Since 1909, the NAACP has been at the forefront of civil rights struggles in the United States, from ending lynchings to securing Black voting rights and ending school segregation. But its rigid stance on charters flies in the face of reality.
Take the ACT college exam for example. On what planet does it make sense for the NAACP to tell a black charter school leader like Christopher Goins, whose black students average 19.5 on the ACT, to stop serving students when the national average for ACT scores among Black students is 17? A 17 and a 19.5 are only two and a half points apart, but that’s the difference between going to a community college or 4-year university.
Goins isn’t alone. He is in good company with charter school leaders like Lagra Newman, of Nashville’s Purpose Preparatory Academy, a school of mostly black, brown and poor students where nearly every student is reading at or above grade level. Then there’s the award-winning Soulsville Charter School in Memphis led by NeShante Brown.
All over the country, dedicated educators of color are leading charter schools that cultivate the minds of children too-often locked out of success in traditional public schools. In Philadelphia, Mastery Charter Schools’ Sharif El-Mekki not only treats his students like his own children, he is teaching his own “grand-students” (students whose parents were his students, too). Plus, he’s working to bring more Black men into the teaching profession.
Let’s be clear, the inequities of public schooling persist everywhere, both in the charter sector and in traditional public schools and parents know this better than anyone. Last October, I traveled to the NAACP’s annual meeting in Cincinnati with 150 parents, mostly from The Memphis Lift parent group, to stand for children and families in opposition to the moratorium on charter schools. That event produced the NAACP’s commitment to conduct “hearings” across the United States, including a stop in Memphis, to consider the merits of the debate. Less than a year later, emboldened by their “listening tour,” the NAACP is likely to double down on its moratorium in even bolder terms.
But the NAACP must not have listened carefully to all the testimony it collected during hearings on its charter moratorium proposal. It feels like they still don’t have a good sense of the bigger picture.
Back in April, charter supporters and opponents at the New York City hearing found surprising common ground. Basically, they concluded, when parents are looking for options, that tells us the public school system isn’t working. And we can’t pit schools against one another when all of them are striving toward the same goal: educating our next generation to help them reach their highest potential.
It’s sad that the NAACP is focusing so much energy on road-blocking the only path many black and brown students have toward a brighter future. Perhaps the most painful thing about all this is to watch the NAACP join forces with the teachers’ unions, a powerful union that puts adults before children. Now is not the time to form unholy alliances in a desperate attempt to restore relevance.
The NAACP is famous for its role in challenging the U.S. Constitution and winning. Heck, they’re still riding on those laurels. But we’re at another critical time in the American education system where severe inequities threaten our most vulnerable communities. If education is the civil rights issue of the day and the NAACP is clearly on the side of adults, then we must ask who stands for the children? If not the NAACP, then who?