School Choice & Charters

NAACP Leaders Meet This Week. What Will They Say About Charter Schools?

By Arianna Prothero — July 20, 2017 3 min read
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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People kicks off its annual convention on Saturday, and school choice advocates will be watching to see if the venerable civil rights group will change its hardening posture toward charter schools.

This time last year, NAACP state leaders took the extraordinary step of calling for a ban on opening any new charter schools. Soon after, the Movement for Black Lives (a coalition of groups that includes Black Lives Matter) announced its own push for a moratorium on charter schools.

The back-to-back announcements were a public relations blow to the charter movement, a visible segment of which devotes itself to serving low-income, mostly black and Latino students. The anti-charter stance of the civil rights groups also further exposed rifts in support among African Americans for charter schools.

This friction has surfaced periodically since then, as the NAACP conducted a nationwide “listening tour” to hear from families, teachers, and other community members in cities with large numbers of charter schools, such as New York, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

A report on the findings from the listening tour will be released during the group’s upcoming meeting.

Why the NAACP Called for a Moratorium on Charter Schools

The NAACP cited concerns over increased segregation, high rates of suspensions and expulsions for black students, fiscal mismanagement, and poor oversight in charter schools as some of the reasons to hit pause on charter school growth.

The civil rights organization has long held a skeptical view of charters, but this resolution amounted to its strongest opposition to date.

“The growth of charter schools is occurring in a way that is weakening the whole system,” then-NAACP President Cornell William Brooks told Education Week last year. “We want to make sure that charter schools serve all children.” (Brooks was ousted by the NAACP board in May; the organization has embarked on a search for a new president.)

Another major sticking point for NAACP members: Charter school board members are not elected, they’re appointed.

“So parents, if things go sideways for them, for their children and for families, then they have no recourse except what a market mechanism requires them to do, which is vote with their feet,” Julian Vasquez Heilig, the education chair of the NAACP’s California chapter and a professor at California State University, Sacramento, told Education Week last year. “But with democratically controlled schools, communities have direct control over what happens policy-wise and what happens to their children.”

The resolution language was drafted by the NAACP’s California chapter. California, in particular Los Angeles, is one of the epicenters of the battle between pro- and anti-charter Democrats.

(Vasquez-Heilig responds to criticism on the NAACP’s charter moratorium in the video below.)

Charter School Advocates React

Critics see the anti-charter resolution as largely politically driven.

After the NAACP passed its moratorium, two prominent charter school groups swiftly organized pushback, helping draft a letter from 160 black educators, advocates, lawmakers and religious leaders urging the NAACP’s national board to drop the moratorium. Among the signatories was Cheryl Brown Henderson, the youngest daughter of the named plaintiff in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.

More than 100 demonstrators turned up at the NAACP’s board meeting last October in Cincinnati to protest the moratorium.

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Photo credit: Students at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis, Tenn. —Randy Tankersley for Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.