he has their notices?

What Johnson said later in his written statement is even more egregious.

“I support the decisions we made, but we did not make them lightly. I thank all the affected employees for their hard work in support of our public schools. Each will have the option to receive transition assistance, and we are adamant about helping each affected employee who wants our help to find new employment.”

All jobs in DPI that relate to charter schools and the Innovative School District were not touched.

This just keeps proving something that most public school advocates already knew: Mark Johnson is simply toxic for North Carolina’s public school system. Voting out the puppet masters who enable him in November could go a long way into reclaiming our public schools.

 

 

 

“Less Than Stellar” – The State Superintendent Is Right

Stellar

“Less than stellar.”

That’s what State Superintendent Mark Johnson said about his recent comments concerning teacher pay in rural counties.

It’s one of the first times that he has been correct in gauging his performance as the top public school official in the state. But in truth, Johnson’s entire tenure as state superintendent has been less than stellar.

The first paragraph of today’s News & Observer op-ed was nothing more than a beginning at an ill-fated attempt in damage control for an elected public official who has been anything but “public.”

A key challenge facing North Carolina today is the urban-rural divide. This probably isn’t news to you. Gov. Roy Cooper started the Hometown Strong project to focus on this issue. What is surprising is how I recently triggered a statewide partisan flare-up after my admittedly inelegant attempt to highlight how this urban-rural split causes us to see things differently (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article198795214.html?__twitter_impression=true).

Bridging that “urban – rural divide?” What about the move last July by Johnson to halt use of the key list-serve communications to LEA’s around the state leaving school systems, especially those in the rural counties, in the dark over DPI mandates? What about not fighting the cuts to DPI’s budget of nearly 20% over two years that would have been used to help professional development in school systems whose local budgets are strained?

“Partisan?” That’s a word Johnson uses to hopefully dismiss any notion that he is a politically motivated individual – one who is suing his own state board of education over power grabbing that occurred in a special session of the NC General Assembly that was meant to address HB2 but became a secret political coup. And the very day this op-ed comes out, arguments from lawyers that taxpayers are paying for are arguing over politics on Johnson’s behalf to the NC Supreme Court over that same power grab.

“Surprising?” Not at all. Just look at all of Johnson’s missives in the past – long on rhetoric, short on action.

Further in his “stellar” op-ed, Johnson says,

Last year, my team and I worked with the General Assembly to commit $105 million to replace clearly outdated school buildings in rural communities that cannot afford to build schools on their own.

But at any time did Johnson ever make comment on the class size mandate that will force local systems to create more class room space to accommodate an unfunded law?

No.

This op-ed was nothing but an attempt to deflect attention from Johnson’s inexperience, lack of scope, and refusal to actually engage in the conversations he says that we must have. But that does not keep him from trying to claim the high road as his own when he ends with this:

We don’t agree on everything, but the governor and I can, and do, engage in productive conversations. I want others to join us.

Yet, if anything has become apparent with Mark Johnson, it is that he is not willing to have those conversations. If he can’t control the arena, the medium, or the audience, then he does not want to have the conversation. For a man who claims we need to be “urgent” and fight to transform public schools, Mark Johnson would rather write glittering op-eds, make videos, and only talk in controlled atmospheres. Anything else is too confrontational and fear-inducing.

Ironic that this past week, Johnson was invited to have one of those conversations with Mark Jewell from NCAE about the very comments he made that prompted this very op-ed. He declined.

So much for conversations.

But it certainly was an “inelegant attempt.”

Not Ready to Lead: Mark Johnson’s Empty List of Accomplishments

After almost one full year in office, Mark Johnson has shown that he is not ready to be a leader.

In fact, he seems rather satisfied with going around in circles.

The State Superintendent’s most recent op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina Public Schools: Accelerating into 2018” is simply a long extended comparison between the state’s school system and a fine-tuned race car that should leave all public school advocates suffocating from the exhaust. (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/20/north-carolina-public-schools-accelerating-2018/).

Why? Because what he said in that op-ed is a perfect example of how he is more concerned with a narrow-minded view of public education than actually investigating what really makes public education thrive.

It is indicative of someone more concerned with the appearance of matters rather than tackling the very obstacles that stand in the way of public schools succeeding.

