Education for black students in the United States has long been unequal and inadequate, but the solution to that problem does not lie in the school choice movement, NAACP leaders said at the organization’s national conference Wednesday.
The nation’s oldest civil rights group called for tighter regulation of existing charters and an outright ban on those operated for profit, as well as greater investment in traditional public schools, particularly those where students struggle most.
“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,” wrote members of the NAACP’s task force on quality education in a report released Wednesday.
The report comes as the Trump administration has put expanding school choice at the center of its education agenda, and a year after the NAACP — long skeptical of charter schools — dove headlong into the education policy fight with a resolution supporting a moratorium on new charter schools.
That stance underlined a deep rift in the black community over how to improve education, particularly in urban centers where many children are faced with bleak opportunities.
While the NAACP has emphasized strengthening public school systems, other black leaders have pushed for giving families more tools — including charter schools and private-school vouchers — to leave public schools that are failing to serve them well.
“What we are attempting to do is to give more power to low-income and working-class parents,” said Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of schools in Milwaukee and one of the nation’s foremost advocates for school choice. “The reality is the NAACP does not represent all black people in this country.”
Last year, after calling for the moratorium on new charter schools, the NAACP formed an education task force that traveled the country, holding hearings in seven cities to solicit input on charter schools’ promise and problems.
The report released Wednesday was the culmination of those hearings, which at the time were contentious but which featured unanimity on one issue, according to the task force: “Too many students of color living in central cities are being deprived of the educational opportunities they deserve and need.”
It acknowledges that some charter schools are clearly offering students more opportunities than neighborhood public schools. But it argues that loose regulations in many states have allowed charter schools to exclude the neediest students and to continue operating despite consistently poor performance.
The task force also argues that the push to expand charter schools, coupled with a lack of coordination and planning about where those schools are located and whom they serve, has in some cities resulted in a disjointed education landscape that leaves students with no guarantee they can attend a school close to home.
To address those issues, the NAACP wants school districts to be the only entities allowed to approve new charter schools, a position anathema to many school-choice advocates who argue that district leaders — unlike universities and independent nonprofits — are hostile to competition and unlikely to embrace charter schools.
The civil rights organization also wants a crackdown on enrollment and retention policies to prevent charter schools from informally screening families during admissions and from kicking out students who struggle. And it wants charter schools to be required to hire certified teachers.
Finally, the NAACP is seeking a ban on all for-profit charter schools, saying that there is a conflict of interest between making a profit and best serving children.
“If charters care about our children, they won’t mind being regulated, transparent and accountable,” said Alice Huffman, chair of the task force.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools responded in a statement that did not address the NAACP’s specific recommendations but pushed back against the notion that the charter school model is in need of more regulation. It also highlighted a 2015 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes showing that in urban areas, black students in charter schools showed larger learning gains than black students in traditional public schools.
“Too many school boards have looked the other way while generations of students have been failed by low-performing public schools,” the alliance said, while charter schools are already “held fully accountable by their authorizers and the families they serve.”