Using the Public School System as a Scapegoat – Mark Johnson’s Latest Erroneous Op-ed

Scapegoating – “Unfairly blaming an unpopular person or group of people for a problem or a person or group that is an easy target for such blame.”

(From http://www.logicallyfallacious.com)

This past week, North Carolina lost out as a site for a new Toyota-Mazda mega plant that would have been worth over 1.6 billion dollars. According to WRAL,

North Carolina’s search for an automotive plant to call its own will continue, as Toyota and Mazda officials announced Wednesday that they will build a $1.6 billion factory in Huntsville, Ala.

The plant is expected to employ 4,000 people and produce 300,000 vehicles a year for the two companies when it opens in 2021. Toyota plans to assemble the Corolla sedan there, while Mazda said it will use the factory to produce new crossover vehicles for the U.S. market (http://www.wral.com/reports-nc-loses-toyota-mazda-car-plant-to-alabama/17247853/).

Let it be known that NC was a finalist – one of two states that made the final cut.

North Carolina Commerce Secretary said such a decision came down to “logistics.” He stated in the same WRAL report,

“North Carolina has a robust automotive parts industry, but they’re not necessarily where the sweet spot is for Toyota suppliers. Toyota has a plant in Alabama. They have an established supply chain that’s in Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, and also the proximity to Mexico for suppliers of parts.

“We can’t move North Carolina southwest. [With Alabama’s] geography, they’re proximally located in that corner where the supply chain is tended to locate.

However, State Superintendent Mark Johnson claimed a different reason: North Carolina’s education system. In a recent perspective in EdNC.org entitled “The talent pipeline is the key to bringing jobs to North Carolina,” Johnson offered the following:

We must offer a talent pipeline unmatched by our competitors and eliminate one of the biggest challenges companies currently face — recruiting skilled workers.

Supplying a skilled workforce that companies can’t get elsewhere starts in our public schools. North Carolina must demonstrate to students that we support multiple paths to success after graduation (https://www.ednc.org/2018/01/12/talent-pipeline-key-bringing-jobs-north-carolina/).

Johnson, in his “vast experience” as an economic planner and commerce analyst made a brief mention of the “auto parts supply” that Copeland talks about, but the premise of his op-ed seems to be relying on his “vast experience” as a teacher and “leader” of the public school system of a state that is in the top ten in population.

Johnson blamed (yes, that is essentially what he did) NC’s loss of a potential mega-plant on the lack of a “talent pipeline” and the current inability of our school systems to produce a workforce that could have worked the jobs that Toyota and Mazda could have brought.

Johnson scapegoated our public school system. Pure and simple.

It not the lack of talent; it was the fact that Alabama is geographically more positioned to work well for Toyota and Mazda. If NC’s talent pipeline was not good enough, then NC would not have been one of the two finalists.

Furthermore, Copeland has a lot more ethos, credibility, and experience to explain how Alabama landed the mega-plant. He’s been working on that much longer than Johnson has. A LOT MORE.

But if Johnson wants to make the claim that NC lost to Alabama because of its ability to create a talent pool, then maybe he should compare how both states treat their public school systems.

Simply refer to the NEA’s Rankings and Estimates Report where 2016 was ranked and 2017 statistics were projected. The NEA does the report every year and it is considered very reliable (http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/2017_Rankings_and_Estimates_Report-FINAL-SECURED.pdf).

NEA rankings

  • In 2016, Alabama had 4,863,300 people compared to North Carolina’s 10,146,788. That makes NC over twice as large as Alabama population-wise. That’s twice as much “talent” to choose from just looking at the numbers (Table A-1).
  • In 2016, AL had 137 school districts; NC had 115 (Table B-1). That means AL had more districts to monitor.
  • In 2016, AL enrolled about one-half the number of students in public schools as North Carolina (Table B-2). Again, NC has about double the students in school.
  • In 2016, NC had a higher rank of graduation rate from high schools (Table B-4).
  • In 2016, AL had an average teacher salary of $48,518; NC had $47,941 (C-5). That is not adjusted for cost of living. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, AL is a little more affordable than NC in terms of cost of living in the third quarter of last year (https://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/).
  • In 2016, NC had 30,755 total instructional staff members in public institutions of higher learning to AL’s 12,705 (Table C-7). That means we have more institutes of higher learning – lots more. That’s not even considering the private institutions.
  • Total personal income for AL in 2016 ranked 26th; NC ranked 13th (Table D-1 and D-3). People in NC on average made more money.

Those numbers do not help Johnson’s argument that we lack a talent pipeline. We have the human capital and obviously many more places post-secondary education opportunities. We definitely have the talent.