It is symptomatic of someone who wants to appear that he is leading, but really is most reliant on certain people on West Jones Street to keep him propped up in office.

It is an avenue that someone with his lack of leadership would use when he has been asked multiple times by the state board of education what his actual plan for the state’s public school system is yet he stares ahead and balks at the opportunity.

In the first paragraph Johnson states,

“Before race drivers start a race, teams fine-tune cars to ensure ultimate performance. At your N.C. Department of Public Instruction, my team and I have been inspecting and calibrating while simultaneously moving forward at a hundred miles per hour. We cannot waste another moment in making our education system better equipped to support educators, parents and students in your communities.”

That sense of urgency with which he defined his brief tenure may translate well inside a small circular course like a NASCAR track, but North Carolina is more vast with differing terrains and different roads.

It has been over a year since Johnson was elected as the state superintendent, and if someone were to try and create a list of his accomplishments as the leader of the state’s public school system, it would be hard not to see that the actions has taken taken are in direct contrast to his campaign “promises.”

  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 summer.

But North Carolians have not really heard anything except some glittering generalities.

  1. Johnson said that he would decrease the amount of standardized testing that NC would subject students to, but this past week he announced that he wants to “have proficiency indicators for kindergartners” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/n-c-kindergartners-will-soon-provide-more-data-for-parents/article_29c278bf-e00b-5c6a-8788-06dbca68de49.html).

That sounds like more testing.

  1. In his op-ed, Johnson celebrates the “revamped” NC School Report Card website and even went around the state to hand out certificates to school representatives who received high school performance grades. He said that people wanted more transparency.

But did he address the fact that the way the school performance grades will be calculated in the near future with a smaller grading scale and the removal of some indicators like Biology I scores will actually assure that more schools will receive failing grades? And did he acknowledge the fact that those new report cards actually show how much our state depends on SAS’s hidden algorithms to measure school success?

  1. Johnson has called for an audit of the Department of Public Education.

Yet his lack of planning and foresight will make it an intentionally rushed process that will not yield positive results. And if he is calling for an audit, will he allow it to highlight the fact that he is using taxpayer money to hire people to do tasks that are already being fulfilled within DPI? Will that audit state how much money he was given to hire people only loyal to him and to cover the legal bills of the current lawsuit when the state board has to use its own budget to defend its constitutional right?

  1. In this op-ed, Johnson criticized the presence of unspent money in the Read to Achieve program by previous administrations.

Yet he never investigated how that money was earmarked and who was responsible for that. Johnson even hired as his Chief Budget Advisor someone who is tied to that debacle (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/12/06/mark-johnson-accused-misleading-public-regarding-literacy-program-spending/).

  1. Johnson did not even talk about the class size mandate debacle that is literally hurting every school district with multitudes of elementary schools facing a decision to cut “specials.” Yet he seems to celebrate the arts and music in NC’s public schools, especially the elementary schools.

Mark

What has he done to help insure that the “specials” stay in our schools with a General Assembly ramming an unfunded class size mandate that threatens almost every local budget.

  1. Furthermore, Johnson seems rather complicit with the legislature cutting the budget for DPI while he is actually taking taxpayer money to fight the state school board over the power grab that the NCGA did in a special session that gives him control over elements of the school system that the voting public did not actually elect him to have.

In fact, when Johnson mentioned “hyper-partisan era of disagreement,” it metaphorically made that race car in the analogy backfire because he himself and the state board of education are stuck in a lawsuit that is about to be judged AND ALL OF THEM ARE OF THE SAME POLITICAL PARTY!

This is not accelerating into the new year. In fact, it is rather confining public school students within a small venue forcing them to always turn in the same direction.

And this post has not even begun to talk about the use of vouchers, the deregulation of charter schools, and the absolute mess that the Innovative School District has become – all of which Johnson supports.

But here is the biggest disconnect with Johnson’s analogy and perhaps the most telling feature of his op-ed. He states,

“While we conduct this important fine-tuning, we know that the best-running car won’t win a race if you drive the wrong way. Education efforts with outdated priorities will take us the wrong direction, so we are moving North Carolina public schools away from a one-size-fits-all approach. That outdated strategy does not work, and with technological advances, we no longer have to pretend it does. At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.”

