The Durham Association of Educators has launched a campaign to fight those pushing to privatize public schools.
“Public schools are under attack,” said Bryan Proffitt, president of the Durham Public Schools teachers’ union, the Durham Association of Educators.
“It’s a well-funded, well-coordinated attack that is actually international in its effort,” he said. “And everybody needs to be clear that this attack has one goal, and that’s the privatization of public schools so folks that have resources can find one more place to suck profit out of this economy.”
Proffit spoke at a meeting held by the Durham Council of PTAs and the Durham Association of Educators, which has about 600 members. About 70 parents, teachers and community members attended.
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Privatization advocates are framing the attack, Proffitt said, by saying schools aren’t meeting the needs of young people, specifically poor and/or students of color.
They are also advocating for less funding in areas that would help these students, such as public housing, public transportation and public assistance, Proffitt said.
The push has created a national and local “myth” that public schools are failing, he said. In Durham, the myth has led to white families abandoning the system for charter and other schools.
While challenges in schools are real, he said, so are successes.
“The truth behind the myth of Durham Public Schools is that most of the people that tell the stories have never stepped foot in them,” Proffitt said. “They rely on media, anecdotes, and they believe a story that damns our public schools.”
In response, the association sought to debunk the ideas that Durham Public Schools were “dangerous” and “scary” by visiting all 53 schools. As of last week,the association had visited 48. (Read blog posts about those visits at http://daenc.com/.) Representatives attended many classes, talked to hundreds of educators and watched thousands of students.
They saw firsthand the successes and challenges, Proffitt said. On Thursday night, he rolled out a campaign that seeks to defend schools while transforming them.
This attack has one goal, and that’s the privatization of public schools so folks that have resources can find one more place to suck profit out of this economy.
Bryan Proffitt, president, Durham Association of Educators
Proffitt encouraged educators to “highlight the miracles that are happening every day” and “counter the myths,” he said.
Meanwhile, they also need to speak “boldly and loudly” about the fact that public schools have some serious challenges.
“That can only happen if we are honest about those challenges,” he said, adding that most could be solved with more funding and people in the buildings.
As a result of the tour, the association drafted a plan that pushes for improvements in eight areas:
▪ personalized education for students and smaller class sizes
▪ diversity and respect
▪ quality educators
▪ parent and community partnerships
▪ structure and discipline
▪ physical environment
▪ emotional, physical and economic well-being of students
▪ curriculum and pedagogy.
In an interview, Proffitt said highlighting student test scores and statewide grading scores are some of the tools that people are using to push for privatization. Student growth should be emphasized, he said, not whether students are hitting a certain score. It’s unfair to compare kids coming into schools with all sorts of instability in their lives due to poverty with others who don’t face those challenges.
The General Assembly inserted a new definition of low-performing schools into the budget it adopted in September. Schools will now be low-performing if they get a D or F school performance grade and don’t exceed academic growth expectations on state exams. Each school’s letter grade is calculated from student testing scores, which account for 80 percent of the letter grade. A growth component – which tracks improvement of students – makes up 20 percent of each school’s grade.
Supporters say the change streamlines the process of identifying low-performing schools, but critics say it labels schools using a flawed measurement system. Most of the 581 schools statewide now labeled as low-performing have high concentrations of students receiving federally subsidized lunches and large minority populations. Twenty-one DPS schools were labeled low performing.
The DPS Board of Education along with other school district boards have sent letters to the state objecting to the grading system. Proffitt said the grading system should be flipped in which 80 percent of the letter grade relates to student growth.
Next steps in the campaign includes educators taking the proposed plan back to their individual schools, creating teams and seeking feedback, said Nicholas Graber-Grace, who teaches at Hillside High. Then the association will take those comments, incorporate then into a document that will be voted on by educators and others at an April meeting.
The document will be used to lobby and hold accountable local and state policy makers, he said.
The News & Observer staff reporter T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.
To view the traditional public schools that received a letter grade of D or F, go here: http://bit.ly/1NCobdk.