Look at the actual dollars spent reveals a common theme.

  • Pages 60 – 68 chronicle school revenue. In looking at the tables in this section, AL and NC actually align fairly closely. Alabama uses more local funding than North Carolina as NC has a state constitution that is by law supposed to fund at certain levels. But Tables F-7 and F-8 that show something rather startling. Frankly they show that Alabama invests more of its revenue in its schools than North Carolina.
  • And in Table H-5, it shows that AL ranked 21 states (in 2014) ahead of NC when it pertains to “State And Local Govt. Expenditures For All Education As % Of Direct General Expenditures, All Functions.”
  • Table H-8 has AL spending more per-capita for public education in K-12 than NC.
  • Table H-9 shows that AL spent more in 2014 per pupil NC.

Alabama invests more in public schools. They have less money to invest, but still invest more. They invest more in their students, teachers, and “pipelines.”

If Johnson wants to dispute these numbers then he would have to deal with the NEA, and he does not want to do that. He won’t even talk to its North Carolina affiliate, NCAE.

The perspective on EdNC.org that was published directly before Johnson’s was by Ferrel Guillory, a professor of journalism at UNC-CH. It is entitled “A map that colors North Carolina pale.” In it he deftly talks about per-pupil expenditures and what it has done to our state’s ability to service students (https://www.ednc.org/2018/01/12/map-colors-north-carolina-pale/). He shares a map:

nces-image-final-1024x682

Yep, Alabama is a shade darker. Says a lot.

Ironically, Johnson lauds a grant program for “career coaching.”

“We recently awarded $700,000 in Education Workforce Innovation grants. These state funds are supporting career coaches in school districts around the state who will better guide students to find the best post-graduation choice for them.”

$700,000? It could be twice as much if the NC General Assembly didn’t cover Johnson’s court costs in his battle to take more control of the public schools from the state board or hire people only loyal to him who duplicate work already being done.

432

300

More career coaches? How about fighting for more money to hire more GUIDANCE COUNSELORS in public schools. The numbers those warriors deal with are absolutely astronomical. In my school alone, each counselor has nearly 500 students in his/her case load.

If Mark Johnson wants to make the argument that NC lost the Toyota-Mazda mega-plant because of the lack of preparing a talent pipeline, then maybe he should read Guillory’s op-ed first.

Maybe he should fight against a reduction in DPI’s budget.

Maybe he should have helped rally to fund the class size mandate that is being rammed down school systems’ throats.

Maybe he should not advocate for “reforms” that are actually hurting the ability for public schools to even help the “talent pipeline” it already nurtures like unproven vouchers and unregulated charter school growth.

Maybe he should actually do his job and not use public schools as a scapegoat.

When Your State Superintendent Won’t “Rally”‘ 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)

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 his loyalties.

Take North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson for instance.

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 weekend 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 will 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. Yet a former state superintendent was present, Bob Etheridge. He was rallying for public schools.

Other rallies have been held in recent years for public education dealing with funding and keeping teacher assistants. Mark Johnson was not there for any of those as there are no indications of his attendance. On his personal webpage as state superintendent, Johnson remarks,

…having served as a teacher, an education leader, and as a father of a young daughter soon to start school, improving education in North Carolina is a personal mission for Johnson (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/statesuperintendent/).

It seems that with this assumed pedigree of public school commitment, Johnson would be the first to rally for public schools – as a teacher, a “leader,” and as a parent.

Yet it has been documented that Mark Johnson has refused to answer inquiries in state board meetings about public school policy which is in essence a chance to “rally” for public schools.

But that does not mean he will not “rally” for people. Take for instance an event on January 23rd.

rally

Johnson will be there. He’s 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.

Interesting that a man “elected” by the people would rally for school choice but not for traditional public schools where around 90% of the state’s students “choose” to attend school. But it is not surprising.

Why? Because Mark Johnson does not really seem to stand for public schools as much as he “rallies” for private interests and GOP stalwarts in the NC General Assembly. If he disagrees with that statement, then he can come to a rally for public schools and explain himself. He can be more “public” to the “public.” However, his unavailability and his unwillingness to speak up for public schools are becoming more of the rule rather than the exception.

Make no mistake, Mark Johnson is a puppet – a man whose entire experience in teaching and teacher preparation is less than two calendar years and whose only foray into public education policy is an unfinished term on a local school board.

When Johnson said in the last state school board meeting, “I think what the General Assembly is looking for is accountability, accountability for the money that is sent to this department,” what he is implying is, “I work for people on West Jones Street and not the people of the state. (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/07/state-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-clash-dpi-funding/#sthash.hajrdpLu.hb54ZsZP.dpbs).