While Johnson talks about the “fine-tuning” of a car and the need for different tracks for different people it is tellingly ironic that he uses an analogy that shows people “driving” on the same track in competition with each other. And his narrow-minded comparison seems only to focus on the car itself when the very people he seems to only answer to in the NC General Assembly should be helping more to provide fuel and make sure the track is safe to travel upon. That means addressing economic gaps, poverty, hunger, and investment in public education.

They also need to make sure that a pit crew is there to help.

Besides with everything that is taking place, it seems that we need more all-terrain vehicles that can go anywhere.

A Response to Mark Johnson’s Latest Missive – With Help From Ricky Bobby

Dear Supt. Johnson,

I read with great interest your recent op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina Public Schools: Accelerating into 2018” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/20/north-carolina-public-schools-accelerating-2018/).

And after reading your long extended comparison between the state’s school system and a fine-tuned race car, I found myself suffocating from the exhaust.

Why? Because what you said in that op-ed is a perfect example of how you are more concerned with a narrow-minded view of public education than actually investigating what really makes public education thrive.

In the first paragraph you state,

“Before race drivers start a race, teams fine-tune cars to ensure ultimate performance. At your N.C. Department of Public Instruction, my team and I have been inspecting and calibrating while simultaneously moving forward at a hundred miles per hour. We cannot waste another moment in making our education system better equipped to support educators, parents and students in your communities.”

That sense of urgency with which you defined your brief tenure may translate well inside a small circular course like a NASCAR track, but North Carolina is more vast with differing terrains and different roads.

It has been over a year since you were elected as the state superintendent, and if someone were to try and create a list of your accomplishments from your first calendar year as the leader of the state’s public school system, it would be hard not to see that the actions you have taken are in direct contrast to your campaign “promises.”

  1. 1. You said that you conducted a “listening tour” around the state to gather ideas and to help craft innovations in classroom teaching. You said at one time that you would present those findings when that tour was over in the summer.

But we have not really heard anything except some glittering generalities.

  1. You said that you would decrease the amount of standardized testing that we would subject students to, but this past week you announced that you want to “have proficiency indicators for kindergartners” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/n-c-kindergartners-will-soon-provide-more-data-for-parents/article_29c278bf-e00b-5c6a-8788-06dbca68de49.html).

That sounds like more testing to me.

  1. 3. In your op-ed, you celebrate the “revamped” NC School Report Card website and even went around the state to hand out certificates to school representatives who received high school performance grades. You said that people wanted more transparency.

But did you address the fact that the way the school performance grades will be calculated in the near future with a smaller grading scale and the removal of some indicators like Biology I scores will actually assure that more schools will receive failing grades? And did you acknowledge the fact that those new report cards actually show how much our state depends on SAS’s hidden algorithms to measure school success?

  1. 4. You have called for an audit of the Department of Public Education.

Yet your lack of planning and foresight will make it an intentionally rushed process that will not yield positive results. And if you are calling for an audit, will you allow it to highlight the fact that you are using taxpayer money to hire people to do tasks that are already being fulfilled within DPI? Will that audit state how much money you were given to hire people only loyal to you and to cover the legal bills of the current lawsuit when the state board has to use its own budget to defend its constitutional right?

  1. In this op-ed, you criticized the presence of unspent money in the Read to Achieve program by previous administrations.

Yet you never investigated how that money was earmarked and who was responsible for that. You even hired as your Chief Budget Advisor someone who is tied to that debacle (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/12/06/mark-johnson-accused-misleading-public-regarding-literacy-program-spending/).

  1. You did not even talk about the class size mandate debacle that is literally hurting every school district with our elementary schools facing a decision to cut “specials.” Yet you seem to celebrate the arts and music in our public schools, especially the elementary schools.

Mark

What have you done to help insure that the “specials” stay in our schools with a General Assembly ramming an unfunded class size mandate that threatens almost every local budget.

  1. Furthermore, you seem rather complicit with the legislature cutting the budget for DPI while you are actually taking taxpayer money to fight the state school board over the power grab that the NCGA did in a special session that gives you control over elements of the school system that the voting public did not actually elect you to have.

In fact, when you mentioned “hyper-partisan era of disagreement,” it metaphorically made that race car in the analogy backfire because you yourself and the state board of education are stuck in a lawsuit that is about to be judged AND YOU ARE OF THE SAME POLITICAL PARTY!

