Published: Jun 09, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jun 09, 2012 12:27 PM
The following are comments I submitted to the Durham County Commissioners.
The County Manager has presented to you his proposed County budget for 2012-13. $146,000,000 42 percent of your budget goes to the Durham Public Schools.
While you do not operate the Durham Public Schools, you are a major funder of the schools. You should have a major role in helping the schools succeed, beyond mere budget balancing. You have the power of the purse. And the need to affect how this money is spent.
There is one area above all others, which calls for your involvement: literacy. The latest reading test scores for the Durham Public Schools show that over 44 percent of our kids fail these tests.
Thats 50 percent worse than the state average, which includes many counties without the wealth and resources that Durham has accumulated.
Over 60 percent of Durhams economically disadvantaged kids fail either the reading or the math tests. Thats 25 percent worse than the state average for Disadvantaged kids. The failure rate for our kids who are not disadvantaged is 55 percent worse than the state average.
We need a portion of the DPS funding specifically assigned to addressing this issue. We need a well-formulated plan that would include every child learning to read at grade level. We need this plan to be evaluated on a continuing basis.
This topic should be on the agenda for every Commissioners meeting. I can think of no topic that has more bearing on the success of our community.
My comments are not meant to criticize our schools, our students, our non-profits or our volunteers, of which I am one. This was an issue before funding cuts from Raleigh and Washington, before the financial crisis. This is an issue our community should address now.
You are the governing body of our county. Please take the lead in a community-wide effort to stem this epidemic of reading failure. It is an insidious threat to our community. If you dont learn to read, then you cant read to learn.
There is much useful research on how to teach reading to all kids. Durham may have a higher than average share of disadvantaged children. But the research shows us that it doesnt matter what your economic status is: You still can learn to read. It doesnt matter what your race or ethnicity are: You can still learn to read. It doesnt matter what your family circumstances are or whether you are a boy or a girl: You can still learn to read.
Reading is a basic skill learnable by virtually any child. It is not something to be thought of beyond the reach of almost half our children. Isnt being able to read a necessity for our democracy?
However many awards Durham may win, Durham will never be a Best Place To Live while 44 percent of our kids fail reading tests. I hope you will pursue this challenge.
Dick Ford is a retired publishing executive who consults on succession planning.