On Wednesday, April 29th, North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood, released the State of North Carolina Single Audit Report. It reflected poorly on the Department of Public Instruction as led by State Superintendent Mark Johnson.
Based on my count while reading the audit, there were seven mentions of Significant Deficiency. There were also three mentions of Material Weakness. These all have to do with internal control weaknesses.
The most common reason given to try to explain away these issues? Staff turnover. In my experience staff turnover, especially to a degree that it impacts performance, is not an issue with solid leadership. These 10 mentions were solely about DPI complying with (generally) federal programs.
Then, there is the Category of Noncompliance Findings.
Here, we find three mentions of Material Noncompliance. This is accompanied by one Questioned Cost Finding in the staggering amount of $18,299,643.
The NC State Board of Education which has sparred with Johnson throughout his entire tenure responded in a statement saying, in part, “The Board is disappointed by the number of Findings and the concerns raised by those Findings.”
Claim that knowledge of access to the personal account was limited to the K-3 literacy office.
Just before 4pm this evening, the North Carolina Department of Instruction released the following:
A Statement from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
The agency has completed its investigation into a former employee’s allegations that her personal text messages were accessed via a DPI-issued device. The former employee admitted that she connected her DPI-issued devices to her personal text messaging accounts in violation of the state’s acceptable use and internet security policy. The investigation concluded that after the former employee retired in October 2017, her former agency-issued desktop computer remained connected to her personal accounts and was transferred to her successor. This individual was a social friend of the former employee and viewed the text messages as a source of entertainment and information on personal matters. The individual shared the former employee’s text messages with at least one other career employee in the K-3 literacy division.
Upon that individual’s retirement, the desktop was transferred to the career K-3 literacy employee. That employee continued to view the former employee’s personal text messages and admitted to providing a screenshot of a text message conversation to her supervisor in February 2019. The supervisor informed DPI leadership that the screenshot had been slipped under her door by an unknown individual. Shortly thereafter, the employee disconnected the desktop from the text messaging account. DPI has examined each device that was assigned to the former employee and has determined that they are no longer connected to any personal email or messaging accounts. The investigation concluded that knowledge of access to the personal account was limited to the K-3 literacy office.
For those of you who do not remember, this is related in part to the scandal surrounding iStation. The text message that was slipped under the door was the justification that State Superintendent Mark Johnson used to disband a evaluation team had been established to choose a reading diagnostic tool. The committee had chosen mClass but after the PRINTED OUT text message was shared with Johnson, the team was dissolved. The new team that was created recommended iStation.
With a normal State Superintendent, this statement that DPI has provided might be enough. Under Mark Johnson, this statement does not restore any trust in DPI.
It does not seem that anyone has been held accountable. When all of this started back in July of 2019, I called on Mark Johnson to resign. I renew that call today.
Mark Johnson’s removal as State Superintendent cannot come soon enough.
Friday news dump comes just two days after Democratic Senators submitted a letter to Senator Berger requesting the creation of select committee to review the DPI’s procurement process.
Late Friday afternoon, North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the denial of Amplify’s appeal regarding the decision to award the K-3 reading diagnostic tool to IStation. The Friday news dump comes just two days after Democratic Senators submitted a letter to Senator Berger requesting the creation of a select committee to review DPI’s procurement process.
The released letter begins with an overview, but the real fun starts when looking at the supposed “misstatements of facts.” What caught my eye right away was the claim on page 10 that “Istation is a valid dyslexia screener.” This is despite the fact that Justin Parmenter in a post here, noticed that, “The team that chose Istation specifically referred to the program’s lack of a separate dyslexia component as a weakness of the program (while also holding up Amplify’s dyslexia component as a strength of mClass).” Dr. Chelsea M. Bartel backs this up, “Even if we set aside the concern that identification/matching is a lower-level skill than asking students to produce sounds and words on their own, there are still glaring concerns regarding Istation’s ability to effectively screen all areas involved in dyslexia.”
In saying that IStation is indeed a valid dyslexia screener, Johnson says that, ” In a telephonic interview of Dr. Joseph Torgesen, one of the top experts in the field of dyslexia, conducted on July 12, 2019, he stated: “I consider this to be as good a screener as any I know of.” “
The problem? Dr. Torgesen has worked for IStation, as an author on Istation’s Early Reading assessment. Could Mark Johnson not find an independent expert on dyslexia? This is just another red flag in this entire process.
The next red flag comes on page 11, where Johnson claims this is a misstatement, “Screen-based assessments are not developmentally appropriate for Kindergarteners and struggling learners.” As an educator who on the first day of school this year, as a third year teacher, will have more classroom experience then our superintendent I was interested in this. I have personally noticed that my students do better on assessments given on paper than they do on screens.