This is not accelerating into the new year. In fact, it is rather confining our students within a small venue forcing them to always turn in the same direction.

But here is the biggest disconnect with your analogy and perhaps the most telling feature of your op-ed. You state,

“While we conduct this important fine-tuning, we know that the best-running car won’t win a race if you drive the wrong way. Education efforts with outdated priorities will take us the wrong direction, so we are moving North Carolina public schools away from a one-size-fits-all approach. That outdated strategy does not work, and with technological advances, we no longer have to pretend it does. At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.”

While you talk about the “fine-tuning” of a car and the need for different tracks for different people it is tellingly ironic that you use an analogy that shows people “driving” on the same track in competition with each other. And your narrow-minded comparison seems only to focus on the car itself when the very people you seem to only answer to in the NC General Assembly should be helping more to provide fuel and make sure the track is safe to travel upon. That means addressing economic gaps, poverty, hunger, and investment in public education.

They also need to make sure that a pit crew is there to help.

Besides with everything that is taking place, it seems that we need more all-terrain vehicles that can go anywhere.

Even Ricky Bobby knows that.

ricky bobby

The State Superintendent Needs Someone to Speak For Him – Someone Who Speaks With Details Is Preferred

State Superintendent Mark Johnson has begun to use the $700,000 of tax payer money given to him by the NC General Assembly to begin hiring people who can help carry out his nebulous, amorphous, and ambiguous agenda that has been long in the making but short in the doing.

That $700,000 dollars is specifically for Johnson to fill positions that report only to him as he seems to have a hard time collaborating with others on the state board to make sure schools have what they need.

As WRAL reported late last week,

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has begun hiring new staff for his office, using $700,000 in taxpayer money given to him by the General Assembly this year.

Johnson can create up to 10 full-time positions and hire staff without approval of the State Board of Education, a key provision lawmakers granted him as he battles the state board in court over control of the public school system.

He recently received budget approval from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management to create three positions, and more are expected later. According to OSBM, the three positions and budgeted amounts approved for the salaries (excluding benefits) are:

Remember that that $700,000 is a special budgetary gift from the same NC General Assembly which slashed the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by over 20% in the latest two-year budget.

Remember that that $700,000 is a special budgetary gift from the same NC General Assembly that financed Johnson’s lawsuit against the State Board of Education which has called into question Johnson’s need to be enabled just to produce results in his job.

And that second job listed above? The Information and Communication Specialist who will make more than almost every teacher with the highest credentials and most advanced degrees and certification who has been working in schools for longer than Johnson has been alive? That job is for a spokesperson.

That’s right. Johnson is hiring someone to speak for him. Just him.

Do not let it be lost on anyone that the Department of Public Instruction, which Johnson “leads,” already has a communication specialist. The problem is that that spokesperson would speak for the entirety of DPI, not just Johnson alone. As WRAL relates,

Johnson also plans to hire a communications specialist who will work directly for him. DPI recently hired a new communications director, Drew Elliot, but he serves both the superintendent and state board. In a phone interview Thursday, Elliot said the superintendent wants his own communications specialist because he has a “renewed focus on communication.”

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating things like details and direct answers.

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating directly with all school systems throughout the entire year unlike over the summer when Johnson ordered a vital list serve portal to be shut down.

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating direct answers instead of giving ambiguous responses like he did in the last state school board meeting when he was asked about his views on the cuts to DPI and the new principal pay plan.

And hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve finding someone who has more experience in being a spokesperson than Johnson has in being an educator and instructional leader.

That shouldn’t be too hard. There’s probably another person from McCrory’s administration ready to take on the task.

Or maybe Sean Spicer or even Anthony Scaramucci?

scaramucci

 

 

 

Not Saying Much With a Lot of Words – The Disappointing Interview With State Superintendent Mark Johnson

In what might be a first in the nine months that he has been in office, North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson gave an interview that was accessible to the average North Carolinian.

johnson

In “‘Fighting the status quo’: Inside the combative world of NC’s new public schools chief,” Johnson offers some explanation of his vision for North Carolina and reflects on his rather unorthodox term as the leader of the public schools in North Carolina (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/27/fighting-status-quo-inside-combative-world-ncs-new-public-schools-chief/).

