Faith not enough to justify this gamble

Jun. 23, 2013 @ 05:00 PM

We can’t fault Superintendent Eric Becoats and members of the Board of Education who maintain their passionate support of a single-gender academy in Durham Public Schools.

But the fact remains that, by Becoats’ own admission, such a project “is not the silver bullet” that turns everything around for low-income children who might otherwise struggle in class.

On Thursday, the board is expected to decide whether to move forward with plans to start an academy, possibly on the site of Maureen Joy Charter School’s campus on Cornwallis Road.

Last week, The Herald-Sun’s Jamica Ashley reported on a committee meeting in which the board remained split over the wisdom of the project.

Vice Chair Minnie Forte-Brown described struggling children as “drowning” and told her colleagues, “You’ve got to step out on faith.”

Her devotion to the cause and her dedication to the needs of these children is admirable.

But it makes little sense to gamble in the neighborhood of $12 million with no guarantees of success in a precarious economic climate when the district has to dip into a rainy day fund to keep services going.

It’s particularly concerning when the issues that may truly affect some of these children – poverty, lack of parental involvement and social disengagement – can’t be solved by putting a few hundred boys in one school.

These problems are so much bigger than anything DPS can hope to handle alone. If similar investments aren’t made on the social services side for these students, then the district risks throwing money away that might best be invested in programs that already show benefits.

Board member Leigh Bordley noted that DPS is reaching at-risk children in schools such as R.N. Harris.

“We’re having success there and we’re not replicating it,” she said.

Heidi Carter, the board’s chair, wondered if the district shouldn’t redirect its energies to improving and expanding existing programs rather than leaping at this new idea.

We can’t help but agree.

Although some research suggests that both boys and girls can benefit from single-gender classrooms, other studies indicate that such segregation reinforces stereotypes and prejudice.

It’s that lack of certainty that leaves us unchanged in our thinking that DPS should pass on this idea for now.