POLITICS
10/16/2016 02:56 pm ET

The NAACP Takes A Major Stand Against The Growth Of Charter Schools

The nation's oldest civil rights group is taking a critical look at the state of education.

John Sommers II/Getty Images
Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, speaks at the NAACP convention in July 2016.

The NAACP board of directors voted Saturday to confirm a resolution that recommends an end to the expansion of charter schools, which currently educate about 6 percent of the nation’s public school students. The controversial move has angered charter school activists and faced criticism from the editorial boards at The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated. Minnesota passed a law creating the first legislated charter school in 1991, and since that time, the number of charter schools has ballooned to about 7,000 all over the country, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In recent years, these schools have faced criticism for their sometimes harsh discipline practices, lack of oversight and accountability and for siphoning resources away from traditional public schools. At the same time, studies have shown that students ― especially disadvantaged students ― who are educated in charter schools make slightly larger gains in reading than their peers, although results vary widely depending on the school and state.

In late July, delegates at the NAACP national convention voted on a resolution that calls for a moratorium on the growth of charter schools. On Saturday, the NAACP board ratified this resolution. 

“The NAACP’s resolution is not inspired by ideological opposition to charter schools but by our historical support of public schools ― as well as today’s data and the present experience of NAACP branches in nearly every school district in the nation,” Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement. “Our NAACP members, who as citizen advocates, not professional lobbyists, are those who attend school board meetings, engage with state legislatures and support both parents and teachers.”

In its entirety, the resolution calls for a freeze on the expansion of these schools until charter schools are subject to the same accountability as traditional public schools and develop a funding system that does not hurt other schools. It also calls for charter schools to end harsh discipline practices that push out students and segregate high-performing children “from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”

The resolution suggests that instead of giving students access to charter schools through school choice, policymakers should focus on enhancing the quality of traditional public schools, despite their many shortcomings. Indeed, it is the nation’s black and brown children that often bear the brunt of underperforming schools ― whether they be charter or public. 

“While we have reservations about charter schools, we recognize that many children attend traditional public schools that are inadequately and inequitably equipped to prepare them for the innovative and competitive environment they will face as adults,” says a statement from the NAACP. “Underfunded and under-supported, these traditional public schools have much work to do to transform curriculum, prepare teachers, and give students the resources they need to have thriving careers in a technologically advanced society that is changing every year. There is no time to wait. Our children immediately deserve the best education we can provide.”

While the vote received immediate support from teachers unions and some public school groups, education reform organizations have been pushing back against the resolution for months. In September, a group of black leaders sent a letter to the NAACP board members criticizing the proposal. According to the letter, this vote is of particular importance to black children, who are overrepresented in charter schools.

“The proposed resolution cites a variety of cherry-picked and debunked claims about charter schools,” says the letter. “In reality, charter schools generally receive less per-pupil funding than traditional district public schools and often receive little or no funding to purchase buildings or maintain classrooms. Despite these hurdles, charter schools are helping students achieve at higher levels than traditional district schools.”

On Saturday, a statement from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President and CEO Nina Rees called the policy “misguided.” Still, Rees said she is encouraged that “the NAACP is clear that they are not opposed to charter schools.”

“Across the country, charter public schools are working for hundreds of thousands of Black families. Today’s decision doesn’t just ignore the fact that charter schools are working for so many students and families ... It also ignores the thousands of families and Black leaders who have stepped forward over the last two months urging the NAACP to reconsider their decision,” Rees said in the statement.

The president of the nation’s largest teachers union, however, praised the vote. Teachers unions have long been critical of charter schools. 

“The chorus of those of us who have been sounding the alarm on the many long-standing structural and governance problems that have plagued charters in recent years is growing. The time is right to pause and reassess,” said a statement from Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. “We strongly support more inclusive and otherwise positive alternatives to charter schools. We should invest in proven strategies — strategies such as smaller class sizes, parental involvement, magnet and community schools — that we know help to improve the success of all of our students.” 

On Twitter, education and civil rights leaders sounded off:

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