For many, this interview might have shed some light on what Johnson really hopes to accomplish. It may have had some substance and some weight to it. It may have offered details not previously known. It may have filled in some empty spaces.

Yet, for many public school advocates, it was another example of not saying much with a lot of words. And that conclusion is based on five specific instances within the interview / profile that glaringly confirm Johnson’s focus on what is to happen in North Carolina’s public schools seems to be in direct contrast to his actions and / or words.

  1. Three initiatives?

Alex Granados and Kelly Hinchcliffe (from EdNC.org and WRAL respectively) write,

During the interview, Johnson spoke passionately about his vision for public schools and the three initiatives for which he has the most excitement:

  • Promoting early childhood learning by encouraging parents to read to their children every day
  • Advancing personalized learning in classrooms so students can work at their own pace
  • Teaching high school students that college is not the only path to success.

Those three initiatives speak to the nebulous approach that Johnson has used in his tenure.

First, what state superintendent has not encouraged parents to read to their children? That is certainly not a new idea, nor is the focus on early childhood education. It usually depends on how much one is willing to invest in the initiative.

In the video interview, Johnson talked about how investing one dollar in pre-K initiatives yielded a return of anywhere between $4 and $16 into the economy. How odd that Johnson not openly fight against the reduction of the budget for DPI that would help in this funding this endeavor.

Furthermore, when many kids who struggle in schools come from impoverished areas of the state, they may have parents or guardians who may not be able to sacrifice the time to make reading to their children a priority simply because they are trying to work to get the necessities of life. There is more to getting children “kindergarten ready” than just reading to them.

And is he ready to fight for the resources to make that happen? And will he be ready to reach out to these parents, because he surely has not been all-together approachable so far.

Secondly, advancing personalized learning requires resources and professional development. It also requires allowing teachers to have the time to work with individual students and a willingness to not measure success by timed intervals. There is nothing that Johnson has said that would lend thought to an idea of extra funds, more professional development, smaller classes while maintaining specials, or lightening the restrictive bonds of promoting students when schools are measured by strict graduation rates.

If students are to be encouraged to go “at their own pace,” then what will Johnson do to make sure that teachers are able to spend more time and attention to each individual?

And that “teaching high school students that college is not the only path to success?” Then why allow the state to make all students take the ACT which is a college-entrance test rather than allow career ready students to take another assessment that is constructed for their particular program of study?

  1. About “Taking Orders” From the General Assembly

Johnson said in the interview,

“I have a great working relationship with the General Assembly, and our visions actually align very similarly,” he said. “It’s a give and take. We don’t agree on everything, and we work together on what we do agree with.”

What has he ever publicly disagreed with the General Assembly about? And the fact that their “visions align very similarly” seems more of an approval for the many “reforms” that West Jones Street has enacted.

In fact, Johnson sounds more compliant than leading real change. That’s not “transformation” of public education. That’s “preservation” of the General Assembly’s actions.

  1. “Urgency, Ownership, Innovation, and Transparency.”

It was mentioned by the writers:

Throughout the interview, Johnson frequently returned to his often-used talking points, promising to bring urgency, ownership, innovation and transparency to the state’s education system. He also spoke about his past and how it has shaped his beliefs about public education.

The word “urgency” has become a bit of a mantra for him. He highlighted it in his first state school board meeting. But that “urgency” takes an interesting turn in meaning in this interview. As stated,

But do not expect any major changes right away if Johnson wins the lawsuit.

“I think if you’re looking for a seismic shift, you’re not going to find it. There’s not going to be this tidal wave of change that’s going to come bursting through the doors at DPI,” he said.

Instead, the changes would be systematic, with Johnson hoping to rework the agency’s organizational chart “to make things more accountable and transparent.”

Of course there will not be a “tidal wave” of change coming from the “doors of DPI.” Why? Because those tsunamis are coming from West Jones Street and the powers that be in the General Assembly whom Johnson works closely with.

If one listened to the interview in full, then it becomes apparent that there really are no concrete “innovations” that Johnson talks about, but rather general platitudes and lofty oversimplifications. Talking about having a strong relationship between communities and schools is not an innovation. That’s already happening. If anything, communities are talking about their schools and the need for their schools and have been communicating that with lawmakers and policy makers.

