Hold that happy dance: Don’t sleep on Mark Johnson and the possible return of Istation

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Yesterday the Department of Public Instruction released a statement that the agency was cancelling the controversial 2019 contract that Superintendent Mark Johnson awarded to Istation to provide NC’s K-3 reading assessment.

In the statement, DPI explained a new procurement would begin with the goal of having a K-3 reading assessment in place for the start of the 2020-21 school year, now just weeks away:

In light of the Governor’s announcement that students will not return to schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, the State Board’s decision to not seek progress monitoring data for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, and the novel needs K-3 students, educators, and parents will face next school year, DPI has terminated the June 2019 Read to Achieve diagnostic tool contract and will immediately begin a new process to procure one, uniform reading diagnostic tool before the start of the 2020-21 school year.  

Considering the way that contract was originally awarded and the feedback NC teachers gave about the tool, this is good news.

But it’s not quite time to celebrate.

We are still waiting for the Department of Information Technology to rule on the legality of that June 2019 contract award. DIT confirmed yesterday that the hearing officer still has not issued a decision.

Given all the evidence that has surfaced, it’s fairly safe to speculate that there are two most likely courses of action for DIT: a) Invalidate the contract award and instruct DPI to start the procurement over. b) Invalidate the contract award and give the contract to Amplify. The second scenario is less likely if you look at the hands-off approach that DIT has taken thus far.

So if we’re more or less waiting for DIT to instruct DPI to start the procurement over, why would Mark Johnson pre-empt that decision by cancelling the Istation contract himself? Why would he not wait and see how it plays out?

By restarting the procurement himself, Johnson can set the terms of how that process works (as long as he follows the requirements set by the General Assembly, which he would say he did last time). He can ignore, or try to ignore, whatever ruling DIT issues on the original contract, saying “What contract are you even talking about? I already cancelled that one.”

It’s entirely possible that Johnson could be planning to fast track a new procurement and attempt to award the contract to Istation all over again.

After all, if we know anything about Mark Johnson it’s that he loves him some Istation.

What the public needs to do is continue to hold Superintendent Mark Johnson accountable for following lawful processes in awarding contracts and making good decisions for our children that are based on input from the true experts on reading: North Carolina educators.

We also need to look to the Department of Information Technology and the State Board of Education to ensure the proper checks and balances on Johnson’s power in this matter.

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