NC Superintendent Mark Johnson uses Department of Public Instruction press release to campaign for Lieutenant Governor

NC Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson continued his unethical practice of using state resources for personal political gain today, issuing an official Department of Public Instruction press release to trumpet support for his sudden anti-Common Core campaign.

Johnson began speaking out against Common Core just this month, the same month that early voting began in the primary for Lieutenant Governor–a position the superintendent is seeking.

Last week dozens of official complaints were filed with the North Carolina State Ethics Commissions by educators and citizens who objected to Johnson using cell phone numbers and email addresses he’d pulled from the Power School database to distribute an anti-Common Core survey which seemed clearly timed to coincide with his political campaign.

DPI spokesman Graham Wilson defended the action as simply an effort to “listen to actual teachers and parents instead of Elitist Insiders,” using a phrase that has surfaced in Johnson’s recent campaign lingo alongside such gems as “Establishment” and “Deep State.”

In today’s DPI press release, Johnson bragged that 78% of respondents indicated “they want NC to remove Common Core from its state standards”:

DPI-Common-Core-press-release-2-20-20

If Johnson were really just interested in finding out what teachers and parents want, he might need to work on his survey methodology. Using phrases like “confusing math [and] course content that is not developmentally appropriate for young students” and literally offering your opinion in the sentence immediately preceding the one where you ask for input leads to response bias, whereby participants simply tell you what you want to hear.

Of course, that’s exactly what Johnson was looking for in this case.

Any possibility that Mark Johnson’s sudden anti-Common Core crusade is just the work of a highly dedicated state superintendent evaporated a few days ago when he initiated this robocall for his political campaign:

The call directs listeners to sign an anti-Common Core petition at nomorecommoncore.org, a site which includes a donate to Mark Johnson’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor button and a place to provide your email address, but no visible petition. 

The site was established on February 2, 2020, which was apparently also when Johnson’s personal outrage about the Common Core was established. 

Despite Johnson’s claim that he objected to 2017 state standards revisions on the grounds that new standards were too close to Common Core, a meticulous review of State Board of Education meeting minutes from that period revealed the superintendent voiced no public objections whatsoever.

This latest use of state resources for obvious campaign purposes is just one more reminder why Mark Johnson should not be in public office.  

If you’d like to make your objection to Superintendent Johnson’s unethical actions official, you can find a tutorial about how to file an ethics complaint below:

How to file an ethics complaint if you believe a North Carolina elected official is campaigning using state resources

Candidate for state superintendent Jen Mangrum proposes DPI Office of Equity Affairs

UNCG Greensboro education professor and Democratic candidate for state superintendent Dr. Jennifer Mangrum has proposed that the Department of Public Instruction take more leadership in driving equity work in the state by establishing an Office of Equity Affairs.  

As superintendent, Mangrum says she would create a position of Deputy Superintendent for Equity and use findings from the WestEd report to set goals and provide support and professional development to LEAs who are struggling with providing the equitable education that is our students’ constitutional right.  

The WestEd report, published in December, holds that closing equity gaps in North Carolina will “require a multifaceted approach that addresses the adequacy, quality, and diversity of the supply of both current and prospective teachers.”

Veteran Charlotte Mecklenburg educator and advocate Amanda Thompson thinks increased leadership in equity is one crucial change that needs to take place at DPI:  “An equity office is important as we want to maximize the access and opportunities for all, especially our underrepresented populations. Equity must be addressed with who we are attracting and retaining as educators and through in-depth ongoing training on cultural competency.”

According to extensive research by North Carolina nonprofit Center for Racial Equity in Education, the influence of race “functions to diminish both the access and the outcomes of non-Asian students of color.”  In addition to other actions, CREED recommends improving access to rigorous coursework such as AP classes, disrupting racial disparities in school discipline, and working toward more equitable deployment of teachers.  

While many of the policies that govern those aspects of education are created at the county level, Dr. Mangrum believes a state-level equity initiative will go a long way toward helping counties that want to tackle equity barriers but don’t have the resources or know-how to do so.

