Network for Public Education questionnaire responses 10/25

NPE Action 2018 Candidate Survey

* 1. What is your name (first and last)?

James Barrett

* 2. What office are you running for? (Include the name of the office, city and state. i.e..,
AZ House of Representatives, LD 27, Tucson, AZ)

NC Superintendent of Public Instruction

* 3. What is your email address?

4. What is your phone number?


* 5. What are the dates for the Primary and
General election?

3/3/20 Primary 11/3/20 General

* 6. If you have a campaign web site and or Facebook page, please provide them here:

website: FB:

* 7. Have you run for this office before?


* 8. Why are you running for this position?

To bring excellent public education to all students in the great state of North Carolina and restore respect for our educators and support for them from the department.

* 9. Is this a partisan or nonpartisan race?


* 10. What organizations typically play a role in this election?

NC Association of Educators; charter school advocates; political parties; school “reform” groups

* 11. Who are your major opponents? What are their biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Mark Johnson, the incumbent, has not declared if he is running, but his weaknesses are corruption and complete lack of leadership. Jen Mangrum has the most teaching experience of the challengers in my primary, but her weaknesses are her lack of any management or policy experience.

* 12. Have you been convicted of any crimes? If so, explain.


* 13. Have you run for political office before? If so, what office(s) and what was the result?

Yes, I have been elected 3 times to my local school board–I’m finishing up 8 years on the board, with 2 as chair.

* 14. What organizations are you a part of and what is your role?

NCAE associate member; NC Association of Teacher Assistants associate member; member/supporter of a number of pro-public education policy groups (such as NC Public School Forum, NC Justice Center, Public Schools First); lifelong Democratic Party member and active supporter of/campaigner for many pro-public education legislators; NAACP life member

* 15. From what organizations (if any) have you received endorsements?

None yet

* 16. NPE Action will use the following responses on our website and in our press release. Do you agree that NPE Action can make this information public?


* 17. What is your campaign message?

A product of our great state’s public schools, James Barrett is the candidate with the complete track record–experience, leadership, and passio–to lead the Department of Public Instruction.

* 18. What is your top priority if you win this election?

To dismantle the testing regime that actively harms our schools by stigmitizing those who need the most help and not providing useful information to students and teachers; I have a complete plan on how to do this.

* 19. Do you have experience in the field of education? What have you done to support public education?

After 7 years of leadership in a social justice organization pushing for positive change in education alongside 30 religious and nonprofit organizations, I’ve been elected to 8 years on my school board, including 2 as chair, working every day to support public education and provide the resources and policies our teachers need to succeed.

* 20. How should we be using tests in our schools? Do we need more or less testing? Please explain.

Teachers have always tested students. The difference now is that standardized testing is not delivering any value to students nor teachers. It doesn’t provide guidance for instruction, and the results correlate only with levels of poverty. We need (and I will take) a completely different approach — trust teachers to assess students against standards, use the information primarily to determine next instructional steps, and collect data for public policy purposes as the least important piece of the puzzle. We also need to remove all high-stakes aspects of testing–students, teachers, administrators, and schools should not be penalized for standardized testing that we know is biased.

* 21. Do you support mayoral control or a democratically elected school board?

At the local level, having been on the board, I absolutely support electing the board. At the state board of education level, I’m comfortable with the governor appointing qualified policymakers.

* 22. What policies do you propose to improve public education under your jurisdiction?

1) See testing answer above. 2) I have a track recorcd of pushing policies that respect teachers and teacher voice, even as the NC legislature has attempted to be draconian on this. We can and should do these at the state level as well. 3) In addition to policy, the state superintendent needs to lead the large Department of Public Instruction well. I have a track record of strategic leadership that will improve DPI’s focus on supporting schools that need assistance.

* 23. Do you support changes in due process and seniority systems for teachers? If so, how would you like to see them changed?

This is an odd question for NC, where we have no due process rights anymore and seniority impacts are primarily a local decision. But I do have a track record on this: Working with teacher advocates, I pushed through local due process policies after the state removed those protections 6 years ago, so I am in favor of teachers having rights to continue employment unless they’ve done something wrong, and they should have the right to appeal.

24. Will you require companies and organizations that manage charter schools to release to parents and the public how they spend taxpayer money, including their annual budgets and contracts?  Do you support a moratorium on charter schools?

Yes, because charter schools are public schools, meaning the public owns them, we deserve to know exactly how funds are spent (as well as access to public communication records). North Carolina has clearly increased charter schools beyond what is reasonable, so yes, we should have a moratorium until charter schools are delivering better results for students, and are not increasing segregation. I would also be interested in looking at using local school boards as charter authorizers — they would know where additional choice is needed, be more accountable to the public, and more likely to put our values into the charter. One of my proudest accomplishments in my current role has been to bring budget transparency to how my district uses public funds, so this is an area I know well

* 25. Do you support the use of test scores in teacher evaluations or merit pay? Please explain.

