NAACP Charter School Moratorium: Not so fast
NAACP critique of public school choice strangely brutal; condemned by prominent authorities on education By NATE DAVIS, Contributing Writer Based on its century-long mission and in-the-trenches fight for social justice, it certainly goes without saying that the
NAACP critique of public school choice strangely brutal; condemned by prominent authorities on education
By NATE DAVIS, Contributing Writer
Based on its century-long mission and in-the-trenches fight for social justice, it certainly goes without saying that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is an organization built on good intentions and good causes. It’s one of the few reliably steady organizations African-Americans can depend on when freedoms are compromised by generations of oppression, segregation, and institutional racism.
Which is why it came as a surprise when NAACP delegates called for a national moratorium on charter schools.
NAACP resolution broadly condemned
Convening its annual convention in late July, the storied civil rights organization’s critique of public choice schools was strangely brutal and swift. Among a number of misguided points in a passed resolution was the unfounded charge that charter schools had somehow encouraged school segregation rather than what they really do: actively suppress it. One provision compared the crucial educational institutions to “predatory lending” networks.
Not surprisingly, the blowback has been decidedly strong. Prominent and widely respected education experts and organizations have roundly condemned it. Outlets such as The Washington Post called it “ill-conceived.” Howard Fuller, the former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, argued the resolution could cause the unintended consequence of undermining the hard work charter schools have achieved in making a difference in the lives of Black children. Several other prominent community leaders have started distancing themselves from the action.
There’s an abundance of good reason for that. While the NAACP and its affiliated chapters believe they are helping the plight of public schools by keeping funds and highly successful students within those systems, its members are, unwittingly, taking those students a few steps back. One should empathize with struggling public school systems, especially those in many underserved urban areas. And there is a need to devise innovative solutions to our nation’s lingering K-12 education crisis.
But scapegoating public choice schools for that crisis potentially puts the kids we’re all fighting for at an even greater risk. Missed in the political fisticuffs is a grim alternative should such a moratorium ever happen; if publicly-funded charter schools disappear tomorrow, 3 million students, primarily Black and Latino, are faced with the greatest disparities and in the most desperate need of a quality education. Left out of the resolution is the fact that nearly 30 percent, respectively, of Black and Latino students, attend public charter schools. Will private and parochial schools pick up that slack? Who then benefits from the numerous private and Catholic schools that remain – those in existence long before the creation of public choice schools?
Public charter schools empower communities
What NAACP delegates didn’t consider is that while students of color are stuck with fledgling public school systems, wealthier and mostly White students have access to better private and parochial schools. Is that any more fair or equal or less segregated? Do we let affluent families continue having unfettered access to elite schools while killing the opportunity for underserved families to have the same? Education success stories like Kipp, Rocketship, SEED, and K12 all cater to kids of color and give parents a choice. Do we then rip state-funded schools of the desire to compete with private schools only the wealthy enjoy?
No force is more powerful an equalizer than education. It is inextricably linked to opportunity and future economic success, and it is – by far – the most potent antidote to rampant poverty.
It’s here where public charter schools empower communities in need. Parents, in particular, know and appreciate this, a glaring oversight by advocates supposedly tasked to represent community interests. Yet, a whopping 82 percent of Black parents support the option of charter schools, according to a non-partisan National Alliance for Public Charter Schools survey; other polls, such as the YouGov/Pathways survey, show an overwhelming majority of parents across all racial demographics support greater educational options and specialized programs for youth in need. Community-trusted polls, such as the United Negro College Fund and National Council of La Raza supported Education Post poll,
If you don’t trust what Black families are telling polls, then take a look at what Black families are doing. Charter school enrollment has skyrocketed from about 400,000 students in 2001 to nearly 2.9 million students – and Black students make up almost 30 percent of that population. As a matter of proportion, more Black and Brown students are in charter schools than traditional schools. Thousands more remain on waiting lists.
Before public choice schools emerged, economically disadvantaged families were left with no education alternatives beyond what they were assigned. Choices were rare, even as wealthier, socially-mobile parents exercised choice by sending their children to better private schools or posh zip codes with better-funded public schools. What charters accomplished was a paradigm shift; offering underserved families actual access to the fresh educational option they would have otherwise never had.
Why take a stand in direct conflict with the majority of Black and Latino families that want a choice? Relentlessly pushed by threatened teacher unions, NAACP delegates, unfortunately, fell for the myth that charter schools are not legitimate public schools. But that defies both logic and fact. Charter schools are public schools. They’ve existed as a fast-growing part of the American public education fabric for more than 25 years. Charter school students even equal or surpass their peers in other public schools.
Still, NAACP delegates and other charter school critics highlight legitimate grievances. After all, our nation’s record with respect to African-Americans and public education is woeful. Too many Black students are dropping out of schools or languishing in bad ones. America still lacks the national will to address systemic problems plaguing our public education system. The NAACP should be commended for putting a spotlight on this national tragedy.
Charter schools part of new ‘liberty-based’ choice models
I also understand the fears of many who worry that these inequities, combined with investments in new education models, could be a path toward re-segregation. In his reaction to the NAACP’s resolution, American Enterprise Institute’s Gerard Robinson reminds us that following the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, schemes were hatched to use public dollars to pay for racially-exclusive private schools in an effort to maintain segregation. Those painful memories still exist.
But the modern charters of today are not a return to the segregated pits of yesterday. Charter schools are, as Robinson writes, part of the new “liberty-based” choice models rather than the “fear-based” choice models of old that the NAACP fought so hard against.
By law, charter schools are open to all. By law, they can’t racially discriminate. In fact, most charter schools intentionally operate in low-income urban communities in an effort to serve minority populations. Newer models further expand the geographic reach of charter schools. Online charter schools give students who live anywhere in the state – urban, suburban and rural communities – choices and equal access to innovative educational programs.
America’s public schools are not segregated by charter schools. They are segregated by income, a grossly unequal system that assigns students to schools based on district boundaries and racially insidious funding disparities. Hence, impoverished communities are forever tethered to the worst schools for generations. Charter schools are smashing right through that.
There is still time to correct course. The NAACP’s national board meets later this year and can reject the resolution. They can choose to stand with our kids or choose to stand with outdated and horrifyingly unfair education systems that keep letting them down. Let’s hope they make the right choice.
Nate Davis is executive chairman of K12 Inc., a technology-based education company and leading provider of online learning programs to schools across the U.S. He is also a regular contributor to the Compton Herald.