Furthermore, if there are any real concrete innovations that Johnson has, then he needs to be very specific about them and be public with them. That would show some real “ownership” and “transparency.”

  1. Testing

Johnson ran on a platform that said we as a state tested too much.

From the Charlotte Observer on Jan. 27 of this year,

“Too much testing” was a major theme in Johnson’s campaign, and the federal government’s switch from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act gives states more flexibility to scale back (http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article128951579.html).

So, guess what word never comes up in the article concerning the interview? It’s the same word that never is voiced in the entire 27 minute video interview linked to the interview.

That word is “testing.”

Not a word.

What is also interesting is that the state recently had to present its plan to adhere to the new ESSA standards. From the Sept. 5th article from the News & Observer by T. Keung Hui:

Despite pledges to try to cut back on high-stakes standardized testing, North Carolina schools will continue to largely be evaluated based on how well their students perform on state exams.

… State Supt. Mark Johnson had campaigned on a “too much testing” theme in 2016, saying the state could take advantage of the flexibility given in ESSA to scale things back. In an interview Friday, Johnson downplayed the significance of the new plan, saying it’s a living document that can be changed over time (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article171279007.html).

Downplaying it is not the way to “not talk” about it. Giving a coherent plan as to how he will reduce testing in the state in an open, transparent manner would show that Johnson plans to “own” this part of his platform. It would be great if he was “urgent” about it as well because news that the ACT will become a central part of how each student will be measured no matter what “pathway” he/she chooses.

Or maybe they can take it when they are ready at their own pace. Or better yet, let’s not force each student to take a test designed for college admittance when not all students want to go to college.

  1. Blaming Previous DPI Leaders

One final note concerns Johnson’s insistence that previous leaders were simply not accomplishing what needed to be done.

However, it is interesting that Johnson blames others who had to work under a more restrictive atmosphere than he supposedly will if he wins the lawsuit against the state board. In fact, Johnson’s entire tenure has centered around trying to win a lawsuit to not have to work under the same conditions that previous leaders had to.

It really only proves that if Johnson is going to “transform” anything, he is going to have the legislation do it for him, specifically in special sessions.

Now that’s transparency.

Principals Need More Respect Than This

If you want to look at the reason why a school performs well, then look to the relationships that surround the people: student, teachers, parents, community, staff, and what might be one of the most underappreciated roles in public education – the principal.

Principles-for-Hiring-Principals

The responsibility of a principal is hard to even describe, much less fathom, if you have not been in administration before. They are the face of a school, the sounding board of a community, and the instructional leaders.

When a principal is effective, great things happen in a school. When a principal is ineffective, all facets of a school can stagnate.

All effective principals understand that the most sacred dynamic in the school is the student-teacher relationship. They understand that education is a people centered endeavor, not a transaction. They understand that a single test does not define a person.

Yet, principals in North Carolina rank 50th in the United States when it comes to salary.

That’s 50th.Out of 51.

So the powers that be in Raleigh did something about it. Maybe they finally realized that recruiting and properly compensating principals would be greatly enhanced if they had a competitive salary.

Therefore, they “reformed” it. The problem is that those lawmakers forgot that education is a people-centered avocation – not a production line manufacturing plant of knowledge dispensation.

As the venerable Lindsay Wagner (newly housed within the Public School Forum of NC) wrote this week,

North Carolina’s principals, whose salaries ranked 50th in the nation in 2016, watched this year as lawmakers changed how they are compensated, moving away from a salary schedule based on years of service and earned credentials to a so-called performance-based plan that relies on students’ growth measures (calculated off standardized test scores) and the size of the school to calculate pay” (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/).

Yep, they really did something about it. As Wagner states,

But the plan’s design has produced scenarios that result in some veteran principals conceivably earning as much as 30 percent less than what they earned on the old  pay schedules—prompting some to consider early retirements.”

They made a terrible situation even worse.

This salt-infused Band-Aid of a reform is yet another example of a rough-shod method that lawmakers have used to overhaul a once thriving public school system into a shadow of its former self –  all in the name of improving education.

