NC Superintendent of Public Instruction says digital tools beneficial for education

Mark Johnson has served almost a quarter of his term as the N.C. superintendent of public instruction. In that time, he has toured schools throughout the state to get a better idea of what works.

Johnson shared some of those ideas Friday with the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce but answered few questions directly.

Since being elected in November 2016, replacing longtime state Superintendent June Atkinson, Johnson has been embroiled in a power struggle with the State Board of Education, including a lawsuit, which he briefly mentioned.

However, Johnson said he has focused on trying to provide the best instruction for the students of the state. He cited an instructional model in a fifth-grade class in Rowan-Salisbury Schools in which technology is bringing students up to state standards and allowing more individualized education. He said students were using handheld devices with content that could be customized for them.

Johnson said he would leave it up to individual school systems to select the type of technology and software best suited to customize and improve learning in the classroom, but hopes to work with the N.C. General Assembly in the next legislative session to secure state money for the effort. He was unable to provide an estimate of how much it might cost to make school systems the digital-first classrooms he envisions.

Johnson, a former member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of education, supports innovation as a way to turn around the state and improve it. He hopes the ideas he gets from local schools can be used for state models.

Johnson said he was surprised upon taking office that there was no statewide reading initiative, and touted a program he created, NC Reads, which serves as a clearinghouse of resources for counties with nonprofit programs to assist early literacy. Of the 100 counties listed in the state, however, only 24 are listed on the website with programs.

Johnson said he is also hoping to roll out an initiative soon encouraging pre-school parents to read one to two books a day to their children to help them be ready for school.

“We know by third grade, it’s so vitally important. If you’re not reading on grade level, you’re always trying to catch up,” he said.

Johnson said that while touring schools he said the state was testing too much.

North Carolina turned in its plans for the national education plan, Every Student Succeeds to the U.S. Department of Education in September. The plan will replace the No Child Left Behind initiative. Some people have criticized the state’s plan, saying that there are still too many state-mandated tests.

Johnson said he hoped to do away with more tests “as soon as possible” but declined to say how many tests or give a timeline for when that would occur.

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