Friday, June 21, 2013

Lack of support for all-male academy for black and Hispanic boys may trigger racial divide in Durham, NC

Photo from

The back and forth bickering between members of Durham’s Board of Education could be the prelude to impassioned racial division.

The board is split, on racial lines, over a proposal to create an all-male academy to target black and Hispanic students. White board members are expressing concerns that the academy is too costly.  Black board members consider the approach essential given the current state of black and Hispanic male students.

The board will vote on June 27, and many feel the proposal will fail given the 4 to 3 white majority.

The concerns of white board members are perceived as further validation that they don’t care about black students.  It’s an old cry that forged a wedge in Durham that landed the city the label black sheep of North Carolina by the Greensboro News & Record.  It was an era of extreme tension that resulted in people being arrested during school board meetings for protesting against an assumed racist agenda.

Things could get worse if the current board refuses to see beyond counting the cost related to the forming of an all-male school.  If white board members want to make this about cost, they will reap the fury of a community disgusted with a lack of response to growing problems among black and brown boys.

White board members can’t hide behind the net of cost restraints.  The perception of racial insensitivity is the subject of a U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights investigation into whether Durham Public Schools disciplines black students and students with disabilities more than others.  The mounting of evidence suggest the need for an alternative approach, and the failure to consider the all-mail academy will send a message that will hamper the board’s ability to function beyond the assumption of racism.

The lawsuit against DPS was filed by the Advocates for Children’s Services, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project of UCLA.  The lawsuit alleges that DPS suspends black students at more than four times the rate of white students.  The complaint also claims DPS suspended 17 percent of all students with disabilities, compared with 8.4 percent of students without disabilities.

The lawsuit addresses a 15-year old eighth-grader who started failing classes after being suspended 24 days during the 2011-12 school year due to behavior linked to mental issues.

"At no point did DPS discuss or consider substantive ways to address his problem behaviors without resorting to the punitive measure of out-of-school suspension. The school also failed to provide (him) with any education services while he was suspended, resulting in his falling even farther behind," the complaint states.

An all-male academy could be used to offset some of the concerns stated in the complaint.

“This is a very resource-intensive endeavor that would require more money than what follows a student,” Leigh Bordley, member of the school board, stated at a recent town meeting to discuss the proposal. “To be true to the success of these types of schools, we’ll need that additional funding.”

Bordley went on to claim the R.N. Harris Integrated Arts/Core Knowledge Magnet School serves the same purpose as the proposed all-male academy.

“We are doing it,” Bordley argued. “We’re having success there and we’re not replicating it. I want our resources to go to our neediest children. It takes more than the funds that follow a student to make this successful.”

Bordley’s conjecture is rooted in the type of hyperbole that leaves one wondering if she lives with her head in the sand.  Discussions related to the education of black boys in Durham are held within a context that assumes black boys are playing on an equal playing field.  Something is wrong, and Bordley and her cohorts are making things worse by making assumptions that make it seem they have never taken a step into the world of black male youth.

Eric Becoats, DPS superintendent, stressed the importance of taking extra steps to assure black and brown boys don’t fall through the cracks. Heidi Carter, board chair for DPS, stated she needs more data before moving forward. 

Excuse me.  More data? Suspensions, dropouts and low academic performance aren’t enough data to support pulling your head from the sand to seek a way to rescue these boys.

The school board was handed extensive data that proves the success of all-male schools across the county.  Carter asked for more.  Why do black boys always need more to get a chance to succeed?

 Minnie Forte-Brown, the normally calm and reconciliatory board vice chair, almost busted a fuse when begging board members to think outside the box.

“We know that we have children who are drowning. But what are we going to do to help them?” Forte-Brown said. “I want you to think and stop being scared. You’ve got to step out on faith. We’ve had kitchen table conversations, but we’ve never had the community that’s before you today.”


Forte-Brown asked the board to do something. “If it works, it works. If it fails, it fails. But to not do it is unconscionable.”

Board member Omega Curtis Parker asked members not to discount the plan based on cost.

“We can’t stop living or educating these children because times are hard,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to do what we can for our constituency. It’s been presented to us and funds have been identified. But there is a particular segment of our community that needs to be serves, who tend to be minority. Why are we so much against what’s good for our children?”

Becoats continues to emphasize the money is there to support the all-male academy, and that money will not be pulled from existing schools.  He says the school will mirror the Durham School of the Arts and City Medicine Academy in offering small classes with themed instruction.