If one reads the entirety of Wagner’s report, it becomes apparent that the new principal pay plan is long on political ideology and short of thoughtful research and reflection. Too many scenarios exist that could force many a principal to see stark reductions in salary based on arbitrary test scores. Veteran principals, which are becoming a rare breed in NC, would even be encouraged to retire early.

But one comment really stands out.

“Board member Tricia Willoughby repeatedly questioned who designed the principal pay plan.”

It seems no one really knows who came up with the new pay plan. And that is just further proof of the problem that truly exists in Raleigh.

The problem? Lawmakers and other bureaucrats forgot that education is centered around process and progress, not test scores. They forgot that growth means more than arbitrary proficiency. They forgot that educators collaborate and not compete.

It is telling when you read a state board member say,

“The General Assembly really needs a partner called DPI, who understands the implications of various legislative proposals and can prepare expert advice on the outcomes that might result.”

What that means is that there is no communication. No collaboration. No respect for process. No respect for growth.

A good principal could have told them that.

For a group of people who have so much power over public schools, they sure could use a good education in how schools really work.

 

 

Welcome Back to School 2017-2018 – Mark Johnson’s Empty Video Address

With a new school year starting in North Carolina, it usually is customary for leaders of school systems and individual schools to offer words of encouragement and support to teachers to help inaugurate classes.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson offered his first “Welcome Back to School” video to teachers this past week, and while it seems to say all of the “right” things, listening closely to what he does actually state and claim is a very good indication of the disconnect that he has with our state’s public school system.

Here is the link: https://youtu.be/B5Dwf–SoVs.

As he talks throughout the 3 and ½ minutes of the video, the transcript of his words are shown.

johnson video

I would encourage anyone to watch it multiple times and then consider the following observations based on what he says and what he claims. The purpose is to show that Mark Johnson does not have a firm grasp of either what the job of the state’s instructional leader entails or what is the actual terrain of public education in North Carolina outside of what he is told by those who control the General Assembly.

1. “The challenges that come with your profession…” –The challenges that good teachers face really become opportunities to teach and reach students. The problem with what Johnson says here is that the challenges that many teachers face in the profession are factors and obstacles outside of the classroom. Consider lower per-pupil expenditures, fewer resources, elimination of due-process rights, and other policies enacted by West Jones Street and passively approved by Johnson and you will see that the challenges that really come with the teaching profession in NC have their roots in Raleigh.

2. “We here in Raleigh continue to strive to put you in a position that you do best – teach.” – It seems that if such were the case, then defunding the budget of DPI by 20% over the next two years, not increasing per-pupil expenditures, eliminating professional development funds, eliminating class size caps, and threatening teacher assistant jobs would not all happen. Those very actions actually increase the work load of teachers and decrease the amount of time for planning and instruction. The only way that these could help teachers be able to teach more is to add hours to the day – not the work day, but the actual day which would require slowing down the rotation of the earth and its path around the sun.

3. “We have already eliminated tests such as the ASW’s, PISA, duplicative math tests.” – To claim that he has spearheaded the elimination of the ASW’s and the PISA is laughable.

Why? Because the ASW’s are not a test. That is the Assessment of Student Work evaluation component for teachers of subjects that are not tested by state tests. In fact, ASW’s were eliminated because of budget cuts.

I personally was on the ASW evaluation system. Right after I turned in my portfolio of year-long reflection , I received this notification:

This notification will likely come as bittersweet news to many of you. While much of your feedback indicates that the ASW process allowed many teachers to dig more deeply into their standards, engage in more reflective teaching practices, and receive the same “validation” as tested subject areas, I recognize that participating in the ASW process also pushed the boundaries of some individuals’ technological comfort zones and was a time-intensive endeavor.

 Due to budget cuts to the Department of Public Instruction, the paid component of the 2016-17 review process ended on June 23.  A small cadre of reviewers are reviewing the remaining Evidence Collections for CEU credit.  We will review as many 2016-17 Evidence Collections as possible this summer.  If we are not able to review collections at the same level as previous years, the final decision as to whether we release the 2016-17 results will be made by DPI leadership.  

At this time, there are no plans to replace the ASW process.  Teachers who formerly participated in the ASW process or locally developed plans will not have a growth measure moving forward.  Teachers who participated in the ASW process will not receive school-level growth.

