The NAACP’s recent call for a national moratorium on any new public charter schools represents a dramatic shift away from an approach that is working to advance the educational interests of people the NAACP has historically represented. Its action pits the organization against black families, many of whom are working-class and in desperate need of the types of educational opportunities that are being provided by charter schools.
I have no doubt that the representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who call for this action on charters have as much concern as I do about the tragic miseducation of thousands of our children, particularly those from low-income and working-class families in the traditional public education system. Black students are getting a raw deal, as they have for decades. According to the most recent scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 7 percent of black high school students scored at or above proficient in math, and 17 percent did the same in reading. If implemented, the NAACP’s resolution would keep black families from accessing an option that they clearly support and which is doing a great deal of good in our community.
Here’s a fact: The number of black families who choose to send their children to charter schools is growing. Over the past five years, nearly 200,000 additional black families have enrolled their children in charter schools. At 27 percent, black enrollment in charter schools is approaching double their enrollment of 16 percent in traditional public schools. Today, about one in 10 black students who attend a public school in this country attends a charter school. Many of the 1 million names on waiting lists to get into a charter school are black children.
Black parents continue to vote with their feet to enroll their children in charter schools for good reason—they work. According to Stanford University’s CREDO 2015 Urban Charter Schools Report on students in 41 urban regions across the country, low-income black students attending public charter schools gained 33 percent more learning in math and 24 percent more learning in reading each year as compared to their traditional public school peers.
If implemented, the NAACP's resolution would keep black families from accessing an option that they clearly support and which is doing a great deal of good in our community."
In early August, New York City released achievement results for its public schools, showing that black and Hispanic charter school students were twice as likely to be on grade level in math as their peers in traditional public schools, and 50 percent more likely to be on grade level in English. New York City’s charter schools, almost entirely composed of black and Hispanic students (92 percent), are the primary reason for the city’s highly celebrated increase in learning.
Other previously neglected urban communities are improving as a result of charter schools. In Washington D.C., where 80 percent of charter school enrollment is black, there is clear evidence of success. After educational leaders adopted what was working in charter schools in district-run schools, nearly all public schools have benefited, as achievement across the board is up. Other families have noticed; in fact, enrollment in the school system of the nation’s capital has increased for the seventh year in a row. Rather than “erode” public education as the NAACP states, charter schools are helping revitalize schools in the nation’s capital and many other urban systems.
The NAACP’s criticism that charter schools increase segregation also rings hollow. Since the decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, racial segregation of schools in this country has been a function of myriad public policies pertaining to housing. Why should poor black people not fight to have more great schools in the communities where they live? Why should the battle for integration remain on the backs of black families and their children? Why are charter schools being criticized for bringing good schools into communities that have been underserved and neglected for years?
Are charter schools perfect? Of course not. Do we have a lot of work to do to make them better? Of course we do. But the NAACP’s insistence on undermining those public schools that are making a difference for the black children who are thriving in them puts the organization on the wrong side of history for our people.
A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2016 edition of Education Week as The NAACP Has It Wrong