One parent and teacher wants to know why, in the midst of a pandemic, Superintendent Mark Johnson's agency is recommending a resumption of high-stakes testing. (Image via Johnson's page). NC Superintendent Mark Johnson
One parent and teacher wants to know why, in the midst of a pandemic, Superintendent Mark Johnson's agency is recommending a resumption of high-stakes testing. (Image via Johnson's page).

The head of NC’s public school system is distorting the details of the embarrassing Istation scandal.

Today, the head of North Carolina’s public education system attempted to rewrite history.

Mark Johnson, superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction, used a DPI press release to reframe the Istation scandal that left an indelible stain on his single term in office. (Note: Instead of seeking another term, Johnson ran for lieutenant governor and lost in the GOP primary this year.)

Today’s release referred to a decision by the state Department of Information Technology (DIT) to dismiss Amplify’s protest of Johnson’s $8.3 million contract award to the online reading assessment company Istation last year.

From the release:

“We are pleased with DIT’s decision today to dismiss Amplify’s protest. DPI, under the close guidance of DIT, ultimately conducted a fair, unbiased procurement to identify the best reading diagnostic tool for North Carolina. We are grateful that the year of controversy triggered by the disruption and deception of bad actors seeking political advantage is behind us. And, we are excited that local school systems will select the reading assessment tool they prefer for next school year as we confront the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis together.”

But here’s the thing. 

Johnson’s statement is a completely disingenuous attempt to distort DIT’s decision, to make it appear somehow supportive of his absolute clown show of a procurement.  

For anyone who is interested in the truth of the matter, here it is:

After conducting a very thorough week-long hearing to review the Istation contract award process, DIT was getting close to issuing a decision. Based on previous actions taken by DIT as well as evidence presented in the hearing, it seems fairly likely that the contract was going to be thrown out.

“Superintendent Mark Johnson will not be missed.”

Mark Johnson voluntarily terminated the Istation contract on April 24, using the termination for convenience clause in the contract.  This move allowed him to avoid the embarrassment of having the contract he’d spent a whole year defending publicly lambasted by DIT.

A month later, the DIT hearing officer who had been charged with making a decision on the contract recommended that Amplify’s protest be dismissed under North Carolina’s “mootness doctrine,” since there was no longer a contract in existence for Amplify to protest.

Today, DIT ordered that recommendation would be followed, and the protest was dismissed as moot.  Not invalid, not unfounded  — moot.

You can read Hearing Officer Jonathan Shaw’s recommended order here.

Mark Johnson wants folks to believe his procurement was perfect and tremendous and conducted the way any “stable genius” would conduct the procurement for a multimillion dollar assessment tool measuring the reading ability of every K-3 student in North Carolina.

I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want you to remember the following:

*Johnson’s unexpected announcement that he was awarding the contract to Istation a year ago was met with immediate protest by educators who were concerned that an online assessment for K-3 students was not a suitable replacement for testing by a human teacher.

*Participants in the procurement process (namely Amy Jablonski, a NC educator and candidate in the 2020 Democratic primary for superintendent) cried foul, saying Istation was not the tool educators on the procurement’s evaluation committee had recommended.

*Johnson’s representatives claimed Jablonski was lying, but also falsely asserted that nondisclosure agreements meant nobody on the evaluation committee could speak up about the matter.

*Massive public pressure for DPI to release records from the procurement eventually turned up documents which corroborated Jablonski’s account that the evaluation committee had recommended Amplify’s mClass tool.

*DPI’s response to Amplify’s protest revealed the agency had personal text messages of a former K-3 Literacy Director in its possession but offered no explanation for how it had obtained them. The text messages were used as a pretext for cancelling the procurement shortly after Jablonski’s team had overwhelmingly recommended mClass.

*Deposition testimony and testimony in the January DIT hearing indicated that the text messages were illegally intercepted by a DPI employee who was monitoring the K-3 Literacy Director’s personal communications using her former laptop more than a year after she retired.  After vigorous denials and attempts to laugh off these serious allegations, DPI eventually admitted the spying had taken place.

So yeah, there were definitely bad actors involved in the Istation contract controversy.  Superintendent Mark Johnson himself was chief among them.

The Istation scandal was not the only scandal Johnson produced in his sad term as superintendent (think iPads), but it was the one that stunk the most.  

It also perfectly encapsulated his failed leadership of our public schools in that it boiled down to an appalling disregard for the insight of experienced educators in making important decisions that impact our students.  

Johnson simply didn’t care what teachers thought.

I think I can speak for the majority of North Carolina’s public school educators when I say:  Superintendent Mark Johnson will not be missed.