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Since the NAACP at its national convention voted on a resolution that placed a moratorium on charter schools, the backlash from charter advocates has been angry, well-financed and sometimes just plain mean leading up to a vote of ratification by the national board, which occurred this past weekend.
By singling out the NAACP with multiple editorials, protests and letter-writing campaigns, the charter lobby threw cheap shots at one of our most historic civil rights organizations with the intent to rally the charter base. But charter backers didn’t stop the NAACP from ratifying its moratorium; they didn’t shame them into submission.
Now, the only way that charter advocates can get the moratorium removed is for charter operators to meet the NAACP’s demands. And that’s good for black people.
In a statement, the NAACP outlined four demands that if met would remove the moratorium.
First, that charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools.
Second, that public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system.
Third, charter schools must cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate.
Fourth, they must cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.
Are these not reasonable goals? Given some of the illogical attacks hurled at the NAACP, don’t expect charter groups to use the moratorium as an opportunity to improve the sector.
Charter advocates have said the moratorium is an attack on black parents, as if NAACP members aren’t parents and don’t represent them.
Ignoring the deep history between civil rights organizations and organized labor, reformers have charged the NAACP with working alongside unions, as if corporate America has done black folk many favors.
The most bizarre arguments claim that the NAACP, a membership organization, is white-led — this coming from people who work in mostly white charter management organizations, funded by white people.
The reality is that the goals offered in the ratified statement are goals charters should have placed on themselves. But that’s why we are here.
What exactly is the position of charter school supporters? Are they in favor of high-quality options for African American students or do they just want more charter schools? High-quality options for African American students should have transparent accountability structures, sound disciplinary policies and outcomes, and encourage diversity.
In addition, black folk need schools with hiring practices that attend to diversity, adequate pay, as well as curricula and pedagogical practices that are liberatory and culturally relevant.
It appears, however, that the primary concern among charter supporters is the moratorium, which isn’t a call to eradicate charter schools, as other African American social justice organizations have demanded.
Education reformers have built their platform and careers on the value of accountability. The NAACP resolution calls for school districts and the federal government to create structures that hold charter schools to the same standards to which they hold traditional public schools.
Are charter supporters suggesting that they are beyond accountability? Should taxpayers not welcome redress? The deplorable conditions of the charter system in Michigan and Ohio answers that question.
Out of our clear differences, we are creating a dual system of public schools in black districts. If we’ve learned anything from the history of black education, it is that dual systems don’t work. What happens to public funds when they are privately managed should be a concern of all of us. We should be more vigilant of and demand more from the systems that educate our children. Left unchecked, this dual system of education highlights the significance of organizations like the NAACP – to help us live up to our democratic ideals. The resolution is again, simply a call that we get our proverbial ducks in a row lest we give away the farm.
The NAACP has always been in opposition to the status quo. Its very founding challenged a society that ensconced black subordination into law. Education reform is status quo. When it comes to public education in certain urban districts, reformers have steamrolled black communities and their schools. New Orleans, Detroit, Camden and Memphis are clear examples of this.
What does the acrimonious nature of the rhetoric against the resolution and the NAACP do for education reform? How will the protests provide high-quality and accessible education for African Americans? There is an opportunity for education reform and charter advocates to respond to legitimate concerns in ways that don’t shame or defame black people and our organizations: Be accountable to black people.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more columns by Andre Perry.
Dr. Andre Perry, a contributing writer, is the former founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Adrienne Dixson is an associate professor of critical race theory and education in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.