In response to public outcry over its call for a charter moratorium, the NAACP is on a listening tour across the country to learn more about charter schools. In my testimony at one such hearing in Orlando, I urged the NAACP to recognize two things that are true at the same time: many charters are doing outstanding work for students and communities and should be supported, while some are failing and must dramatically improve or stop serving students.
First, many charter schools are changing Black minds and lives for the better. These charter schools are eliminating the achievement gap between low-income children of color and their higher-income White peers. They are literally giving low-income children of color a chance to get into Ivy League schools and compete with the very brightest and wealthiest kids in America.
At the same time, too many charter schools in America continue to underperform and fail to serve our children well. We should all loudly and vigorously join the NAACP in calling for a high bar and in demanding both accountability and transparency.
Isolated Problems, Not Widespread Problems
An excellent example of this dual truth—many charters doing well and some with serious problems—is found in the use of suspension and expulsion, an issue I have spent most of my adult life addressing as a researcher and advocate.
As has been the case for at least 50 years among some district-run schools, there are some charter schools with unacceptably high and disproportionate suspension rates that are in need of remedy. A recent study by UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies found that about 22 percent of charter schools fall into this category. We need to be direct and honest about that fact.
Yet the same study found there are many more charter schools—a little more than one-third of all charters in the country—that have low and relatively equitable suspension rates. In fact, given the wide variability in suspension rates, the authors warned “generalizing from the aggregate charter school rates is problematic.”
This kind of finding—of isolated problems, not widespread problems—is true for most issues raised in the NAACP resolution on charter schools. If we let facts and data guide us, then we know a blanket moratorium is not the solution.
Calling Out the NAACP
That’s why my organization, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), is calling on the NAACP to rescind its call for a moratorium. As a blunt instrument, it does nothing to distinguish outstanding charter schools from failing ones. As such, a moratorium alienates too many Black families, teachers, school leaders and citizens who want quality public schools—regardless of type—to expand.
In addition, it is important to come together to fix the real challenges in some schools—district-run and charter—by using tools we currently have and by developing new tools.
The good news is that some of the best tools for charter school oversight and transparency already exist and are working.
States and cities with great charter school authorizers—the oversight entities that give schools the flexibility to innovate while making sure they do right by kids and taxpayers—are creating new solutions to ensure quality and equity.
As an example, the school district and charter school authorizer in Washington, D.C. jointly issue annual equity reports that contain information on enrollment, suspension and attendance data for each school—charter and non-charter. This use of transparency, along with other smart tools, has corresponded with at least three consecutive years of large declines in suspension and expulsion rates and record high attendance rates among the city’s charter schools.
It’s true that new and different challenges emerge in communities as quality options expand. But rather than take away choice—even temporarily—let’s instead work together to address these challenges and empower parents of color to control their children’s educational destiny.
It is no exaggeration to say that the advances made for Americans today would be far less but for the efforts of the NAACP. As members of the listening tour craft recommendations for the future, the NAACP has an opportunity to affirm its historic commitment to better schools for all children—Black children in particular—by distinguishing between consistently-failing charter schools and the life-changing charters that should be encouraged to serve more students well.
There are many people and organizations ready to join them in that effort.