No. This is an area proven to be ripe for abuse, the data is often not accurate, the data is biased and does not reward focusing our best teachers in areas of greatest needs.

* 26. What do you think ought to be the minimum level of training and qualifications for teachers?
Do you support alternative certification methods, such as Teach for America?

I think this should be a local hiring decision. We are not suceeding in recruiting enough teachers today, so I support some flexibility in qualification. I do appreciate the requirement for a bachelor’s degree but I think we need to be careful with the use of difficult licensure exams that do not measure what all teachers need to be able to do. TFA is not my preference, but some of our state’s schools would literally have empty halls without TFA today, so I can’t condemn it either.

* 27. How do you feel about the sharing of student data through privately owned data systems?

I am strongly opposed to the use of student information for commercial gain. If elected, I will advocate for North Carolina to consider what Louisiana has done to ensure student privacy.

* 28. Do you support the Common Core? Why or why not?

There is much to like about the quality of the standards in the Common Core, and for NC’s many military families having a consistent set of standards is extremely helpful. However, we are still struggling with some of the implementation mistakes, especially in our low-wealth areas that are not used to the level of rigor required. North Carolina has a five-year review of its standards process that I will ensure gets full input from all stakeholders and drives incremental changes to our standards as needed.

* 29. On what basis do you believe schools should be closed[SB6] ?

When they are not sustainable from a cost of maintenance or unutilized capacity perspective, schools may need to be closed, but even then careful consideration needs to be given to historical inequities and power dynamics between communities (for example, moving black students to the white schools without true integration will not solve gaps). School closures are gut-wrenching and too often fail to achieve the savings or learning gains that reformers promise.

* 30. What are your views on charter schools? Have you advocated for a charter school?

I support innovation that district schools have not always done well, in small doses or focused on populations that need special attention, and I know of charter schools that fit those definitions and are delivering great things for students. However, the majority of charters in NC today are little more than profit machines for a CMO and are cookie-cutter programs not delivering good results. I have advocated against a charter that was attempted in my district, but I’ve also said positive things about schools focused on students at risk of dropping out and other charters that are delivering great results.

* 31. What are your views on virtual/online schools?

In North Carolina, we have a state-run virtual public school that delivers course options to students across our state who can’t get them from their traditional high schools. My kids both took courses through this, and while I know there are positives and negatives involved, on the whole I am supportive of having that option. Virtual charter schools, on the other hand, are clearly delivering profits for private companies at the expense of student learning and I do not support them and their complete lack of successful track records.

32. Do your support the “parent trigger”?


* 33. Does class size matter? If so, what should class sizes be limited to? Will you support legislation or policy changes that will reduce class sizes?

In an ideal world, class sizes would be smaller so that teachers can form deeper relationships with their students. However, there is not enough funding to get to that utopia at all grade levels, nor is there physical space in most of our schools given the growth we continue to see in NC’s population. In addition, we struggle to recruit enough high-quality teachers as it is today. Increasing the necessary numbers of teachers for smaller class sizes would by definition require hiring less-qualified teachers, so it would not deliver additional success for our students.

* 34. What are your views on the use of vouchers, Education Empowerment Accounts, and tax credits to allow money to follow students to private or parochial schools?

I absolutely do not support public money going to these unaccountable private benefits. These schools do not fall under the authority of the state superintendent. But advocating for our public school students and against the giveaway of these funds is something I will do as superintendent.

* 35. What other issues is education facing in your district or state?

School safety is a concern of many students, teachers, and families, and as a school board member for the past 8 years, I’ve seen how this fear impacts the learning that our students are able to achieve. We need to invest in some improvements on physical security (quick locks for each classroom, secure entrances), invest in supporting our students’ mental health across the board, and ensure that we have positive relationships throughout our schools (including with school resource officers) to prevent acts of violence. But we must do more than that–we cannot fully protect our schools without advocating at the state and federal level for significantly tightened gun laws.

36. Is there any other information you would like to share with us?

My mother was a teacher for her entire career, in PreK and in high school reading, so I’ve spent a lifetime listening to teachers. That understanding of how to craft policy that will truly benefit teachers and schools, combined with my professional background as a strategic leader and manager, will allow me to do the work of the state superintendent on Day 1 — leading the Department of Public Instruction, advocating effectively with all stakeholders, and leading policymaking that makes a positive difference. I am the candidate with the track record in all the areas a great state superintendent needs.

37. Would you list the names, email addresses and phone numbers for three local people that would provide a local endorsement?

Jim Causby, former superintendent – Margaret Samuels, former board colleague – Brian Link, teacher

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