He indicated that he only goes to “rallies” that he is told to go to. Even the rally he will attend for school choice is in the legislative building where the General Assembly meets.

So limited is Johnson’s experience in education and politics and so narrow is his vision for what should be done to actually help public schools that his naivety to be used by the General Assembly to carry out their ALEC-inspired agenda has become something of an open secret.

School choice is part of the ALEC agenda.

Of course Mark Johnson would rally for them.

Now, what North Carolina needs to do is rally to change the people in Raleigh in the next election.

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.

NC State Board of Education Vs. Mark Johnson and the Fight to Keep Public Schools “Public”

The North Carolina State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the lawsuit that the State Board of Education has against State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

dpi

Rather it is a lawsuit that the state board has against the certain GOP stalwarts within the NC General Assembly who view Johnson as the perfect puppet to help push through their efforts to expand charter schools and vouchers to private schools.

The State Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case means that it is considered so important that the appeals courts are being bypassed. Simply put, it might be the most important battle in the five-year fight against privatization of the public school system here in North Carolina.

It is a fight to keep the “public” in public education.

Make no mistake, Mark Johnson is a puppet – a man whose entire experience in teaching and teacher preparation is less than two calendar years and whose only foray into public education policy is an unfinished term on a local school board.

When Johnson says in the last state school board meeting, “I think what the General Assembly is looking for is accountability, accountability for the money that is sent to this department,” what he is saying is, “I work for people on West Jones Street and not the people of the state. (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/07/state-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-clash-dpi-funding/#sthash.hajrdpLu.hb54ZsZP.dpbs).

So limited is Johnson’s experience in education and politics and so narrow is his vision for what should be done to actually help public schools that his naivety to be used by the General Assembly to carry out their ALEC-inspired agenda has become something of an open secret.

Johnson has stated many times that the state board is standing in the way of what he was elected to do by the state’s voters. But what the lawsuit fights against is the power he was granted by the General Assembly after the election within a special session supposedly to address HB2. The general public did not vote for that.

As Kelly Hinchcliffe reported last Friday on WRAL.com, that newly seized power included, “ more flexibility in managing the state’s $10 billion education budget, more authority to dismiss senior level employees and control of the Office of Charter Schools (http://www.wral.com/nc-supreme-court-agrees-to-hear-state-board-s-lawsuit-against-superintendent/17171092/).

Add to that extra money for Johnson to hire people only loyal to him (and the General Assembly) even though it duplicates much of what others in DPI already do who have many times the experience. Add to that extra money to fight the lawsuit against the state board who is left to spend its budget to defend its constitutional right to help govern the public school system. Add to that the fact that DPI’s budget has been slashed by nearly %20 over the next two years without a fight from the person who is supposed to lead DPI.

This “lawsuit” has taken up almost an entire year – and the entirety of Johnson’s tenure as state superintendent, a tenure that has seen absolutely nothing.

An editorial from today’s News & Observer Editorial Board perfectly summed up the current job performance of one Mark Johnson. It stated,

“…Johnson, a hard-right Republican with limited experience in education (he served on a county school board) who’s now building a staff of his very own without much control of the State Board, thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money for his own use from his friends on Jones Street. And Johnson’s been none too eager to lay out his views on the state of public education very often. For someone who’s supposed to be the face of public education, he’s been a behind-the-scenes leader, taking his instructions apparently from legislative leaders (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article189061714.html).

Therefore, this court case about to be heard and decided upon by the State Supreme Court is not just the most important legal decision for the public school system in the last twenty years.

It’s the most important for the next “God knows how many” decades to come.

(I)ntruding on (S)chools (D)eliberately – Why There is Nothing Innovative About NC’s ISD Reform

Last week’s State Board of Education meeting saw a potential list of schools to be considered for the new NC Innovation School District whittled down to four.

The ISD Superintendent, Dr. Eric Hall, made his presentation to the SBOE answering questions and doing what he is expected to do: his job. And to all accounts that favor the use of the ISD, he has been doing well.

But no matter how “well” he is doing his job, it still does not cover the grossly intrusive nature and the glaring apparent contradiction that is North Carolina’s version of the “Achievement School District.”

This has been tried before in other states, most recently and most notably in Tennessee. Simply “google” Tennessee’s experiment to quickly find how unsuccessful that initiative was. State leaders who championed the use of the ASD here promised that it would be different in our state because, well, because….

