BEFORE NATIONAL board members of the NAACP gather in Cincinnati to decide whether to ratify a call for a moratorium on charter schools, they might want to do a little homework. We would suggest a field trip to the District, where they would see how a thriving community of charter schools has reshaped education by providing a diverse array of educational programs. That the beneficiaries of this rich choice are, in large part, children of color hopefully is not lost on an organization that is supposed to be looking out for the interests of minority people.
The some-60 members of the board are set to vote Oct. 15 on a resolution passed in July at the NAACP’s national convention that roundly criticized charter schools and called for a nationwide moratorium on their growth. Among the alleged sins: draining needed resources from traditional public schools and fueling segregation. The resolution even went so far as to liken educators in the charter movement to predatory subprime-mortgage lenders that put low-income communities at risk.
Who exactly the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, thinks it is speaking for immediately came into question as witnessed by the reaction of black leaders across the country who have been involved with — and know a little something about — charter schools. More than 160 of them sent a letter last month to the NAACP board saying the criticisms were based on “cherry-picked and debunked claims.”
In truth, the leaders wrote in the Sept. 21 letter, “charter schools generally receive less per-pupil funding than traditional public schools” and often no resources for school and classroom facilities, but despite such hurdles are “helping students achieve at higher levels than traditional district schools.” If the NAACP were to get its misguided wish for a moratorium, the people who would suffer lost opportunities would be African American students, many from low-income and working-class families.
To appreciate the importance of those educational opportunities, one need only look at the array of innovative programs that have developed in the District in the 20 years since charter schools were made possible. There is a two-generation program that educates adults and their prekindergarten-age children, a boarding school for students in foster care, an immersion high school offering three languages and an all-girls school. Set to open next year is a school focused on disconnected youths, 14- to 21-year-olds who are not working, not in school or at risk of dropping out. Instead of calling for limits, the NAACP should be pushing for new possibilities for students with unmet needs.
Cheering the call for a moratorium — and a similar resolution approved by the Movement for Black Lives — are the teachers unions that have waged a fierce battle against charters — and that have provided financial support for NAACP activities. It will be interesting to see if the NAACP acts in those interests or in the interests of the nearly 700,000 black families who send their children to public charter schools, and the tens of thousands more who are on waiting lists.