Michelle Burton is a public school media specialist in Durham and president of Durham Association of Educators.  She sees tremendous need for the Department of Public Instruction to take a more active role on equity. “We have to do more to ensure that students across North Carolina are being treated fairly and that their personal circumstances are not a hindrance for them being successful in school,” she says.  “Establishing a DPI Office of Equity Affairs will enable us to take a broader look at equity issues and work together toward equitable education outcomes for all North Carolina students.”

Early voting in the North Carolina primary for state superintendent is underway, and election day is Tuesday, March 3.

Here’s the evidence that Mark Johnson’s disingenuous claims of Common Core opposition aren’t true

Last week NC Superintendent Mark Johnson ruffled a lot of feathers when he sent 540,000 text messages and 800,000 email messages to public school families and employees to communicate his supposed disdain for Common Core state standards.  

Johnson’s message was sent to potential voters just as the primary began for Lieutenant Governor, a position he is seeking.  It’s part of his strategy to distinguish himself from the crowded Republican field by playing an anti-establishment maverick with a track record of shaking things up.

In the email, and also in the introduction to the survey itself, Johnson claimed that revisions to North Carolina standards were passed in 2017 by the State Board of Education despite his objections that the new standards were too similar to Common Core:

But is the claim that Johnson went toe to toe with the State Board of Education about Common Core in 2017 actually true?

Fortunately–or unfortunately, for Mark Johnson–detailed records are kept on the State Board’s website and can easily be reviewed to see exactly what conversations took place at each meeting.  

Discussions and a vote on English Language Arts standards revisions occurred at the April 2017 State Board meeting.  Superintendent Mark Johnson was present, and he did speak during the portion of the meeting dealing with standards revision.  He said he’d like more third parties to have an opportunity to weigh on the standards and seemed unaware that DPI already had a process in place to engage the community and collect input.  According to the minutes, the phrase Common Core was not used and Johnson did not express any direct opposition to the revised standards. The board voted to approve the new standards.

At the May 2017 meeting, K-8 math standards revisions appeared on the agenda.  During this portion of the meeting, Deputy State Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin told the board that Mark Johnson had directed her team to seek external reviews of standards from six states which represented a mix of Common Core and non-Common Core states.  Johnson was present for the meeting, but the minutes show he did not participate in the discussion about revising standards.

Superintendent Johnson was present for the June 2017 meeting of the State Board, and the agenda included discussion and a vote on revised K-8 math standards, which passed.  According to the minutes, Johnson was again silent during the discussion about standards revision.  

The record clearly reflects that Johnson’s claims of having objected to the State Board’s approval of standards revisions in 2017 are 100% Pants on Fire.

Johnson is also using robocalls to drive potential voters to a website called  nomorecommoncore.org, ostensibly to sign an anti-Common Core petition.  There’s a donate to Mark Johnson’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor button and visitors are asked to provide an email address, but no petition is visible. 

The domain was registered this month, just like Johnson’s anti-Common Core sentiment.

Mark Johnson’s sudden vocal opposition to Common Core standards is nothing more than a disingenuous campaign stunt intended to trick uninformed voters into thinking he’s something that he isn’t.

Don’t fall for it.

Mark Johnson campaign robocall removes any remaining doubt his Common Core stunt is 100% political

A recent campaign robocall from Mark Johnson should remove any remaining doubt that the state superintendent’s sudden anti-Common Core push is a disingenuous effort to earn votes.

The call, which you can hear in its entirety below, begins with the words

“I’m Mark Johnson. As your elected superintendent, I’m fighting to end Common Core. As your candidate for Lieutenant Governor, I ask you to please vote for Johnson, because I want your help to get back to common sense in government.”

Johnson does not mention the fact that North Carolina repealed Common Core in 2014, replacing the national standards with revised state standards in 2017.