If one looks at the time-line, the care, the money, and the soft kid gloves used to handle the selection of schools, then one can easily see that NC’s version of instituting an ASD really shows how North Carolina’s General Assembly and SBOE have weakened public schools. It almost seems that if any institution needs to be taken over because of its performance, then it would be a certain building on West Jones Street.

Consider the following:

  1. The word “innovative.”

Shakespeare had his famous Juliet say, “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Simply changing the name from ASD to ISD does not automatically alter the outcome. It still smells as “sweet” or in this case, pungent.

Handing over community schools to charter control is simply not innovative. It’s privatization. Looking to “for-profit” charter chains to bring “new ideas” when the very constraints that are holding back many of these “low-achieving” schools could be remedied by better treatment from Raleigh to the very populations that feed these schools is not innovative. It’s creating a situation that gives the appearance of a need from outside sources so that someone may profit.

  1. The State Superintendent’s mantra of “local control.”

If the control for power for NC’s public schools goes in favor of the NCGA and Mark Johnson, then Johnson will have control over the ISD. Yet, is it not Johnson who ran a platform that emphasized local control of schools? From an interview with WUNC in May of this year (http://wunc.org/post/qa-nc-superintendent-wants-give-schools-flexibility#stream/0):

“ But there is the distrust between people in Raleigh and out in the local school districts of whether or not that may be happening.”

“This department in Raleigh needs to be a place that is seen as a department that supports schools in the local districts, not tells schools what to do. “

With this particular “innovation,” what Raleigh is actually doing is telling systems what to do. Leaders may be saying that schools have a say in whether they want to be a part of the ISD, but look what happens if schools who are chosen for the ISD refuse to become part of the ISD – close down.

From WRAL on Sept. 18th:

“Once the state board selects a school for inclusion in the ISD, the local board of education that runs the school has two options – agree to relinquish control of the school or close it down” (http://www.wral.com/durham-johnston-schools-ask-to-be-excluded-from-nc-s-new-innovative-school-district/16948299/).

That’s not local control. That’s overreach.

  1. No one wants to be a part of it.

There is no indication that any single school on the list of prospective schools to be taken over by the Innovative School District wants to be a part of it.

Not one.

Again, not one – even after meeting with officials representing the ISD.

  1. Possible one school district?

After last week’s meeting with the State Board, it became apparent that it might be possible that the NC ISD has for the first year only one-school.

That’s a one-school district with one superintendent making $150,000 to run it with the unwavering support of the state superintendent, the state board, and the General Assembly. That school district will get every resource possible to make it work.

Imagine if every school in the state got that kind of support.

  1. Proving that poverty affects schools.

Alex Granados from EdNC.org this past Thursday published a report entitled “List of schools eligible for ISD cut to four.”

In it he articulated the selection process for the ISD school list.

Originally, he said he had a list of 48 schools based on the criteria set out in legislation. First, his team removed all schools that had school improvement grants which might be affected by joining the ISD. 

“We removed those schools because we know that they’re on a path, and they have additional resources, and we don’t want to see anything happen to those resources,” he said. 

That brought the number down to 41. Then his team removed all D schools, leaving them with only the F schools. Then they removed all F schools that met academic growth last year. 

“If they met growth, the hope is that the needle is going to start moving in the right direction,” he said. 

That left him with only F schools that did not meet growth last year. Then his team looked at the two years prior to last year. If the schools had met growth in those two years and also had a D, he said his team gave them the benefit of the doubt. 

Finally, they looked at the schools in the districts where 35 percent or more of the schools qualify as low performing. Those are the districts where all the schools could join the innovation zone if a school was chosen for the ISD. That brought the list down to six schools, two of which were removed at the meeting (https://www.ednc.org/2017/10/05/list-schools-eligible-isd-cut-four/).

If ever there was a correlation to poverty and student achievement, this list shows it because these schools were measured by the Jeb-Bush style grading system that literally shows that most every school which has an “F” school performance grade is one that services a population with high levels of poverty.

Even DPI’s recent report on school report cards grades and poverty yielded the following graph:

poverty table

DPI is run by Mark Johnson who is controlled by the General Assembly and may soon have control over the ISD process. That’s the same General Assembly which brags about a state surplus while lowering per pupil expenditure, expanding vouchers, and refusing to expand Medicaid. Oh, and they cut DPI’s budget drastically without the state superintendent fighting it.

That’s not innovation. It’s proof that the Innovative School District is yet another attempt at weakening the ties between the community and its schools to create a veiled appearance that the state needs to step in and do something that will profit someone else.

In Actuality State Supt. Johnson, You Are the “Status Quo” – Concerning Today’s Court Decision

Mark Johnson claims that he wants to change the “status quo.”

