NC State Superintendent disrupts speech for primary opponent at JoCo GOP meeting
Catherine Truitt was not happy about being attacked over creating an Office of Equity in the NC DPI
Video from last Friday shows NC Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt repeatedly interrupting a speech in support of Michele Morrow, her opponent in the GOP primary, before “storming out” of a Johnston County GOP meeting.
Johnston County School Board member Michelle Antoine had began her remarks in support of Morrow by by referring to both candidates as "fabulous women" and assuring full support of the primary winner in the general election. However, as soon as Antoine started into Truitt's record as Superintendent, claiming that Truitt "created an Office of Equity" and "wants to get rid of magnet schools", Truitt began to shout denials.
Fact Check: Office of Equity
Antoine's first claim, which Truitt interrupted her speech to deny, is that Truitt created an "Office of Equity":
Antoine: But Catherine Truitt has a record. So, one of the first things she did when she went there four years ago, is created an Office of Equity, that did not exist
Truitt: Not true! That's not true
Antoine: Well, you had your moment, let's have this moment.
This claim is relatively simple to fact check, as in comprises two parts: did Truitt create an Office of Equity, and was it one of the first things she did in office?
As to the first part, there is no question that Truitt created an Office of Equity. We need to look no further than a 2021 filing in the infamous "Leandro" court case (North Carolina State Board of Education's First Report on Progress on Comprehensive Remedial Plan):
The SBE and State Superintendent Truitt reallocated existing resources to create the Office of Equity. In December 2020, Superintendent Truitt hired Dr. Catherine Edmonds as the Deputy Superintendent for Educational Equity
This was cited in reference to element I.F.iii.2 of the "Comprehensive Remedial Plan" submitted to the court in March 2021 by the State Defendants in the case:
I. A Well Prepared, High Quality, and Supported Teacher in Every Classroom
F. Significantly increase the racial and ethnic diversity of North Carolina’s qualified and well-prepared teacher workforce and ensure all teachers employ culturally responsive practices.
iii. Action Steps to be Initiated in Fiscal Year 2022:
2. Establish the Office of Equity Affairs at NCDPI to direct the recruitment and retention of a diverse educator workforce. This action step requires a recurring appropriation to achieve the stated goal beginning in this fiscal year.
We can date Truitt's creation of the Office of Equity back even further; a press release from December 2020 of then State Superintendent-Elect Truitt's "first wave of new hires" includes a bio of Dr. Catherine Edmonds, Truitt's pick for the Office of Equity.
Equity vs. Equality
Truitt has previously defended the Office of Equity she created. In a 2021 email response to Antoine's concerns, Truitt claimed that her definition of "equity" was "giving all students what they need at the time they need it" and not "ensuring equal outcomes".
However, this denial is belied by the graphic Truitt included in the very same email. The graphic, from a UNESCO report, illustrates a more mainstream definition of "equity" as "equality of outcome" (as opposed to "equality of opportunity"):
If, perhaps, Truitt uses a definition of equity which is non consistent with the more common use of the term in the field of education, this distinction does not appear to have been shared by her pick for head of the Office of Equity, Dr. Catherine Edmonds. The description of Edmond's role at the Office of Equity in a 2022 bio is packed full of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion buzzwords and terminology:
A distinguished leader, Dr. Edmonds comes to NCCU with almost 30 years of experience, including numerous leadership roles in primary, secondary and higher education. Currently, Dr. Edmonds serves as deputy state superintendent for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. In this senior leadership position, she works closely with the State Superintendent and the senior leadership team. She leads and partners with relevant stakeholders to ensure the public education system is positioned to achieve equitable academic outcomes for all students in North Carolina. Dr. Edmonds also leads statewide efforts related to diversity, equity and outreach; provides leadership to increase effectiveness in promoting equity and inclusion statewide; oversees the implementation of the state’s equity plan; and serves as the state’s leader for equity goals. She also supports schools, public school units and Regional Education Service Alliances in program and policy implementation and offers support and leadership to schools. (emphasis added)
Another use of the term "equity" in Truitt's Department of Public Instruction (DPI) can be seen on a web page titled "Educational Equity and Significant Disproportionality" , which is a "resource" to "address disproportionality":
Having significant disproportionality means that students of a particular race/ethnicity are significantly more likely than their other-race peers to be identified as students with disabilities, identified in a particular disability category, placed in a particular educational setting, or suspended/expelled as a disciplinary measure. (emphasis added)
The presupposition that any "disproportionality" in outcome is "unfair" is indicative that the word "equity" in this context is being used in the sense of "equality of outcome".
Fact Check: Getting Rid of Magnet Schools
The second claim made by Antoine, that Truitt vocally disputed, is that Truitt is on record wanting to "get rid of magnet schools":
Antoine: Catherine Truitt is on record, in a video, talking about how she wants to get rid of magnet schools. High performance schools...
Truitt: Not true! Not true
Antoine: the high performing students, she wanted to get rid of the magnet schools. For those high performing students.
Truitt: Show the video!
The video in question is a from a livestreamed interview then State Superintendent-Elect Truitt did with the Friday Institute. In response to a question about charter schools contributing to school segregation, Truitt responded that she was "more concerned with in-school segregation that comes from inequity with advanced classes", and that "if we're gonna be honest about what's contributing to school segregation, we have to talk about that issue within the context of magnet schools."
Although Truitt did not specifically bring this line of argument to the conclusion that "segregated" magnet schools should be shut down, these comments were made shortly after she noted that "we've shut down close to 100 charter schools in the last decade"
One can come to their own conclusion about the accuracy of Antoine's characterization after listening to or reading the transcript of the question and answer:
Interviewer: Well, I want to take a little different turn here with the questioning. Catherine, I've heard you speak about your passion for school choice. And in a Civitas School Choice poll (it was out this year I believe), 58% of respondents were in favor of charter schools, and 46% surveyed said that charter schools contribute to school segregation. I was wondering, as Superintendent, what would be your response to those critics?
Truitt: Well, first of all, I think that the idea that charter schools contribute to segregation is largely a function of parent choice. And that we have to remember that schools are already segregated because we determine where kids are going to go by zip code. We still do that in this country and in this state.
And so, school segregation has a long and dirty past in the state. And I have not seen anything that compels me to think that we throw out the baby with the bathwater. Because there are a lot of charter schools that are serving minority populations and doing a good job. And we shut down charter schools that don't do a good job. And I mean we've shut down close to 100 charter schools in the last decade.
We don't shut down neighborhood public schools, and nor should we. But I do think that there's a lot of misinformation. I've heard people speak publicly about charter schools and say things that are just misinformed. And, for example 80% of charter schools in North Carolina, are run by nonprofit management organizations, 20% are run by for profit management organizations.
But back to the issue of segregation. I'm more concerned with in-school segregation that comes from inequity with advanced classes. And our magnet schools are some of the worst perpetrators of in school segregation. And I know magnets are often held up as a bastion of a kind of school choice we should have, because they are part of the traditional public system. And we have some amazing magnet schools in our state. But if we're gonna be honest about what's contributing to school segregation, we have to talk about that issue within the context of magnet schools.
Truitt's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.