Catherine Truitt says we've created a generation of illiterates. The NC Secretary of Public Instruction visited several Lincoln County schools on Wednesday (Oct. 19th). "It's not a North Carolina problem; it's a national problem," she said. "Even before the pandemic, only 43 percent of third graders in our state demonstrated grade-level reading proficiency."
Truitt had written in Education NC (EdNC) in September: "Until the 1930s, the prevailing method of teaching reading throughout the United States was based on an approach generally described as 'phonics'– the sounding out of letters. Encouraged by certain prominent and well-meaning schools of education as well as state education boards, phonics’ grasp was chipped away at the district and state levels for several decades by a rival technique known as 'whole language instruction.' By the mid-1980s, whole language instruction (WLI) had become the dominant method of reading instruction. For example, California adopted a statewide WLI mandate in 1987. Within seven years, California reading proficiency scores dropped to second-to-last in the United States — behind only one state, Mississippi."
Truitt pushed for the passage of Senate Bill 387, the "Excellent Public Schools Act" which she said is an important first step toward improving reading ability of students by improving teaching methods.
Truitt has been critical of the so-called Schools Report Cards issued each year. "We're emphasizing the wrong thing," she said. "The way it has been done causes teachers to 'teach to the test.'"
On Tuesday, Truitt unveiled a strategy called 'Portrait of a Graduate,' which involves seven competencies she hopes schools will incorporate into their teaching. The seven competencies are:
Truitt also had high praise for Lincoln County Schools efforts to train students for more than just entering college. "Not everybody needs to get a four-year degree," she said, a sentiment shared by Cliff Brumfield of LEDA and Lincolnton Mayor Ed Hatley. "I went to a four-year college, but things have changed. We may need to adjust our mindset," said Hatley.
Truitt praised Supt. Dr. Aaron Allen: "we need to hold our superintendents and principals accountable for student attendance," she said. "Students can't learn if they don't come to class." Allen has made truency a priority.
In addition to Brumfield, Hatley, Lincolnton City Manager Ritchie Haynes, and a large number of administrative staff members of the Lincoln County Schools, Rep. Jason Saine and Senator Ted Alexander were on hand for a question-and-answer session with Truitt at Lincolnton High School Wednesday afternoon.