Since the NAACP’s proposed moratorium on public charter schools in July, a number of Black leaders and organizations have come out against its stance. The latest backlash was a signed letter released last week from over 160 Black educational leaders calling on the NAACP to reconsider the proposed moratorium, which will be voted on next month.
The letter was released with the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s (NAPCS) as part of a new campaign, ChartersWork, which “tells a clear and compelling story of why more than 700,000 Black families have chosen charter schools.”
In addition to the letter and campaign, there have been signed statements from prominent Black educational leaders such as Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and Howard Fuller, founder and chair emeritus of BAEO.
Sekou Biddle, vice president of advocacy at the UNCF, isn’t ready to question the legitimacy of the NAACP’s claims, but does think making a sweeping statement about the value of charter schools ignores local issues. He said:
Education is inherently a local issue so making broad national statements that are somehow designed to fit the various contexts that people live and work in in hundreds of thousands of communities around the country is a really hard fit.
Biddle admits that like traditional public schools, some public charter schools suffer from a lack of quality control and more attention should be paid to the role of charter authorizers.
However, Biddle said, “If the argument against charters is a quality argument then we shouldn’t be having a ‘charter versus traditional’ discussion, we should be having a ‘quality schools that uplift, support and put children on the road to success versus schools that do not’ argument.”
In an effort to address concerns on accountability, the UNCF, National Urban League and Education Post recently released a report Building Better Narratives in Black Education focusing on better engaging communities around K-12 education and driving substantive policy changes.
Cheryl Henderson Brown, founding president and CEO of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research, agrees with Biddle that a general statement can’t be made unless there’s a dialogue.
Henderson Brown is the daughter of plaintiff Oliver Brown of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case. She says it’s unfair to point the blame at charter schools for re-segregation.
If we went back to 1954 and the decade after to look statistically at how many schools actually desegregated, we [would see] that we never had an appreciable amount of schools that complied with the court’s decision.
Henderson Brown thinks that her father would have supported public charter schools:
My father was ultimately a very civic minded person and was always concerned about the best for his community. With that said, I can’t fathom that he would be in opposition to another public option for educating children. It only fails when charter schools and traditional public schools are not communicating.
I asked Steve Perry, founder and head of schools of Capital Preparatory Schools, what he thought of the proposed moratorium. He said:
It’s not just a step backwards it’s a tumble all the way down the hill. They [the NAACP] are literally fighting against the very same opportunities that Brown v. Board of education gave birth to.
When the NAACP tries to back up what they refer to as “research” [emphasis not mine] as to why they have a moratorium, they find themselves reaching and breaking with logic very quickly into the argument. It would be better if they said the teachers union paid us.
Perry thinks the moratorium is fueled by teachers unions and anti-reform critics such as Diane Ravitch and Julian Vasquez Heilig. “The union is trying to gobble up as much real estate in the Black community as possible because they’re in trouble,” Perry said. “People are looking up and saying, ‘I’m not sending my child to that school. If I can get my child out, they’re gone.’”
But, Perry said, charter schools have greatly expanded the number of educational options for low-income families who have long had to settle for few to none.
“For the first time in American history, poor families are having the same conversation wealthy parents have been having, and it’s starting with, ‘Hey, where are you sending your child next year?’”
And that’s a conversation worth continuing.