But in reality he wants to protect the “status quo.”

In fact, he is the “status quo.”

The-STATUS-QUO-Entrepreneur

The term “status quo” has become something of a nebulous term for public education and has evolved into a powerful logical fallacy used by reformers.

Consider the following from this afternoon’s News & Observer report from T. Keung Li and Lynn Bonner, two of the better education reporters here in the South.

“I am disappointed by the court’s ruling today,” Johnson said in a statement. “Chairman Cobey and Vice Chair (A.L.) Collins are vigorously defending the status quo for our education system at the expense of students, educators, and taxpayers” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article173307171.html).

The above states that the “status quo” of public education in North Carolina is not acceptable and therefore must be changed. It was said by Mark Johnson, NC State Superintendent of Public Schools after a three judge panel ruled to keep a stay in the months long battle of control of the state’s public schools.

Li and Bonner continue,

The judges agreed to continue delaying by 30 days its July ruling that upheld a state law that shifts more control over public education operations to Johnson.

The use of the “status quo” fallacy is not new, certainly for Mark Johnson (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/01/27/dont-fall-for-the-status-quo-fallacy-concerning-public-education/).

And it is a crutch that has reached absurdity because in actuality, Mark Johnson might be the very poster child for the “status quo.”

What Johnson and other business model reformers consider the “status quo” in education is intrinsically linked to a final product, measured by standardized testing and other mercurial measurements. However, the real “status quo” is not really linked to that final product. It is more a reflection of the constant infusion of reform models that have altered the process by which public schools have been able to teach our children. The truth is that the existing state of public education is always being subjected to scrutiny, modification, alteration, and change from outside forces for political or profit-minded reasons.

What I would consider the “status quo” is the commitment to flux and change to the variables that measure student achievement and school success by people outside of the actual education process. And in that regard, I do agree that the status quo should change.

If anything, the terrain of public education has been in a state of constant flux for the past thirty years. With the “Nation at Risk” report to “No Child Left Behind” to the advent of high stakes testing to the innumerable business models infused into education to “Race to the Top” to Common Core to charter school movement to vouchers, the thought of even calling what we have had in North Carolina “status quo” is not just wrong –

It’s ignorant. And it is purposefully done.

And all of those causes in the change to the “status quo” were not necessarily brought by educators as much as by politicians and business leaders, Johnson included as he echoes and rubber stamps the very policies and initiatives championed by NC General Assembly GOP stalwarts. The very actions that have caused their version of the“status quo” are allowing politicians to blame public education for failing to hit targets that are constantly moving or in many cases invisible so that “leaders” and reformers can come and claim to save the day.

That’s how we get Mark Johnson, the most unqualified state superintendent propped up by a General Assembly that not only has gerrymandered districts and pushed unconstitutional laws, but has spent taxpayer money to help transfer power away from the State Board of Education to a puppet superintendent to privatize the public good of public education even more.

That’s how we get absolutely lame duck explanations about today’s ruling from Johnson including:

“I am confident I will eventually be able to lead the positive transformation for our schools that the people of North Carolina voted for over 10 months ago.”

It’s as if he conveniently forgot that the people elected him to be state superintendent based on the job description and powers of office attached to every other state superintendent before him.

It’s as if he forgot that what he claims he needs to lead the state’s school system has to include what powers were granted to him without the input of the people by a biased NCGA weeks AFTER he was elected.

It’s as if he forgets that in the months since he has assumed office he has done absolutely NOTHING to change what he claims to be the “status quo.” As a state, we have heard nothing about the innovations he said he would bring and the only “urgency” he has used is to keep going back to court with taxpayer money to gain the power to divert more taxpayer money to vouchers and unregulated charter schools.

It’s as if he forgets that he himself is the “status quo.”

If one were to simply look at all of the initiatives introduced into public education (both nationally and state-based) while considering changes in curriculum and requirements, that person would see an ever changing landscape.

A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, ACT, standardized tests, achievement gap, graduation rates, merit pay, charter schools, parent triggers, vouchers, value added-measurements, virtual schools, Teach For America, formal evaluations – there are so many variables, initiatives, and measurements that constantly change without consistency which all affect public schools and how the public perceives those schools.

When entities like the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the American Federation of Children, the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC), think tanks, and other PAC’s are constantly promoting reforms in public schools, the idea that there is a “status quo” becomes implausible. Those entities are all active in North Carolina and they see Mark Johnson as their man.

He will protect their “status quo.”

So if there is any “status quo” associated with the public schools, it’s that there are always outside forces acting on the public school system which seek to show that they are failing our kids.