After more than three years in the superintendent’s office, Johnson suddenly began speaking out against Common Core this month–the same month early voting begins in the March 3 primary for North Carolina Lieutenant Governor.

Last week Mark Johnson raised eyebrows by using personal cell phone numbers and email addresses of hundreds of thousands of North Carolina public school families and employees which he collected from school districts to send an anti-Common Core message clumsily disguised as a survey seeking input from North Carolinians.

This use of state resources for campaign purposes earned Johnson dozens of ethics complaints, filed with the State Ethics Commission by fed up educators and parents like myself.

Johnson’s spokesman responded with a personal attack, telling the Raleigh News & Observer, “This blogger should be considering his own ethics given that he continues to push harmful lies about DPI …This is another disingenuous attempt to discredit Superintendent Johnson’s efforts to listen to actual parents and teachers, instead of Elitist Insiders.”

The robocall makes it clear that Mark Johnson sudden Common Core hate has nothing to do with any efforts to listen to parents and teachers.

If you’d like to know how to file an ethics complaint in North Carolina, there’s a tutorial here:

How to file a North Carolina ethics complaint

Michael Bloomberg donated maximum amount to Mark Johnson’s 2016 campaign and has a history of charter school expansion

Early voting is underway for the March 3 primary in North Carolina. One quasi-Democratic candidate for office to be familiar with is former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat in 2018 so that he’d be able to run for president. But back in 2016 he donated the maximum amount allowed by law to the campaign of Mark Johnson, who was running for state superintendent.

Johnson won that race by a margin of 1%, and his tenure as chief of North Carolina schools has been an unmitigated disaster.

Bloomberg’s own history on education should bring question marks to the minds of North Carolina voters who favor reforms to our state’s Wild West charter policy. Though his education platform simply says he “created innovative new high schools,” the truth is that, as mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg expanded charter schools by a factor of 10, from 18 to 183. At the same time, Bloomberg closed 150 struggling traditional public schools in the city.

Bloomberg also presided over New York City’s adoption of an A-F school grading system and pushed for low-performing teachers to be fired.

North Carolina education advocates should be running the other direction from this guy.

Comprehensive Action Kit tackles myths of personalized learning and damage caused by excessive screen use in the classroom

The volume of technology being used in K-12 classrooms has increased exponentially over the past few years, driven by ed-tech corporations who dangle promises of closing the opportunity gap through a personalized approach to learning.

All too often, schools have fallen for slick marketing of unvetted programs, failing to ask the right questions about side effects and impact on learning outcomes. We’ve allowed profit-motivated ed-tech companies to determine what teaching and learning will look like in our classrooms.

Fortunately, the good people at Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood have just released a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to learn more about what the increase in screen time in schools is actually doing to our children.

The Screens in Schools Action Kit provides simple and beautifully organized tools to help you research this important issue and advocate for the changes our students need.

The kit is divided into 4 sections.

The first is The Problem, which covers current trends in the use of technology in K-12 classrooms and the damage that is done when human interaction is displaced by screen interaction. I found this part of the kit to be especially compelling as it includes thorough research-based summaries on Effects of Ed Tech on Learning, Effects of Screen Time on Health, and Effects of Ed Tech on Psychological and Social-Emotional Wellbeing.

The second section of the Screens in Schools Action Kit is Tools for Parents. Among other things, it includes information on student privacy issues and extensive help for parents who are interested in organizing around the issue of excessive screen use in schools.

Tools for Educators highlights educator concerns over screen use and offers resources for educators who would like to push back against trends that diminish the teacher’s role in the classroom in favor of computerized approaches to teaching and learning.

Further Reading rounds out the kit with additional reading on the overuse of screens in K-12 classrooms.

Big thanks to Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood for their tireless advocacy on behalf of our children.

Here’s how to file an ethics complaint if you believe an elected official is campaigning using state resources

If you feel an elected official may have inappropriately used state resources for political campaign purposes, it’s relatively easy to file a complaint with the North Carolina State Ethics Commission.

