On Monday they walked into local schools. On Tuesday they called Gov. Pat McCrory. On Wednesday teachers graded papers in public, including local malls. On Thursday they had teach-ins at schools. And on Friday they were scheduled to have a rally downtown.
The activities were part of a week of action in “The Schools We All Deserve” campaign headed by the N.C. Association of Educators and other partners, which includes the Durham Association of Educators and the Community Alliance for Public Education.
The campaign seeks to push for policy goals that include
▪ increasing per-student spending to the national average,
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▪ eliminating the statewide system to give schools an A-F grade based on test scores and other performance indicators and
▪ giving control over curriculum and other items back to individual schools.
The Durham News spoke with Turquoise Parker, 28, who teaches second grade at Eastway Elementary in Durham, about how statewide policies are impacting her classroom.
What is the goal of the week of action?
Parker: Our goal is to make the public aware of the current state and current attack on public education in North Carolina. The second part is to let the General Assembly know, we are aware of what you are trying to do to our public schools, and we are not going to let it happen.
What is the war on public schools?
Parker: It is a huge war. Starting in about 2009 and 2010, it’s been everything ranging from cutting master’s pay to textbooks and other type supplies, certified and classified teaching positions, professional development funds, the teaching fellows program, just too many things to count.
Not to mention, no serious raise for us at all.
How have cuts affected your classroom?
Parker: We are not going to be getting any funds for supplies next year. So that means copy paper, crayons, markers, scissors, glue, all the supplies that you really need to do things in your classrooms. One other specific attack from these legislative cuts is teacher assistants. I don’t have one.
I currently have 20 students, but I started the school year off with 23. I have 20 children. I teach second grade. That is a 20 to one ratio. For 7- and 8-year-olds that doesn’t make sense. And then third, fourth, and fifth grades, they don’t have a teacher assistant. It’s ridiculous. It’s hard to give these kids everything that they truly need when it is just one of us in the classroom. And the needs are great.
How has the A-F grading system impacted you?
Parker: I teach at Eastway, and Eastway is in an urban community in Durham. Some people would refer to it negatively as the hood or the ghetto. I don’t like when they specifically do that. Schools like Eastway, where the children, their parents or their caregivers are economically suffering because of systemic racism, they are performing a little bit less than other students on standardized testing and things like that. Because of that, that also rates my teaching, my teacher effectiveness.
You could come into my classroom right now. I call my students Mrs. Parker’s professors because I want them to know that I believe in them and they can do anything they want to do. And right now our classroom is decorated to look like a football stadium in a college campus.
I love to keep my students engaged and excited about coming to school and ready to give it their all. So last week my classroom was the beach, an island. I had water and sand everywhere and blue paper. So my kids were excited. They were ready to go. They did their very best work last week and this week. They work hard every day, but it has just gotten better and better. And you can’t tell me the hours I put in and the things I do, and the extent I go to make learning fun, exciting and real life for my kids is an F.
The leaps and bounds my kids are making it is not an F. No way.
It also has people looking at a school, and saying “Oh, they are an F school. Oh no. No thank you.” It also puts out the rhetoric that our public schools are failing. So we need to put our children in private schools and charter schools, that they are better.
That doesn’t mean they are better. They just don’t get the same hammer as we do. The same ridiculous hammer as we do. Who knows if they are truly more effective than we are.