And it has Johnson’s face attached to it.

That’s the “status quo” that should not be accepted.

 

 

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.

 

 

Collaboration. Not Competition. That’s What We Need For Public Schools.

“Collaborate” :intransitive verb. Noun form is “collaboration” – 1:to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor 

Simply put, collaboration as described in that first definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website is the best resource/tool that a school can have and that leaders can encourage.

What makes schools work best are the relationships between the people: administration, teachers, students, parents, and community. No set of standards, no checklist, no standardized test, and no evaluation criteria can ever really measure the importance of people using other people as their best resources to create a collaborative learning environment where students can achieve optimally.

In a “reform – minded” culture that promotes business models for education and screams for “competition” on an uneven playing field, the very entity that really gets eroded is the ability for professional educators to “work jointly with others or together.” Initiatives like merit pay, bonuses for test scores, removal of class size caps, and elimination of due-process rights creates a culture of insular competition.

Public education is not a partisan issue. The state constitution specifically ensures that each student is entitled to a quality public education. It is a public good and a public service. The key word there is “public” and not “private.”

The picture below from WRAL.com shows the meeting room of the State Board of Education.

SBOE

In rather ornate fashion the state constitution is quoted on the wall. It says, “THE PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO THE PRIVILEGE OF EDUCTION AND IT IS THE DUTY OF THE STATE TO GUARD AND MAINTAIN THAT RIGHT.”

The two people sitting right below that quote are Bill Cobey, Chairman of the Board, and Mark Johnson, the State Superintendent.

To say that those two are not collaborating is putting it mildly.

This Thursday, the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent will be back in court – facing each other in competition. Melissa Broughton’s report in NC Policy Watch this week highlights the inability for the very people who control schools to actually collaborate amongst themselves. From Broughton:

“The three-judge panel that ruled in favor of Johnson in a lawsuit over a transfer of power from the Board will hear a motion for a temporary stay pending the Board’s appeal. According to the motion, counsel for both parties spent six weeks trying to come to an agreement for a temporary stay but were unsuccessful” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/09/11/nc-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-return-court-later-week/#sthash.D186QZe3.dpbs).

That same piece also included a rather telling graphic.

PUBLIC-EDUCATION-300x251

It suggests that the stability of our state’s capacity to offer a quality free public education rests on the willingness of the “legs” to collaboratively work together. However, that is not happening. They are too much in competition.

Most people who follow education in North Carolina know that when Mark Johnson was elected state superintendent, he was almost immediately granted excessive legislative powers to run the public schools by the NC General Assembly in a power grab. That is what precipitated the lawsuit that is still ongoing and the current “stay” of the latest court decision. What the NCGA granted Johnson was power that was not thought to be in the hands of a state superintendent when people elected Johnson.

Broughton further reports,

Without a temporary stay pending the Board’s appeal, the law in question that transfers power from the Board to Johnson will move the entire $10 billion public school system under the control of a single individual for the first time in North Carolina history, the motion states.

That transfer of power would change that three-legged dynamic in the graphic above seismically.

Two legs would grow and one would shrink. And the seat that represents our “quality free public education” would not be balanced. Whoever sits on it would fall over.

The checks and balances that help make sure that access to a quality free public education exists for all students relies on the checks and balances of the three entities that help shape educational matters. But rather than collaborate, there has been collusion and competition, especially from Johnson and the NCGA.

And our schools have suffered from it.

It seems that people like Berger, Moore, Barefoot, and other GOP stalwarts as well as Johnson could take a lesson from our teachers in public schools who see collaboration as the key to success in schools.

Of course there are other definitions of “collaboration.” The second one on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website states,

2:to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy 

Maybe that’s the collaboration that Johnson and the NCGA are thinking about.

The Total Soulless Educational Eclipse of 2017

On August 21, 2017 parts of western North Carolina will be subject to a total solar eclipse. Other parts of the state will certainly witness the once in a lifetime event. Ironically, most people affected by the eclipse will be in rural areas.

eclispe

On July 25, 2017 all of North Carolina became subject to another darkening of the light – a soulless eclipse of funding for public schools.

And again, the rural areas will see the biggest effects of this shadow cast on communities that send most all of their students to traditional public schools.

But this instance is not a once in a lifetime occurrence. It will be felt for quite a while. What’s even more egregious is that it could totally be prevented.

Yet, the powers that be will hide even more funds from these same areas next year.