Overview of ethics complaints

The Ethics Commission investigates possible violations of General Statute Chapter 138A, also known as the State Government Ethics Act

Here’s an excerpt you may find interesting:

Article 4.
Ethical Standards for Covered Persons.
§ 138A-31.  Use of public position for private gain.

(a)    Except as permitted under G.S. 138A-38, a covered person or legislative employee shall not knowingly use the covered person’s or legislative employee’s public position in an official action or legislative action that will result in financial benefit to the covered person or legislative employee, a member of the covered person’s or legislative employee’s extended family, or business with which the covered person or legislative employee is associated. This subsection shall not apply to financial or other benefits derived by a covered person or legislative employee that the covered person or legislative employee would enjoy to an extent no greater than that which other citizens of the State would or could enjoy, or that are so remote, tenuous, insignificant, or speculative that a reasonable person would conclude under the circumstances that the covered person’s or legislative employee’s ability to protect the public interest and perform the covered person’s or legislative employee’s official duties would not be compromised.

(b) A covered person shall not mention or authorize another person to mention the covered person’s public position in nongovernmental advertising that advances the private interest of the covered person or others.

If you feel an elected official may have violated this act, you can easily fill out and submit a complaint.  Here are the steps you’ll follow:

Print and complete Complaint Form

Attach relevant documentation as needed (for example, printed versions of text messages or emails)

Get your signature notarized

Mail complaint to the State Ethics Commission at the PO Box indicated
on the form

Once again, here’s a link to the form: 
https://ethics.ncsbe.gov/library/docs/compForm.doc

Mark Johnson’s sudden Common Core hate is a disingenuous campaign stunt

Mark Johnson has been North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction for more than 3 years. After a disastrous single term he’s not even running for re-election. That’s why it caught people by surprise last week when he came out swinging at Common Core state standards.

Wait, what? Why now?

Because the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor is three weeks away. Early voting actually begins this Thursday. In a crowded field of Republican candidates, the beleaguered superintendent is hoping to swing some low-information voters his way with a disingenuous campaign stunt.

North Carolina’s State Board of Education voted in April 2017 to revise literacy standards and in June 2017 to revise math standards. Standards were rewritten and the changes were later implemented at the classroom level.

The degree to which the standards changed varies by subject area and grade level, but for Mark Johnson to claim that North Carolina’s schools are still teaching Common Core is just false. As state superintendent he is obviously quite well positioned to know that.

Just like when Mark Johnson bolted at the end of his second year teaching 9th grade science, he simply can’t wait to abandon ship. Stirring up conservative ire against the Common Core may well help him in the primary.

Side note: for old times’ sake, here’s actual video of Mark Johnson leaving West Charlotte High School at the end of his brief teaching career:



via GIPHY

Eager to keep his campaign momentum going after the little flurry of media activity he got last week, today Johnson spammed educators and caretakers with emails and texts–leading many to question 1) How did this guy get my personal cell phone number? and b) What’s up with campaigning using state resources?

The subject line of Johnson’s message was “Common Core – Keep or Replace?” and its supposed purpose was to gather stakeholder input through collecting survey data.

But if Johnson really wanted to know what people thought, he failed miserably at avoiding survey bias. Using phrases like “confusing math [and] course content that is not developmentally appropriate for young students” and literally offering your opinion in the sentence immediately preceding the one where you ask for input is not a sound survey technique.

Here’s an excerpt:

Of course, the truth is, Mark Johnson doesn’t want anyone’s opinion about the nonexistent North Carolina Common Core standards. What he really wants is for people to catch a couple misleading headlines and tell their neighbors that Mark is just the guy to stick it to the establishment.

What will it say about North Carolina voters if this shameless strategy propels Mark Johnson to victory in the primary?

Town of Matthews unanimously disavows municipal charter schools

photo credit Elyse Dashew

In a unanimous vote on Monday night, the Matthews town council passed a resolution which should put an end to talk about the Charlotte suburb setting up its own system of charter schools.