Thank you for your dedication in learning and implementing the ASW process over the past 4 years. The ASW process was one of continuous improvement, driven by your feedback and rigorous expectations for yourselves and your peers.  To support you in continuing professional learning, many of the current ASW resources will remain available to you or be adapted and posted either on the ASW wikispace or specific content area wikispaces.  ASW training materials are, at their core, about excellent instructional practices in our performance-based classrooms and we want to ensure your access to these helpful materials in the future. 

Best wishes,XXXXX

What Johnson is taking credit for is his not understanding of what he is referring to and the fact that he is perfectly fine with budget cuts.

And the PISA? That’s the Program for International Student Assessment that is regarded as one of the best measures of how US students compare to their global counterparts. Only 5-6 thousand US students take the test per year. So, what Johnson is saying is that he stopped 150 students (approximately) in NC from taking a two-hour test that many in his political party use to argue their viewpoints about the deficiencies of public education.

4. The Testing Transparency Report and the ability to see what tests are required by the federal government, the state, or local. – This is Johnson taking credit for something that already exists. It’s almost like someone giving me a map book of roads in NC when I already have Google Maps installed on my smartphone.

Besides, with the emphasis that this state will be adding to each student’s performance on the ACT, it will be an interesting exercise in transparency. Consider that the state will require every high school junior to take the ACT and if he/she does not make a high enough score or have a certain GPA, then those students will have to take a remediation component their senior year on top of what his/her academic load is already.

In other words, the state will be paying the ACT for a bunch of tests that teachers have no control over making and students who do not score high enough will then have to remediated with a program that is bought by the state and has to be administered in class while the actual curriculum is being taught. Oh, and the review materials for the remediation and retaking the ACT has to be bought.

How’s that for transparency? Which leads us to…

5. “Honor the things we do in a classroom.” – Teachers do not feel honored when they are having to champion an academic endeavor that they had no voice in helping fashion in a classroom already filled with other responsibilities and watch as third parties not only make and assess those tests, but profit from tax payer money in doing so.

That does not sound very honorable.

6. The link between high schools and community colleges. The community college link to local school systems is already in place. If funding was there, then more students could take advantage of it.

7. Teachers with “their own hard work, teamwork and leadership, have increased opportunities and success for their students.” – Those innovative teachers who have with “their own hard work, teamwork and leadership, have increased opportunities and success for their students” have been doing that for a long time. Claiming that it is a victory to have discovered these things is rather empty.

Interestingly, Johnson eventually makes the point that teachers’ time needs to be honored. If that were the case, then there would be more time for teachers to collaborate and have professional development that did not take away from their classroom planning. That time to collaborate and connect is how these great innovations become shared – from teacher to teacher, not teacher to Raleigh to teacher.

8. “I wish I could visit every school and talk with every teacher.” Johnson should make himself more available to the press, advocacy groups, and NCAE.

9. “Technology has made it possible to hear directly from every person.” – Hearing directly from people is different from listening to people. And communication has not been a strong suit of the Johnson tenure. In the summer of this year, Johnson instructed DPI to halt communications to districts through a key list serv. Hard to communicate when you are unwilling to, well, communicate.

10. “We want to know what you think.” – Johnson supposedly said he was going on an extensive “listening tour” when he came into office. He should already know what we think.

11. Short questionnaires. – I invite anyone to take any of these surveys and actually believe that the issues have not already been covered and commented on by teachers. The first claims to be about the school calendar. Much has already been offered by teachers on this subject. But if teachers had such a voice in this, then Raleigh would have already made the change instead of listening to the lobbyists for tourism.

12. “I want to represent your voice in Raleigh.” If anything, Johnson has shown himself to not represent teachers and public schools, but rather GOP lawmakers like Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore. The fact that he did not stand up and fight for funds for DPI and what it does for poorer more rural areas already shows that he is not a representative of our voices in Raleigh. It shows that he is part of the machine in Raleigh.

13. “The only country to have a dream named for it.” Johnson talks a lot of the “American Dream.” And it is true that we are the only country with a national ethos of a “dream.” But it is hard to dream and think it can happen when the reality of poverty levels and need in this state take away people’s ability to pursue dreams. They are too busy trying to get by.

Simply put, this video message is a clear indication that Johnson is not in touch with what his job entitles.

That is unless his job description is to help dismantle public education.