Hall of Fame Portrait: Don Johnston, Part 2

On December 1, 2011, AEP will induct Charlotte Frank, PhD, McGraw-Hill Education; Don Johnston, Don Johnston, Inc.; and Paul McFall, Pearson into the Educational Publishing Hall of Fame. Here in his second installment, Don Johnston, Founder, Don Johnston, Inc.,  discusses the greatest challenge he faced and the next big challenge for the educational resource industry.

What was the greatest challenge you faced in your career, and how did you handle it?

I started my business in 1980 during a very difficult recession. I had two young children. Schools were not spending and I was barely able to pay the bills.  On one hand, in the middle of the night, I wondered why in the world did I start this business, was I crazy?

On the other hand, during the day I just tried to listen to what our customers said they needed to help their students. Solving educational and disability issues with technology was so new at that time and there was so much excitement of what the future could hold.  The more difficult things got for me, the more I got on the road and spent time listening to [educators]. Many of these individuals are still close friends of mine today. I wouldn’t have hung in through the difficult times without them.

What do you think is the greatest challenge that educational publishing will face in the next five years?  Any thoughts on how to approach it?

Politicians control how money is spent on educational publishing. Products are being designed not based on what works but on what will meet the needs of the government funding sources. This approach is not helping us solve the educational crisis and the drop-out rate is deplorable. We need to focus less on standardized test scores and more on engagement, problem solving, creative thinking and written and oral communication. Learning should be fun and motivating in new ways to prepare students for advanced education and/or the working world.


Don Johnston grew up with a significant learning disability and has experienced firsthand the struggles that children and adults face when dealing with cognitive, physical and learning challenges. To this end, Don believes that all children can learn to read and write with the right tools and support. This passion led him to build his special education company in 1980 which he still owns and operates today with his two sons, Ben and Kevin, and longtime friend and colleague, Ruth Ziolkowski, the President of Don Johnston Inc. Don is well known in the education publishing field as an early developer, pioneer and advocate for assistive technology accommodations and learning intervention tools to serve students, teachers and families.

Read more about Don Johnston and the Hall of Fame.

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