This November, North Carolina voters have the opportunity to elect a new superintendent of public instruction. The superintendent is the state’s highest-ranking education official and the elected head of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction which oversees K-12 public school systems. In addition, the superintendent is also a member of the North Carolina State Board of Education which sets policy and procedures for North Carolina public schools.
Mark Johnson, the current state superintendent is not seeking re-election. This year two new candidates, Catherine Truitt and Jennifer Mangrum are vying for the office. To help better inform voters on the respective views and positions of each candidate we’ve put together the following information. The information listed here was collected from candidate forums and debates. A specific listing is provided at the end of the document.
For more detailed descriptions of candidate positions see the following:
Truitt believes all students must have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education and that starts with literacy. North Carolina’s inability to ensure all students can read is the biggest civil rights violation of our time. Sixty-there percent of fourth graders cannot read proficiently nor do math on grade level. Furthermore, despite the investment in finances and resources over the past 30 years, Truitt asserts that we have failed to narrow the achievement gap. Phonics-based reading instruction is largely ignored in our classrooms. We need to bring it back into the classroom to ensure all children can read and are literate.
Equity in Education is Mangrum’s top priority. Despite the differences in resources and cultural factors, all students must be able to flourish equally. Mangrum believes we must work with districts to eliminate the link between student achievement and certain social and cultural factors (e.g. race, ethnicity, family economics, disability etc.).
Views Toward Education System
Truitt asserts the current system is not working. Despite what opponents of current legislative leadership say, state funding for education has increased; per pupil spending up 20 percent since 2014. We are not getting the outcomes we want. The current system is broken and needs fixing.
Mangrum believes the current system isn’t failing; but is underfunded. Funding is inequitable across Local Education Agencies (LEAs). Teachers feel undervalued and disrespected. Fixing the inequity is the first step in fixing the system. Fixing equity means not everyone is the same, but that every district and school has what they need.
Truitt contends our current education system is failing to deliver. Our funding system provides reasonable equity for state funding across LEAs. The problem however is with local funding. Differences in property values create great variability in what local communities provide for public education. More local control is also needed so superintendents have greater budget flexibility. Problems with position allotments and teacher sorting must be addressed as well as how to better assist poorer districts. Greater flexibility is needed for how districts spend state money.
Mangrum contends the current system is significantly underfunded and needs to be fixed. The WestEd Report documented how prior to 2010, North Carolina invested in public education and it helped generate favorable outcomes. But that stopped in 2010 with the changeover of the legislature. The report documented the problem of underfunding education and says we need to spend $7 billion over eight years to be compliant with Leandro. Mangrum agrees we need to spend more to provide a sound, basic education. However, she would assert that Sen. Phil Berger refuses to pay what the court says we need. Mangrum says funding must not only address academic development but student well-being. In order to do that the superintendent must think about equity funding across the state. Currently, too many students lack healthcare and families are torn apart by ICE. That needs to change. Principals need to be supported. One of the best ways to do that is to give them the staff they need to help meet the needs of children. We don’t have enough school nurses, psychologists, social workers or school resource officers. Moreover, wages for bus drivers and school staff need to be raised because all school staff – not just teachers – contribute to student well-being.
Truitt believes the accountability system needs to be done away with. What‘s horrible is how much money the state has spent. Per pupil spending is up 20 percent since 2014, but North Carolina schools haven’t moved the needle on student achievement. Schools are graduating more high school students than ever. However, only 18 percent of graduates meet all four college readiness benchmarks and one-third of poor students will get a 17 or better on the ACT exam. Something needs to give.
We need a measure to determine where we are as students and schools. However, Truitt doesn’t believe we should grade schools based on how kids do on an exam. She believes that grades are more a reflection of teacher accountability than student achievement. We need a new way to test because we have failed the student. Today it’s about compliance. We need testing that is student-centered. We need more formative assessments to inform instruction. Truitt argues for redefining student success in terms of not merely proficiency in math or reading but in terms of mastery.