As reported in multiple outlets today like WRAL,

The State Board of Education approved $2.5 million in cuts to the state Department of Public Instruction on Tuesday as a result of mandated budget reductions by the General Assembly. Most of the cuts are expected to impact low-performing schools and teacher training in the state. An additional $737,000 in cuts are expected in the coming weeks (http://www.wral.com/state-board-of-education-approves-2-5m-in-budget-cuts-/16840289/).

This comes at a time when our officials in Raleigh are celebrating a state surplus and an expanding “rainy-day” fund.

The cuts made today will especially be felt in the rural areas. Further in the WRAL report referenced earlier,

Board Chairman Bill Cobey declined to say which positions are being cut, citing personnel laws, but said they will be revealed at a later date. He said the majority of the staff cuts will be in the District Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions. The board plans to merge the two divisions into a new one, called District Support.

“Hopefully the districts can pick up any slack that is produced by this reduction,” Cobey said. “We’re further reducing the service to the districts. Hopefully you won’t see any huge impact any place, but there’s going to be marginal impact in certain places across the state. And we’re going to try our best to mitigate that.”

Many of these affected districts are in areas that actually are worried about their local hospitals staying open because many of the same GOP members who mandated the cuts to DPI also refused to expand Medicaid which these rural hospitals rely on so that people can pay medical bills.

That particular eclipse started years ago and it appears that things are getting darker. Ask the folks in Sen. Berger’s hometown of Eden.

Perhaps most egregious is that this soulless educational eclipse comes as the NC General Assembly is shining so much sunshine on both the state superintendent and non-traditional schools at the expense of traditional public schools.

As Billy Ball reported in NC Policy Watch today:

Board members were limited in their choices for handing down the legislative funding cuts. General Assembly members forbade cuts from GOP-backed initiatives such as the teacher prep program Teach for America and the Innovative School District, formerly called the Achievement School District, which could allow for-profit charter operators to take over several low-performing schools in the coming years…

Lawmakers ordered the board to stay away from additional funds allocated to create up to 10 new positions in the department reporting directly to Johnson. The move came with Johnson, the board and the legislature mired in a court battle over the powers of the superintendent’s office (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/25/teacher-development-struggling-schools-chopping-block-state-board-ed-implements-g-mandated-cuts/).

Also worth mentioning is that the General Assembly gave Johnson $300,000 for legal fees in his defense against the State Board’s lawsuit over a transfer of power done by the GOP in a special session to prop up Johnson as a puppet official.

The state board was forbidden to use state funds in its legal actions.

As true to his nature, Johnson was not present at the actual board meeting but was linked through on a conference call.

Ball continues,

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, a Republican elected last November, has been silent on the cuts and he did not speak during the public portion of Tuesday’s conference call session, but Cobey has said his office has been sharing proposals for the cuts with board members.

There is Johnson once again not being available to the public as the leader of the public schools.

However, Johnson did release a statement afterwards, one full of pomp, circumstance, and total ambiguity.

“While these funding cuts will be challenging, I did not run for Superintendent of Public Instruction to shirk away from the challenges of leadership. The General Assembly is clearly frustrated with the lack of accountability of the State Board of Education, and I am too. The culture of a non-accountability created by the State Board is one of the reasons I sought funding for a top-to-bottom, third-party review of DPI. By studying the results from this upcoming operational review and working together with the professional staff at DPI, I believe the department will come out stronger, more efficient, and more effective at supporting public schools in NC. The Board seems to prefer to complain and instead focuses only on more of the same. I embrace the positive changes that can result from addressing this substantive challenge head-on. We can and will be a better DPI at the end of this process.”

Listening to Mark Johnson through an impersonal statement is becoming the norm, not the exception. His availability to the people of North Carolina and the educators who work with most of our students has been more sparse than the funds that DPI can now use to staff vital positions in the School Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions.

It is rather funny to hear Johnson talk of not “shirking away from the challenges of leadership.” He hasn’t avoided being a leader per-se. It’s more like run the other way. And his comments about accountability are humorous as well. Why? He has not done anything that would make him accountable for anything.

Studying results? Interestingly, he has never disclosed his findings. That includes his findings from the “listening tour” he is still pursuing. And the words “Mark Johnson” and “addressing challenges head-on” have never collided in the same sentence.

Maybe next year, the General Assembly can set aside some money for Johnson to get a spine to actually help stand in front of people and explain his lack of action.

 

Budget Cuts to DPI – A Case for Laying Off Mark Johnson

cuts

“I don’t think anybody’s going to like the cuts we make, because they’ll have to be in the area of services to the districts,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey.

No truer words have been spoken.

Mr. Cobey’s words are in reference to the $3.2 million dollar cuts that are part of the North Carolina General Assembly’s budget hit on DPI for the next two years.

