DPI’s unreleased public records could shed light on how Istation won NC contract

Last week Superintendent Mark Johnson denied Amplify’s protest of his decision to award North Carolina’s $8.3 million K-3 reading assessment contract to Istation.  He no doubt hoped it would serve as his finishing move in a conflict that began nearly two months ago with his surprise announcement.

Istation President Ossa Fisher released a statement calling on “the losing vendor” to “accept the decision of the Department of Instruction, and discontinue its aggressive political and media campaign aimed at dividing the education community” so that North Carolina’s schools can move forward with the computer-based reading test.

For its part, Amplify will now most likely look to the Department of Information Technology to review the controversial procurement process in hopes that it will intervene.  And all across the state, teachers and students will begin to use a tool which a broad and knowledgeable team of educators decided was not the best choice for our kids.

I have spent untold hours this summer–as have many others–digging into what really happened with this procurement.  Even after all that digging, the question many of us keep coming back to is why?  

Why would the state superintendent disregard the recommendation of an evaluation committee which spent weeks reviewing four vendors before overwhelmingly recommending mClass?  Why would he make such a monumental change to how nearly a half million of our youngest readers are tested, knowing full well there would be a massive backlash?  What could truly be motivating Superintendent Mark Johnson?  

The truth is, the general public doesn’t know.  However, there could easily be information in the public record which could help clarify the matter for those who still don’t feel it has been satisfactorily resolved.

On Friday, July 12, DPI released records which shed some light on the debacle–in some cases to people who had been waiting for as many as 5 weeks.  Those records clearly showed that Mark Johnson’s claims that the evaluation committee had not recommended mClass were false

Some wondered why a department with a reputation for a lack of transparency would have released documents which seemed damaging to the superintendent.  There are two likely reasons. First of all, state law is clear that public records and public information are “the property of the people.”  Refusal to provide that property upon request constitutes a violation of the law. Secondly, enough of those people requested the records and persistently demanded compliance that it was impossible for DPI to ignore them.

While DPI’s July 7 release did include information related to the work of the evaluation committee, the agency has yet to provide communication between Department of Public Instruction representatives and potential key players in the Istation saga which could very well help to answer the question “Why?” 

That communication is the property of the people, and the law is clear that the people must be given access to it if they so desire.  

This morning I filed the following request for information which I hope will shed additional light on Superintendent Johnson’s unexpected decision:
Dear Mr. Wilson,

Under North Carolina Public Records Law, G.S. §132-1, I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of all communication including, but not limited to, emails and text messages from December 6, 2017, to the present date that meet the following criteria:

Communication between any employee of the Department of Public Instruction–including, but not limited to, Superintendent Mark Johnson (both email addresses mark.johnson@dpi.nc.gov and mrj@dpi.nc.gov), Chloe Gossage, and Ericka Berry–and the following:

  • Any and all employees or representatives of Imagination Station, also known as Istation
  • Any and all employees or representatives of Shanahan Law Group
  • Doug Miskew, lobbyist with Public Sector Group 
  • North Carolina Senator Phil Berger

As you know, the law requires that you respond to and fulfill this request “as promptly as possible.”  If you expect a significant delay in responding to and fulfilling this request, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.

If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.

Thanks in advance for your attention to this matter.


Justin Parmenter
Charlotte, NC

I filed the request through DPI’s Public Records Request Form:


I then followed up with a separate email including the text of the request to DPI Communications Director Graham Wilson, who is ultimately responsible for managing information requests.  You can reach Mr. Wilson at graham.wilson@dpi.nc.gov.  

Although state law unambiguously mandates that state agencies must comply with information requests, the time frame for compliance is somewhat vague  The law simply states examination of records must be permitted “as promptly as possible.”

State employees have a lot on their plates, so I created this clock to help remind me to check in with DPI on the status of my request every couple of weeks or so.  You can create one here.

Mark Johnson seems eager to put the summer Istation fiasco behind him and move on with business as usual.  For nearly half a million K-3 children and thousands of teachers it will be anything but. They will be forced to use a computer-based tool that none of them asked for and an evaluation committee didn’t want.  

We deserve to know why.

2 thoughts on “DPI’s unreleased public records could shed light on how Istation won NC contract

  1. The people of North Carolina (VOTERS) need to know Mark Johnsons record ( what he has done for our students) since he took office (day one). He along with the Legislators has destroyed our public school system. He works for the legislators, not the public. Voters need to know this before election time or he will continue his wrong ways and our children will suffer. He absolutely does not care what our State Board represents.

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