The Biggest Problem For The State Board of Education: Donna Johnson

It is no secret that I have issues with Donna Johnson.  It is also no secret that I blew her anonymous identities on my blog and another one at the end of the summer.  As well, I filed many complaints against the DOE with the Delaware Department of Justice and one of those was specifically against her over what I perceive to be very serious ethics issues.  With those disclaimers out of the way, I firmly believe she is hazardous to education in Delaware.  I know she has passion and conviction for what she believes, and I am okay with that.  What I am not okay with is how she goes about it.

The true problems exist within Title 14.  The role of Executive Director for the State Board of Education is not clearly defined.  I would assume that role to be that of an impartial and unbiased mediator between the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and the Secretary of Education.  Instead what we have is her informing the board about issues and offering suggested guidance to them.  As well, when there are State Board workshops, like the recent one on the Smarter Balanced Assessment at Grotto’s in Dover, the entire presentation was led by Donna Johnson.  She sits on the DESS committee, she sat on the AFWG committee, and many others.  That is not State Board representation as the law dictates.  That is Donna Johnson representation.  I’m sure the law is written in such a way that the President of the State Board can choose a designee, but when it is the same person at the bulk of these meetings and workgroups that is not a voting member of the State Board, I take great issue with that.

I have watched Donna Johnson in the past year and a half.  Some of those times I didn’t even know it was Donna Johnson.  She is very quick to correct someone if they are wrong on something, or her perception of wrongdoing.  But when challenged on something that is controversial or on an issue she is unwilling to give an answer for, we get a self-righteous and indignant comment or look on her face, as if she is saying “how dare you question me, don’t you know who I am?”  Yes Donna, we all know who you are.  There has never been a question about that.  I have seen you at State Board meetings, education workshops, task force meetings, AFWG meetings, and even a State Board retreat when I was the only person from the public at the meeting.  I have no doubt you can’t stand me, and you probably view my outing of you as some sort of betrayal.  But I won’t apologize for that.  You are someone who helps set policy, and your antics behind the scenes demanded I do something.  You can say you don’t set policy, but you are at Legislative Hall more than some legislators and you are firmly aligned with Rodel.  That makes you probably the most dangerous person involved in education in Delaware.  I have seen you anonymously post on my blog about how Smarter Balanced is probably not the right answer but then promote it at every education meeting you go to.  And for those who want to argue about state IP addresses, I would not say this if I were not 100% certain.  Who is the real Donna Johnson?  If this were any other person, I would never have outed them.  And I know this caused some dissent among my readers.  I own that.  But to me, someone with as big a role as yourself, should not be leading conversations in certain directions.  Nor should you be providing information that is, at a minimum, false or misleading.

I have talked with numerous people about you in conversation, and the same basic thing always comes up: that you are very difficult to deal with.  I believe you have confused your job title with personal edification.  You should not be dictating policy, you should be impartially conveying information that is given to you to relay to the State Board.  You should not be the State Board representation at every important education meeting in the state.  We need actual State Board representation at every single one of these meetings so they can hear the tone, and see the looks, and feel the heart of the conversations.  Things get lost in the transition to communicating these meetings with the State Board and that tone of those meetings is lost.  The fact that the State Board is an appointed body and not an elected body leads most citizens to believe they will fall in line with what their appointee wants, not what is best for the students of Delaware.  This has been proven time and time again, and it is bad politics.

Let’s look at the Charter School Accountability Committee.  Yes, you are a non-voting member, but you are allowed to ask very in-depth questions of the charters that face this committee.  That can easily sway the opinion of the voting members of the committee.  Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy some of the questions you ask and they are very important to the context of the purpose of those meetings, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder if your undefined role needs clarification.  I believe the ambiguity of your role allows you to do what you do.  And that isn’t right, in my opinion.  I believe you wield and flaunt way too much “executive” power and policy is made based on this.  I think Rodel is too ingrained in your thought processes and those of other lobbyists.  I feel sometimes that you are a lobbyist when your role does not clearly grant you that power.

The bulk of this post is precipitated by your actions at the final Accountability Framework Working Group meeting yesterday.  Yes, I challenged you on many aspects of Secretary Godowsky and the State Board’s decision to move forward with harsh penalties against schools for the participation rate multiplier against a school’s proficiency on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  You respectfully told me I am entitled to my opinion.  But two words did it for me: “positive consequences”.  This is the heart of this.  Because I could see that you truly believe positive consequences are needed to help destroy the opt-out movement.  I do not view these actions as positive in the grand scheme of things.  They are disrespectful to parents, educators, schools, and our communities.  It is meant to shame schools for a parent’s actions.  If I had my way, there would be absolutely no consequences for opt-out as it is not even in the State Board’s jurisdiction to assign judgment for parent’s actions.  But to refer to them as “positive” diminishes the very foundation of our education system and lumps parents as a problem that needs to be dealt with.  This is about an attempt to control parents and manipulate them into deciding what is best for their child.  This is why I vowed to you, the DOE, and Secretary Godowsky that opt-out will continue and it will reach a point where opt-out is not the only measure and it will wind up in court as a class-action law suit against the above parties by many parents in Delaware.

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