In the coming weeks, a small group of unelected officials will visit six schools across the state of North Carolina to make a recommendation that two of them be taken away from their local school district and handed over to a privately-run charter company. All six school communities are comprised of smiling, learning, and growing young people; dedicated staff who commit their lives and hearts far beyond a 40-hour work week; and loving and trusting parents who want the best for their kids. Two of the elementary schools, Glenn and Lakewood, belong to us here in Durham. We intend to keep them.
This takeover plan, called the Innovative School District, is one more piece of the privatization agenda advanced by the political leadership of North Carolina (and the U.S.) for decades. This effort, carried out by politicians from both parties with the backing of wealthy supporters like the Koch Brothers, Betsy Devos, and Art Pope, rests on a long history of racism and profit-seeking-at-all-costs that has no place in our public lives. Here’s a brief summary:
- In the years following legally-mandated desegregation, persistent and increased residential segregation and white and middle-class flight have kept our schools largely segregated by race and class.
- Starting in the 1980s, a variety of factors, including tax cuts for the wealthy, deindustrialization, increased spending on military and prisons, and intentional neglect have left our schools and our communities, urban and rural, without basic necessities. Our students, their families, and our school communities have struggled mightily with the trauma and instability forced on them by racism and poverty.
- As our schools and communities crumbled without the resources that they needed and deserved, privatizing politicians argued that schools should be held more accountable for the outcomes of the lives of the young people that they served. Even as the rest of society failed them. The privatizers’ propaganda teams designed and spread the narrative that “public schools are failing,” and they wrote legislation that opened the door for more standardized testing (read: more profit for testing companies).
- Using isolated data points obtained through testing that any educator will tell you is racist, classist, and completely fails at accurately assessing what our students are capable of, the privatizers now had their “evidence” that public schools were failing. They responded with more budget cuts, attacks on educators and our rights, and increased opportunities for “school choice” through voucher programs and privately-run charter schools, all framed as a concern for the very students their whole legislative agenda was hurting.
Now, the ISD leadership is claiming that “we had our chance to fix these schools.” But we know better.
The schools targeted for takeover are all over 80% students of color and over 80% students receiving free and reduced lunch. Our students can, and do, learn and grow every single day. But those struggling with the historical legacy and present conditions of racism and poverty need more, not less, to thrive.
Our students deserve more. They deserve small class sizes, school nurses, counselors, art, music, P.E., world languages, and more books and resources than they could ever dream of using. They deserve economically-stable educators equipped with the best tools and best training possible. They deserve to eat nutritious food, sleep in safe homes, and walk through the world treated with dignity and love. The ISD offers none of this. It is one step closer to the complete privatization of our schools, and all evidence suggests it will be a miserable failure for our students.
Students, parents, educators, and community supporters can, and do, innovate and experiment in public schools every day. We must be allowed to continue, with the support of our communities and the oversight of locally elected bodies. School takeovers and privatization are not the answers.
A year and a half ago, immigration police kidnapped Riverside High student Wildin Acosta in his front yard on the way to school. Students, educators, parents, and community supporters from across Durham united, got organized, and mobilized support from all over the country to get him home safely to graduate with his classmates. Now, the state of North Carolina wants to snatch two of our schools from us. We know how to fight. We know how to win. Let’s get organized.
Please share this article and the resources attached and stay alert for action updates coming soon. For more information, contact the Durham Association of Educators at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-210-9256.