If Istation thought that by sending cease and desists to public education advocates would scare others, they were wrong.
I decided to look into Istation’s CFO, Richard H. Collins. I first looked at the campaign finance records and noticed right away that he has donated thousands of dollars to Republicans nationwide dating back years. Many of those donations were to state level Republican parties, but not to the North Carolina Republican Party. NC Senator Thom Tillis received a donation from him to the tune of $2,600 in 2014. The Republican National Committee received two sizable donations from Mr. Collins in 2016. One of $30,000 that was reported on 6/20/2016 and another of $3,400 on 9/27/2016. Now, there are many people who donate thousands of dollars to Republicans, but what is interesting is that on March 30, 2019, Senator Tillis received another donation of $952.38 from Mr. Collins. This will be important later.
Now, early in the controversy regarding the Istation vs. Amplify, it was mentioned that Istation’s lobbyist was Doug Miskew so I decided to do some digging around to see what I could turn up regarding him. If Richard Collins donates lots of money to national Republicans, than Mr. Miskew donates plenty at the local North Carolina level. He has donated heavily to North Carolina Republicans over the years with the most recent being $500 to the NC Republican Party in 2016. In 2014, he donated a total of $5,500 to Thom Tillis aligned groups. He also donated $500 to Phil Berger’s son’s campaign for NC-06 in 2013. Remember Mr. Miskew for later as well.
After seeing the donations for Mr. Collins and Mr. Miskew I then looked at the mClass side and Amplify. Theresa Kostrzewa seems to be the NC lobbyist for Amplify and does not appear to have made any donations to North Carolina Republicans and very few nationally. The CEO of Amplify, Larry Berger (no relation to Senator Berger as far as I know), has not donated any money to Republicans according to FEC records and in fact has donated a couple thousand here and there to Democrats over the years.
Less than a month later, on March 8th, the general counsel for the superintendent, Jonathan Sink, told the team that the procurement process was being cancelled. Jonathan Sink had previously been Deputy General Counsel and Policy Advisor to Speaker Tim Moore. Mr. Sink has since moved on to be the Executive Director of the North Carolina Republican Party.
What really changed between January 8th and March 8th? Did Mark Johnson speak to Doug Miskew at the February 19th event? What about Theresa Kostrzewa?
The head of the firm that is sent out cease and desists to Justin Parmenter, Amy Jablonski, and Chelsea Bartel is Kieran J. Shanahan. Mr. Shanahan is also well-known in North Carolina Republican circles as he previously held the position of Finance Chair for the NC Republican Chair. He was a delegate to the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Republican National Convention and was the head of the NC Department of Public Safety under Governor Pat McCrory.
The kicker? Barely three weeks after the procurement process was cancelled there is a donation receipt to NC Republican Senator, Thom Tillis, from IStation CFO, Richard H. Collins, for $952.38 on March 30, 2019.
Everything that has been uncovered through the FOIA requests seems to point to this being a dirty process that Superintendent Johnson seemed to want to end with IStation winning the contract. Were political donations a factor?
Superintendent Mark Johnson unilaterally signed a contract with Istation to be the new Read to Achieve K-3 reading diagnostic. He disbanded a committee tasked with making the recommendation. No educators were involved in the decision.
As educators, we can smell BS from a mile away and it was later determined that Istation used the same lobbyist as ClassWallet. It was also determined that this lobbyist has also heavily donated to politicians in the North Carolina Republican Party.
I realize at this point that I’m restating information that a lot of people know already thanks to people like Justin Parmenter, Chelsea Bartel, Amy Jablonski, and Stu Egan. It’s just hard to fathom how terrible this decision smells. Money and politics never smell good, but it smells even worse when it involves the lives of our youngest students.
Amy Jablonski was a member of the committee that was disbanded so she has the knowledge of how that went down. Chelsea Bartel and Justin Parmenter were analyzing the information that DPI provided due to numerous freedom of information act requests.
Istation’s response? Silence them with cease and desist orders. Everything that was said was based on information witnessed in person or by citing the documents that DPI released.
If Istation thought that this would help their public relations campaign to force their product down the throat of students and educators, they’re sorely mistaken.
In a twisted sort of way, this whole saga is kind of funny really. Many educators were not the biggest fans of mClass, now, they will take it back in a heartbeat.
With all of this being out in the open, we are far past the point where Superintendent Mark Johnson needs to resign. Educators, and parents, across the state do not trust him or his ability to leader our public school students. Our students deserve better. They deserve better than Mark Johnson.