State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson on Tuesday released a lengthy list of education priorities he contends will ensure North Carolina’s public schools are the best for teachers and students by 2030.
The list of priorities includes pay increases for teachers (at least five percent pay raises this year), the elimination of high-stakes testing, the recruitment of the best and brightest teachers and more flexibility for school districts, among others.
“We know that all of the ingredients exist in North Carolina for us to be the best place to learn and the best place to teach,” Johnson said.
While educators are the “most important ingredient,” Johnson said the state needs innovation and leadership from Raleigh and throughout North Carolina to “unlock all the potential we have across the state.”
Johnson unveiled his priorities during an invitation-only event held at the Raleigh Convention Center. The event was attended by more than 700 people.
The superintendent faced criticism from some public schools advocates who said such a major announcement should be made in a public venue.
Many of them took to Twitter on Tuesday to complain about the event.
“Not cool to have an important public education announcement at a private event,” wrote @LeAnna_Delph. “How many teachers were invited? How many had input into your stunt?”
Others wanted to know who was paying for the event after Johnson noted on the invitation that no taxpayer money was being spent. The Wallace Foundation  reportedly paid for the event.
In an interview following the event, Johnson said a price tag for his priorities titled #NC2030 would come within a week.
“We’re going to have a more detailed legislative summary with the actual dollar figures that we’re going to be presenting to the General Assembly,” Johnson said. “This will be our legislative push for this summer.”
As part of his priorities, Johnson pledged to improve the state’s controversial Read to Achieve program through state-led efforts that focus on professional, coaching and enhanced summer reading programs.
A study by researchers at N.C. State University last fall found that Read to Achieve has done little to boost early childhood literacy rates , despite a $150 million tab.
Johnson said the success of the initiatives he’s proposed would be measured by whether there are increases every year in:
- four-year-olds engaged in high-quality kindergarten readiness programs,
- fourth graders reading on grade level,
- students who, after graduation, are on track to their chosen, fulfilling career, and
- recruits to education professions and educators remaining in N.C. public schools.
NaShonda Cooke, a Wake County Public Schools, teacher left the event disappointed.
Cooke said the superintendent’s priorities didn’t address the “real things” such as a lack of teacher assistants, trauma in the classroom and too few social workers and nurses in schools.
“It was a bunch of hollow promises,” Cooke said. “It was a bunch of information that we’ve heard before.”
Rep. Graig Meyer, (D-Orange), said he wants to find some bipartisan ways to work on educational improvements.
“I think it has to be proposals that are bigger than a website and a dashboard,” Meyer said, referring to two new initiatives Johnson announced Tuesday.
One of Johnson’s new initiatives is the North Carolina Leadership Dashboard, an online tool that will help school leaders with staffing.
The dashboard is being built with support from The Wallace Foundation. It will be launched in time for the 2019-20 school year.
The second initiative is “Teach NC,” which is a public-private teacher appreciation campaign to improve the image of the teaching profession.
“Teach NC” is a collaboration among the Department of Public Instruction, BEST NC, and Teach.org, with support from the Belk Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Coastal Credit Union.
Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said Johnson’s announcement was short on specifics.
“There were a lot of topics discussed but really no specifics or a plan to reinvest in education and make us a leader in the Southeast,” Jewell said.
Kim Mackey, a social studies teacher for Wake County Public Schools, said she has questions about how the superintendent’s priorities will affect her students who are sophomores and her son who is in first grade and will graduate in 2030.
“Talk about personalizing education with technology instead of people has me concerned about teachers forming relationships with students,” Mackey said.