As reported by Billy Ball today on NC Policy Watch:

Details may not be public yet, but North Carolina K-12 leaders on the State Board of Education will look to pass down $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered budget calls in a special meeting Tuesday morning.

As reported by Policy Watch last week, the legislative spending cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) are likely to impact personnel in the state agency and its services for poor and rural districts across the state.

This year’s $3.2 million cut is part of a two-year reduction for the state’s top education bureaucracy, which has been under withering scrutiny from Republican legislators in recent years. The agency had already weathered roughly $20 million in funding reductions since 2009 (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/24/state-board-education-vote-dpi-budget-cuts-layoffs-tuesday/#sthash.ufZnGu0C.dpbs).

Ironically, the public has not heard the head of DPI, State Superintendent Mark Johnson, on this matter although it has been said by Comey that he has offered suggestions to where the cuts should be made.

It surely would have to do with layoffs of certain positions. And I hope Johnson was looking in a mirror when he came up with his list of cuts. If such a fiscally unsound, politically-motivated decision to cut funds to DPI is to actually be carried out, it might make a great amount of sense to layoff those people in DPI who really have not done the job.

Therefore, it makes total sense that Mark Johnson be the first to be let go in this budget cut.

Think of it. In all of DPI, he probably has the least amount of experience. Next, he has done really nothing. Name one initiative that he has put into place that has really furthered the cause of public education. And more importantly, the state has already spent an enormous amount of money on him for absolutely no return.

As the state superintendent, Mark Johnson makes $127,000 dollars a year as a salary. Add to that the budgetary lines items that allow him to travel around the state without actually being available to the public and the press at large.

He has been given $300,000 for legal fees against the state board of education whose members were appointed by many of the same people who are giving Johnson this money.

300

He has also been given over $432,000 to create positions in DPI loyal to him as DPI is having its budget cut YET ONCE AGAIN.

432

That’s already nearing a million dollars of ill-spent money on one person who has done more to not do anything as a state superintendent than anyone in history.

If this were a business, and forgive the use of a business model in the talk of educational matters (but sadly that is the way that many in Raleigh think), then Johnson would have already been gone.

Consider the costs of special sessions last year for policies and laws that were secretly crafted and had negative impacts on the state.

  • Special session regarding congressional redistricting: 02/18/16-02/19/16
  • Special session regarding LGBT nondiscrimination measures: 03/23/16
  • Special session regarding S4 and HB17 : 12/14/16 – 12/16/16
  • Special session regarding H2: 12/13/16 – 12/15/16

The redistricting sessions are really mute because the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that NC’s maps were racially gerrymandered. The HB2 law that came in the spring was economically disastrous. S4 and HB17 set up the current debacle that cripples DPI and the state board of education. H2 was about helping victims of Hurricane Matthew – people mostly in rural areas where the effects of cuts to DPI will be felt the most.

Each day for a special session costs taxpayers over $42,000.

There’s another quarter of a million at least.

Consider these tidbits:

Creating and defending HB2 costs taxpayers: $267,500. The North Carolina government is racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills to defend HB2, with more costs to come as legal battles over the law continue. As of July, the state had already spent $176,000on court costs, and former Gov Pat McCrory (R) spent $7,500 of government funds on travel to defend the law on television. The bill was created in a “special session” that cost taxpayers $42,000, and the recent special session that failed to repeal HB2 cost another $42,000. (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/01/06/north-carolinas-anti-lgbt-law-has-cost-state-more-560-million-so-far).

AND

Law firms have billed Republican legislative leaders $9.3 million for legal services since January 2011, more than half of which comes from defending voter ID legislation struck down last week by a federal appeals court.

The total spent on private lawyers is more than 20 times the amount the legislature spent on outside counsel in the decade prior and largely covers the cost of fending off challenges to redistricting, the amendment banning gay marriage, vouchers for attending private schools and House Bill 2.

Legislative leaders contend the costs are necessary to protect laws passed by the state’s elected representatives, laws Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is running against Gov. Pat McCrory in November, has in several cases declined to defend. It’s a move Republicans have criticized as putting politics above his duties as the state’s top lawyer. (http://www.wral.com/legislature-s-legal-bills-top-9m-in-defense-of-state-laws/15905135/).

What has happened is that the General Assembly spent a hell of a lot of money to enact policies that cannot be defended and enabled unqualified people like Mark Johnson to assume important posts so that more money can be spent on inactivity and stupid legal fees so that people like Mark Johnson can help layoff those people in a vital department who have much more experience in helping public schools.

And our students are hurt by it.