It hasn’t been enough to sway white board members to consider what the black community has been feeling for years.  From Bill Bell, the mayor, to countless black community leaders – something has to be done before it is too late.

It may not be racist for the white board members to vote against this proposal, but, if they do, it will be virtually impossible for the black community to ever support their right to speak on the behalf of black children.

Look for the turning back of the clock.



  1. Has the selection of the students been addressed?

    RN Harris is a lottery school, so parents do their research and apply to it. I think it is wrong to assume every black male form a low-income family is at-risk. RN Harris may not have many at-risk students when compared to the whole DPS population.

    If this academy really wants to reach the at-risk students and prove it is a good solution to the problem, then the students should be identified by their teachers and assigned to the school and not picked based on the fact that their parents chose to enter a lottery. A truly at-risk student may not have a parent that is aware of the lottery process for choice schools.

  2. Forty years of scholarly research since the 1966 Coleman Report, most education scholars agree, has at least one clear and central finding, which is that mixed schools serve our children best, according to more than fifty years of scholarly research since the Coleman Report. Schools with a middle-class majority set a stronger tone of achievement. At a certain tipping point of impoverished children, who already shoulder too many burdens, schools sink into misery and failure. Every single one of the failing schools in NC reflect the ravages of re-segregation by race and socioeconomic class.

    The arguments Rev. Kenney makes here do not refer to any sifting of evidence. Red-hot rhetoric is not enough: "It may not be racist" to disagree with him; "Why are we so much against what is good for our children?" and "Why do black boys always need more to get a chance to succeed?"

    Is the school board majority opposed to the well-being of black boys? Is it true that the race and gender of these children causes board members not to care what happens to them? Stomping your foot and implying that somebody is an enemy because they disagree with you is not persuasive.

    The "extensive data" that Kenney refers to goes unexplained. This assertion certainly does not represent any consensus of the scholarly literature. People of good intentions can differ. But to pretend that the research shows a deafening roar in favor of academies segrated by race and gender is unjustified. To insist that anyone who disagrees with you doesn't care about African American boys tells us nothing. If this reflected careful sifting of the facts, there could be no objection. Even though I support Brown v. Board, I understand that its implementation was tragically flawed. But my own moral beliefs and the NAACP's position aside, I would fight for any policy if I thought it would help close the chasms of race and class.

    Attacking the intentions of board members without any acknowledgement of the complexities here is not thoughtful; to do so without evidence borders on demagoguery. In my assessment of the scholarship, the case for mixed schools is clear. At the very least, that case should be carefully considered. Those who accept it, which includes not just Durham's evil school board majority but the NAACP and most education scholars, should not be hooted down asis a sign of malevolence.

    To advocate such schools without reference to the damage of re-segregation in our public schools is an odd position. If you think the downside is outweighed by the upside, okay, make your case. You can't just pretend you are not abandoning Brown v. Board or ignoring the vast scholarship that shows re-segregation wrecks school systems.

    Re-segregation also wrecks local economies. According to a 2007 Brookings study of 300 American cities, re-segregation is the single most common cause of economic blight in America. It is not a coincidence that the twenty most economically depressed cities in America are also the twenty most segregated by class and race. The best places to live and raise a family in this country are headed in the other direction. Durham's future and our children's best interests do not seem well-served by schools segregated by race and gender. That this assessment of the evidence means that I don't care about the well-being of African American boys is certainly an odd conclusion.

    Tim Tyson
    State Education Chair, North Carolina NAACP

  3. By creating an all male, minority school, are we saying that Black and Hispanic males can't learn the same way as White males? If this is the case, how do we continue to support them once they are out of school?

    As a NCCU Graduate, I know the curriculum at Central was vastly different from that at Appalachian State. I won't say it was "dumbed down", but it was a less intensive course of study in the core classes. Are we doing a disservice to Black and Hispanic males by creating an easy road to a diploma? How are they going to compare to White employees in the work place? Will we need to have different evaluations for White employees and Black or Hispanic employees? Are we going to expect employers to create black and white jobs? Seems like we had that once before and it wasn't a good thing.

    I believe we would be better served by demanding the individual meet the standards, the same standard across the board. This standard applies to the learning process as well as the grade at the end. If we continue to tell Black and Hispanic males they are not capable of competing with their white counterparts, we are creating a perpetual underclass of underachievers. We have all seen parents of poorly behaving children excuse their behavior, knowing full well that the parent is actually harming the child. We are the parents of poorly behaving children and we are now faced with the decision of “disciplining” them or excusing their behavior and continuing to allow the behavior to manifest.