Truitt favors getting rid of EOGs and EOCs in favor of nationally normed summative tests. She believes growth and achievement tests can be tools, but they should be used as stand-alone and not as parts of the same metric.
Mangrum is highly critical of how we hold schools accountable and believes they are in need of significant improvements. High stakes testing is big money testing and it’s wrong. Far too many tests are administered. The process damages students with too much assessment and stigmatizing some groups. Mangrum favors the elimination of more testing because we have too much testing. The major problem, she says, is how tests are used — or misused. They are used as punitive measures against children and the schools which they attend. Mangrum favors more formative assessments. They give teachers diagnostic information and data to help a child, not punish them. She also favors efforts to revamp the testing system and making it less threatening. She opposes bonuses for teachers who do well. All staff should be eligible and receive bonuses because all staff contribute to student well-being. Rather than testing all the time, schools should develop holistic measures that address more than just a child’s academic needs.
Truitt believes Leandro is a significant decision requiring that all students – regardless of zip code – have access to an education that meets objective, quality metrics. For decades, however, Republican and Democratic administrations have failed to meet that obligation in all corners of our state. Courts have legitimately identified violations of our constitutional obligations. However, Truitt believes the courts generally don’t do a good job of coming up with solutions for how the state should meet those obligations. That task is best left to our elected representatives, our lawmakers, state superintendent, members of the Board of Education and members of the governor’s office and the Department of Public Instruction. It’s the superintendent’s job to work with policy makers and create a comprehensive plan that will achieve educational equity throughout North Carolina and further student success.
Mangrum asserts that the WestEd report rightfully highlighted how before 2010 North Carolina was making progress toward creating schools that work well for all students. Achievement was rising and opportunity gaps were closing. Other states were noticing. In 2010, the General Assembly changed hands. Instead of being the education state, Mangrum said we became the state for HB2. Things have gotten worse. Under Governor Pat McCrory our schools were committed to austerity budgets and harmful privatization schemes. Mangrum promises that she will work with lawmakers to ensure that no child’s future is merely determined by their zip code and will work to implement the plan outlined by the WestEd report.
If a family determines a child is dissatisfied with school, many families will put their child in a different public or private school or even move to a better school district. That’s fine, Truitt says, but the poor don’t have that choice. Truitt supports giving choice for families that wouldn’t normally have access to quality education. She supports charter schools and does not believe they drain funds from the public schools; are held to satisfactory levels of financial accountability and transparency and also believes charter schools should receive facility funding. Truitt opposes reinstating a cap on the number of charter schools. Truitt believes charter schools should receive the same funding as public schools and believes North Carolina should adopt a formula of weighted student funding for schools. Truitt does not believe charters contribute to segregation. Segregation was already in neighborhoods long before charter schools emerged on the scene.
Truitt supports programs like the Opportunity Scholarship Program, because she believes low-income parents need to have choices just like high-income parents do. Truitt does not support expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship to higher income families. She thinks $140 million is too much to spend on the voucher program.
Mangrum believes everyone likes choice because choice is a good thing. However for Mangrum, reality is the problem. She believes it’s not a good thing when school choice is taking away money from schools that are already significantly underfunded. Mangrum says she likes choice. She likes magnets but doesn’t believe magnets and charters are working well. Districts need to have policies that govern charter schools because they are taking money from districts to ensure our children receive an equal education.
Under Republican leadership, more money is going to fund private schools which could be put to better use in public schools . Yes, charter schools have good ideas and those techniques should be applied to public schools. However, charter schools are also contributing to segregation and unequal education. We must rethink what we are doing because choice is dividing our communities and our schools.
Mangrum opposes the Opportunity Scholarship Program. She believes vouchers are unconstitutional and are a complete waste of money. They are starving schools of resources.
North Carolina Association of Public Charter Schools and North Carolina Coalition for Public Charter Schools. Candidate Questionnaire and Survey Answers and Forum Video with Jen Mangrum and Catherine Truitt
WRAL State Superintendent Candidate Forum Video