Legislators set to add four more NC schools to floundering Innovative School District

North Carolina state legislators are poised to add four more schools to the Innovative School District (ISD)–despite a complete lack of evidence that the approach has improved outcomes for students thus far.

Unless something changes, the four schools will join Robeson County’s Southside Ashpole Elementary, which just completed its first year as the only school currently being managed by the ISD.

Results so far are grim.  When the latest round of School Report Card grades were released this month, Southside Ashpole maintained its F rating.

While math scores increased slightly over the previous year, reading results at Southside Ashpole actually declined by 5% after the first year of ISD management.

Poor academic results are not the only warning sign coming out of the General Assembly’s Innovative School District.  The success of any endeavor in education depends in part on stable leadership. The past three months have seen the departure of three key leaders in the ISD effort.  LaTeesa Allen, who served as Superintendent of the Innovative School District, left the ISD at the end of June after only 9 months under circumstances which have never been explained by the Department of Public Instruction.  Bruce Major, principal of Southside Ashpole, quit unexpectedly in July after only one year on the job.  And the CEO of Achievement for All Children, which operates Southside Ashpole, abruptly resigned his position last month.  

The Innovative School District was originally created by the Republican supermajority in 2016 with votes in both chambers breaking down largely along party lines. Under existing legislation, the ISD Superintendent must inform districts next month which schools have been recommended for placement in the ISD.  The State Board of Education then has until mid-December to approve those schools for takeover by Innovative School Operators for the 2020-21 school year.  


A bill currently in conference committee would relax the terms of the Innovative School District somewhat, requiring only one school to be added to the ISD each of the next three school years and giving schools more advance notice and time to improve before they are taken over.  

So far, votes on SB 522 appear to be following the same party lines, with Democrats indicating they’d prefer to let Republican lawmakers live with the results of legislation which probably never should have been passed to begin with rather than help make changes which leave the failed approach to school turnaround largely intact. 

The 12 schools currently under consideration for takeover by the Innovative School District are below, along with the criteria for their selection. 



Mark Johnson’s open defiance of a government agency decision is a big deal

Image result for mark johnson nc angry

*this article was originally published by the Charlotte Observer

Superintendent Mark Johnson’s startling defiance of another state agency’s authority has thrown the process of assessing North Carolina’s K-3 students into uncertainty as the new school year gets underway.  

Last year a broad evaluation committee made up of Department of Public Instruction (DPI) employees, professional educators, and subject matter experts overwhelmingly recommended Amplify’s mClass for the assessment contract.  Johnson then cancelled the procurement process under dubious circumstances and assembled a new committee which would recommend Istation’s computer-based assessment instead. When details emerged that called the process’s adherence to procurement rules into question, Amplify appealed the decision to DPI.  After DPI rejected the appeal, Amplify filed a Request for Administrative Hearing with the Department of Information Technology (DIT).  That’s the state agency charged with making sure that other agencies follow North Carolina’s rules and procedures when procuring information technology.

DIT was concerned enough by Amplify’s allegations to grant its request for a temporary stay of the Istation contract’s implementation while the agency reviews the process the state superintendent followed in awarding it.  Upon completion of that review, DIT has the authority to issue a decision on whether or not the Istation contract is valid.

In his initial public statement about the development, Mark Johnson referred to the stay as “improper” and said, “DIT lawyers need to understand they are accountable to North Carolinians, not the CEO of Amplify.”  Just a few days later, Johnson announced that Istation would provide its services for free so that North Carolina schools could continue using the tool, saying, “Istation believes in supporting public education in North Carolina so much, they have agreed to continue training teachers at no additional cost during this ridiculous DIT review.”  Istation President Ossa Fisher said the company would “work with DPI, educators, parents, and students without pay until the issues surrounding the stay are resolved.”

Istation may be providing its product for free, but it’s free in the sense that a puppy is free.  Use of a brand new assessment tool requires a significant investment of time and energy by school personnel.  Those things aren’t free.

With the state superintendent indicating that schools should keep using an assessment which another agency has put on hold, the vitally important work of assessing our youngest readers has descended into confusion all over the state.  Some districts such as Wake and Cabarrus have contracted directly with Amplify to use the mClass tool on their own dime, and some are using other tools to track student reading progress. But a considerable number of districts are following Johnson’s lead and proceeding as if Istation’s contract will be upheld, training teachers on how to use Istation and assessing students on the tool.  The mClass application has been removed from the state’s electronic platform NCEdCloud and replaced with Istation. With Mark Johnson’s blessing, Istation assessments are now collecting data on North Carolina students, despite the fact that the company’s contract has been put on hold by DIT.  

While Superintendent Johnson can disagree with DIT’s decision, he should know better than to run roughshod over due process.  After all, as Johnson reminded everyone last month, he’s not just superintendent, he’s also a lawyer. Personally endorsing and advocating for a product that hasn’t gone through proper procurement to operate in North Carolina–as the free offering of Istation has not–appears to be a deliberate attempt to subvert the decision of a governing authority.  North Carolina’s public school families deserve better than this poor leadership and the chaos that surrounds the important work of evaluating our children’s reading abilities.