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NAACP Dispels Myth That Charters and Choice Are a Civil Rights Solution

August 7, 2017

A July 26 Washington Post article by columnist Valerie Strauss reported on the NAACP’s recently released analysis of charter schools.  The report, which was based on the findings of a 12-member task force that held hearings in seven cities to take testimony about charters and the quality of education for children of color in inner-city schools, reinforced the controversial stand the NAACP took in fall 2016 calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charters in cities across the country. This stand was especially problematic for “reformers” who promoted the expansion of privately operated and publicly funded charter schools as the “civil rights” issue of our time and asserted that their school choice model would provide a way for more children raised in poverty to have a greater opportunity. But, as the NAACP’s task force discovered, the “reformers” assertion was wrong:

“Charter schools were created with more flexibility because they were expected to innovate and infuse new ideas and creativity into the traditional public school system. However, this aspect of the promise never materialized. Many traditional inner city public schools are failing the children who attend them, thus causing parents with limited resources to search for a funded, quality educational alternative for their children. …

With the expansion of charter schools and their concentration in low-income communities, concerns have been raised within the African American community about the quality, accessibility and accountability of some charters, as well as their broader effects on the funding and management of school districts that serve most students of color.”

Ultimately, the task force said, “while high quality, accountable and accessible charters can contribute to educational opportunity, by themselves, even the best charters are not a substitute for more stable, adequate and equitable investments in public education in the communities that serve our children.”

In sum, the Task Force completely undercut the argument that charters and choice are the way forward for public schools serving minority children raised in poverty. Ms. Strauss’ article then incorporates a post from blogger Carol Burris that offers some additional insights on the Task Force Report and includes some of the recommendations on how the NAACP might proceed.

Among the unsurprising findings of the Task Force Ms. Burris reported was this:

Weak overall academic results in urban schools are the result of a lack of adequate funding, according to the report. The task force heard consistent testimony that a lack of sufficient resources for urban schools is not only the root cause of student struggles, but a rationale to pit charters and traditional public schools against each other, creating a competition that does not serve students well.

The most stunning and blunt task force recommendation was the call to not only eliminate for-profit charters but to also eliminate all of the for-profit management companies that run many nonprofit charters thereby draining taxpayer dollars from the classroom. Ms. Burris’ post concludes with this:

Will the charter school establishment take the NAACP’s recommendations to heart and begin to advocate for internal reform? Only time will tell. One thing, however, is certain. When the NAACP expresses high criticism of charters, it is impossible to argue that school choice “is the civil rights issue of our time.”

It may be “impossible to argue” based on the findings of the NAACP’s Task Force and hard data collected by researchers, but we are currently in a political environment where facts are immaterial and slogans too often prevail… especially when the slogans are coined by campaign donors. Here’s hoping we can begin listening to those who are affected most by policies crafted by billionaires.

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