A controversial Oct. 15 resolution passed by the national board of the NAACP calling for a nationwide moratorium on public charter schools has led some North Carolina lawmakers and school-choice advocates to question whether the NAACP is more beholden to powerful lobbies supporting traditional public schools than to the African-American families the organization claims to represent.
The resolution called on lawmakers to block the expansion of public charter schools until those institutions are governed under the transparency rules that are followed by traditional public schools, according to a statement by national board of directors chairwoman Roslyn Block. NAACP members also demanded that public funds not go to charter schools, that charters revise their policies for expelling students, and that steps be taken to address “de facto segregation” within charter schools.
“We are moving forward to require that charter schools receive the same level of oversight, civil rights protections and provide the same level of transparency, and we require the same of traditional public schools,” Brock said. “Our decision … is driven by a long held principle and policy of the NAACP that high quality, free, public education should be afforded to all children.”
The NAACP does not represent all Black people.I respect them but the thousands of Black parents who choose charters are more powerful. https://t.co/4HSPsW3fWJ
— Howard Fuller (@HowardLFuller) October 16, 2016
Despite the harsh language, the NAACP’s demands should have no effect on North Carolina, since policies already are in place making charter schools more accountable than traditional public schools, said Lee Teague, executive director of the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools.
“We have to perform to the same performance grade system as traditional public schools,” Teague told Carolina Journal. “Every charter school has to have an annual audit [and] any parent can see how the charter school is performing.”
Charter schools can be shut down if they don’t meet those requirements, while low-performing traditional public schools are exempt from such tough measures, Teague added.
More than 700,000 African American children in charter schools vs 63 NAACP board members: I stand with our children. https://t.co/knzROsw6kK
— david p. hardy (@davidphardy) October 16, 2016
That double standard should be rejected by lawmakers from all political parties, said Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, an African-American legislator and outspoken charter school advocate.
“We seem to have a standard for a charter school that if it fails and doesn’t do a good job of teaching our kids, we want to make sure that school is shut down,” Brockman said. “I say the same thing should be true for our [low-performing] traditional public schools. And we’ve got plenty of those.”
Out of 600 North Carolina public schools that received a failing grade in the most recent measure, only 70 are charter schools, Brockman added.
“By and large the majority of our low-performing schools are traditional public schools,” Brockman said. “And folks on my side of the aisle would say, ‘we have to shut down all of our failing charter schools.’ They don’t seem to have the same standard for traditional public schools that are failing, that have a greater population of our students, but that aren’t doing the job of teaching our kids.”
Recent national polling shows that 76 percent of African-Americans support expanding school choice options. And while Brockman agrees with the NAACP’s call for school accountability — but largely disagrees with its resolution against charters — he pointed to a recent North Carolina poll showing that 85 percent of African-American families support school choice, and that 56 percent favor charter schools. The survey was conducted by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which canvassed 800 black voters across the state.
“We have parents who, year after year, don’t have a choice because they live in a [certain] zip code and they have to send their kid to a certain school,” Brockman added. “And so I think the African-American community sees that as unfair. I think that charter schools present a different option for their kid.”
— Eva Moskowitz (@MoskowitzEva) October 14, 2016
The influence of teachers’ unions and traditional public school lobbies are largely responsible for the NAACP’s national crusade against charter schools, Teague said, which helps explain the disconnection between the civil rights organization and the African-American families it purports to represent.
“To me, the NAACP wasn’t listening to African-American families who were saying, ‘We need another choice to educate our kids,’” Teague said. “The state-run system is not enough. And we’ll have to see what happens with that.”
Since school choice issues are always a contentious topic in the legislature, it’s difficult to tell whether the NAACP’s actions will affect charter school legislation, said Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, the House Speaker Pro Tem who will retire from the General Assembly at the end of the year.
“Do we have anything to fear [for the future of charter schools]? Sure,” Stam told CJ. “But it’s manageable. Because what [the NAACP] is asking for here is contrary to the opinions of the people they claim to represent.”
Marcus Brandon, executive director of Carolina Can, an education advocacy organization, said that, while he disagrees with the NAACP’s stance on charter schools, he wants to avoid picking fights and instead try to build relationships with opposition leaders.
“It’s unfortunate that the NAACP has chosen to blatantly ignore the very constituency it is meant to represent,” said Brandon, a former state legislator who focused on poverty and education reform. “Instead of releasing statements on the benefits of school choice and charter schools, however, I’d much rather work directly with the NAACP to help fix the many problems and disparities that plague African-American students in our state’s traditional public schools.”
NAACP representatives had not responded to numerous requests for comment for this story at press time.