    In the 90’s NCCU had a program that brought successful black businessmen into the school to tell students what they needed to do to succeed in the business world. I watched as the students argued that they were simply “keeping it real”. I was amazed that they would not listen, and even more amazed that the Professors rationalized with the students and told them it was okay to continue thinking like this. It becomes a self-fulfilling downward spiral of a class of people.

    Do we really want to create a separate and unequal society?

    Tod Puckett

  4. Being a parent and a math teacher with Durham Public Schools I do not see the need to have an all male academy - and yes I am African American.

    As a teacher I am often saddened with the lack of achievement that some of our African American students. I went into education to teach all students but hoped that being a male math teacher would make a great difference. I am disappointed. I can produce a great lesson get the students involved and prepare them for excellence but without PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT my efforts are often in vain. There is not excuse for some of our parents in the African American community to not step up to the plate to make sure that their children are studying and getting assistance with their work.

    I am appalled daily in my neighborhood when I see students come home from the bus stop with no books and head out into the streets to play ball. To achieve excellence parents must command that their precious ones do their homework daily, study, and be an advocate for their child. Many parents complain ONLY when their child makes a D or F at the end of the grading period. Parents need not to wait until report cards but should be proactive and intervene daily.

    Our kids are bright kids capable of greatness but that greatness can only be attained if their is a spirit of expectation from their parents coupled with setting goals and expecting our kids to believe in themselves and not resting on their laurels.


  5. The fundamental question I have is: Is this the best way to change the trajectory of the largest number of our failing black boys? I am in complete agreement that we are facing a crisis. Far too many of our black boys are failing. I desperately want to change that. I want to choose the very best strategy for saving as many of our failing students as possible.

    From my reading, the data is very mixed on whether SS schools are the solution to the problem we are facing. I encourage you to read the following articles:

    Because I believe the resources are vital, I would insist that we also provide our SS schools with lots of resources. The administration would like the school to be diverse, possibly-- 1/3 “at-risk” students; 1/3 aspiring 1st generation college students; and 1/3 “high flyers”. I am not able to approve a school that would be showering resources on students who are already “high-flyers” – because we need those resources to be directed to our neediest students.

    Here’s an example of my concern: the administration is planning to have student/teacher ratios of 1:17 at this school. The student/teacher ratio at Merrick-Moore Elementary School is at least 1:25; only 41% of the black students there passed their End-of-Grade Reading exams last year. So, while black boys who are already “flying high” are enjoying individualized attention in small classes at our SS school, students at Merrick-Moore could be in classes even larger than they are now, as we shift resources across the district.

    We have 8,207 black boys in DPS. Only 52% of black boys in elementary school passed their reading EOGs last year; 67% of black high school boys passed their End-of-Course exams in 2012. As currently proposed this school would serve 350 students; 235 could be “at-risk. I would rather endorse a strategy that targets 100% of our resources towards our students who need it most. I would prefer that we do that while keeping them in schools that include higher achieving boys, who serve as unofficial peer mentors, and girls.

    The bottom line for me is that we operate a system of schools, and we always have to consider the impact that a change in one part of our system will affect the whole. 80% of our students are African-American or Latino. If we do something that inadvertently hurts the majority of students in our district, it will hurt them.

    I am hopeful that our community can find a solution and work together for the benefit of all of our children.

    Leigh Bordley
    Member, Board of Education, Durham Public Schools

  6. I feel sorry for Durham if we are going to follow the leadership of people like Carl Kenny who perpetuate the racist, us against them, propaganda in the paper. Why must it always boil down to race in Durham? The proposal for the all-male academy was and is a bad plan. The representative schools used as the basis for this plan had mentoring in place to supplement the teachers’ instruction. No such cooperation with NCCU, Duke or Durham Tech is in place. These schools also address the differing learning styles of the attendees. This IS the problem. Because of the billion dollar testing industry, learning styles are not being addressed in public schools because we are chasing after the holy grail of test scores that mean nothing. If our leaders are really concerned with students’ well being, then testing should cease and the millions saved used to fund more teachers who know how to address the differing learning styles in smaller classrooms with better student to teacher ratios. I’m beginning to believe that some of our leaders do not have our students best interest in mind. Perhaps we ought to let the gang of 17 have its way and open an all male academy. In the words of Superintendent Becoats while meeting at Joe’s Diner, “If it fails, we’ll just close it in two years.” It is a good thing there is a lot of room in the new prison downtown because if the students fail in two years, that’s where they’re headed.

    Lou Peters
    Durham Public Schools Parent