Johnson Denies Appeal: “IStation is the best reading diagnostic tool for North Carolina educators, students and parents.”

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.

But I digress, Johnson cites, “a recent study of kindergarten students, Putnam (2016) found the level of teacher literacy support with the use of Istation had a statistically significant effect on early literacy achievement” Great! Right? Well…. Parmenter again on this study, “At the end of a study in a section titled “Implications for use of Istation in early literacy education,” Dr. Putnam acknowledges that technology is often seen as a quick fix for literacy problems and calls for more independent research so that it can be incorporated into early childhood classrooms in a way that is healthy for students.”

There will likely be longer analysis of this decision and I highly encourage you to keep an eye out for analysis from Parmenter, Stu Egan, as well as anything from Dr. Bartel.

I fully expect Amplify to appeal to the decision and we will see whether or not Senator Berger will create a committee to analyze the procurement process.

Here are the links for yourself:
Final Decision

New Twist in IStation Controversy, Gun Amendment Not Offered

Amendment Allows Local Control for Reading Assessment

Update: SB-438 as amended would force districts to use local funds if they want to choose a different reading tool, other than IStation.

One of the wonderful things about moving to live in Wake County is being only about 15 minutes from the NC Legislature. As a politics nerd, being so close to where the decisions happen is going to be quiet enjoyable.

The call went out today from the North Carolina chapter of Moms Demand Action to go to the meeting of the NC House of Representatives and wear red. This was to make sure legislators knew that gun control advocates were watching as it was expected the Representative Larry “Give Teachers Guns” Pittman (R-Cabarrus, Rowan) would offer an amendment to a School Safety Bill to allow teachers to carry guns. This is despite the fact that surveys have shown approximately 88% of teachers do not want to carry a gun themself, of have their colleagues carry guns.

What I did not expect to witness was Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange) offer an amendment to SB-438. This amendment allows for local school districts to choose a reading assessment tool of their choice, and still use the state funding that they would normally receive.

While saying that this does not have much to do with the widespread complaints of DPI’s choice of IStation for our youngest students, it seemed as though the amendment would allow for local districts to keep mClass if they wanted.

After some back and forth with Rep. Horn (R-Union), the amendment passed with all House Democrats voting in favor, along with some Republicans.

This is something to follow as the bill goes back to the Senate. It will be interesting if the Senate allows the amendment to stay in the bill or not.

The actual reason many of us were there was in regards to SB-5 on School Safety. Before the session started, many House Democrats waved to those of us sitting with the Moms Demand Action group as we were all in red. After, the Speaker recognized the group and the chamber applauded. Talk about surprised.

In between though, Rep. Pittman’s amendment was not discussed or voted on by the House. Checking twitter told us that it had been pulled from the calendar, meaning it was not going to be voted on at all.

Was it calls from constituents that kept the amendment from being offered? Was it those of us wearing red in the gallery? I do not know, but I cannot help but feel the actions of people throughout the day, and our presence that evening made a difference.

Time will tell as the bill itself is still on the calendar meaning there is still the opportunity for Pittman’s amendment to get added tomorrow when the House comes back into session at 1pm.

Doug Miskew, Mark Johnson, and Istation

Were political donations a factor?

If Istation thought that by sending cease and desists to public education advocates would scare others, they were wrong.

Richard Collins

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.

Doug Miskew

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.

Theresa Kostrzewa

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.

Mark Johnson

Now, if you have read Justin Parmenter’s post from July 15th you might remember that he looked at the documents that were released related to the FOIA requests. Parmenter noted that the evaluation team selected mClass in December of 2018. They met again on January 8th where Superintendent Mark Johnson made a big speech about, “freeing up more time for teachers to teach and the need to provide them with the right tools. ” Even after this speech, mClass was the choice of the majority.

On February 19th, Superintendent Mark Johnson, held that private event that had many educators angry. This included many of us were not invited along with those who had been uninvited from the event to hold a tweetstorm online. Guess who was invited? Doug Miskew and Theresa Kostrzewa.

Jonathan Sink

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?

Kieran Shanahan

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?

The Istation Decision Smells Worse

Superintendent Mark Johnson needs to resign

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.