The resolution acknowledges that the issue has strained relationships with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and states in part:

BE IT NOW FURTHER RESOLVED, the Town of Matthews has no intention of pursuing the development of a municipal charter school system any time in the foreseeable future, as we believe it is neither necessary nor financially feasible to do so.

Former Mecklenburg County Representative Bill Brawley sponsored municipal charter bill HB 514 in 2018, when Republicans still held a veto-proof supermajority in the state legislature. The law gave Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius, and Huntersville the authority to set up and operate their own charter schools.

Critics held such a move would deepen racial and economic segregation in Mecklenburg County, as the four towns are overwhelmingly white and would draw white students away from CMS schools while excluding students of color from neighboring communities.

Town residents were also concerned that their property taxes would rise significantly to fund the new schools, and that they’d find themselves paying taxes toward two school systems at the same time.

Brawley lost his seat to Rachel Hunt in 2018. The other big municipal charter cheerleader, Matthews Mayor Paul Bailey, lost to John Higdon in November 2019. One of Higdon’s big campaign issues was the need for improving the relationship between Matthews and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

You can see the resolution below:

Matthews-resolution-Feb-2020

DPI improperly denies public records request in spying case, claims computer inventories are confidential 

On Monday, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction improperly denied a public records request filed by dozens of concerned citizens, making it more difficult for the public to learn which member of Superintendent Mark Johnson’s staff illegally snooped on a retiree’s personal text messages.

The citizens are seeking computer inventory records which would reveal who got former K-3 Literacy Director Carolyn Guthrie’s MacBook Air after she retired.  

Guthrie turned in her DPI-issued laptop when she retired in 2017 but neglected to log out of her iCloud account.  More than a year later, a text message between Guthrie and another former DPI employee was intercepted and used by Superintendent Mark Johnson as pretext for cancelling a multimillion dollar K-3 reading assessment procurement.

The superintendent has maintained ignorance about how the text message was obtained, stating in a sworn deposition last fall that a paper copy of the text message was slid under the door of Deputy Superintendent Pam Shue by an anonymous whistleblower.  Johnson has mocked allegations of impropriety with references to his “elite squad of ninjas.”  

In DPI’s denial of the public records request, Director of Communications Graham Wilson claimed that the requested computer inventory records were confidential personnel records:

“The requested asset information is confidential pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 126-22, -24 and thus not subject to disclosure.  The Department is consequently prohibited from releasing such information.”

The statute Wilson cited falls under The Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, which protects certain sensitive personnel information from being openly available to the public.

That information doesn’t include inventory numbers of computers.

According to Dr. Brooks Fuller, Director of the NC Open Government Coalition, public agencies often try to stretch the personnel exemption to fit anything about an employee.  However, the North Carolina Supreme Court has already affirmed that protected personnel information is only information that:  1) is collected by the government employer; 2) for a purpose enumerated in the statute. Those protected purposes are: application, selection, promotion, demotion, transfer, leave, salary, contract for employment, benefits, suspension, performance evaluation, disciplinary actions, and termination. 

Dr. Fuller told me, “The question of whether a public employee was assigned a specific publicly funded device does not, in my opinion, meet any of these statutory reasons for exemption. I think this is likely an attempt by DPI to extend the reach of the statute beyond its natural and plain meaning.”

The Department of Public Instruction seems to be working very hard to keep the public in the dark about what really happened with Carolyn Guthrie’s personal communications.  That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has paid attention to DPI’s practices regarding public records under Mark Johnson’s leadership. It’s especially unsurprising at this point in time, considering that Johnson’s primary for Lieutenant Governor is right around the corner.

Hypothetically speaking, if Johnson himself had direct knowledge of criminal behavior occurring under DPI’s roof, and if he lied about that in a sworn deposition, this would be a really inconvenient time for such details to come to light.

Of course, North Carolina’s public records law doesn’t include a bad political timing exemption–just as it doesn’t include an exemption for those computer inventory records.