In the coming week charter school leaders and workers will meet at the National Charter Schools conference in Washington, D.C. to learn about everything from improving board governance to restorative student discipline. I will be there to participate on a panel about looming attacks that many of these leaders will face as they struggle to run good schools.
That makes it a good time to circle back to one of those threats that started in 2016 and has become a national campaign.
Last year the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for a moratorium on charter schools. They said we need a “pause” until we can make sure charters are held to the same standards as district schools.
As a follow up the NAACP held public hearings in seven states. The hearings were a poorly executed sham for which even members of the NAACP task force could barely remain awake.
I predict they will use information gathered from those hearings to make a case for greater oversight in the charter schools sector. I fully expect their prescription to be written by teachers’ unions and other groups who know little about educating black students. Forget the phony language about wanting to make charter schools accountable, the real goal is to eliminate the competition so district schools can hold our kids hostage.
During a debate last March Alice Huffman, California state president of the NAACP asked me what the NAACP should have done (instead of the call for moratorium) if their true concern was ensuring a quality education for black children.
It was a smart question. It would have been smarter had it been asked of NAACP members, black parents, and other stakeholders before passing a resolution attacking schools black folks support in high numbers.
The answer for me was simple: the NAACP could have used their considerable social capital to call a national convening of black educators who have demonstrable success with educating black children.
They could have drawn from the best examples in traditional, charter, private schools, and even home schools. They could have asked these leaders the cardinal questions we need answered, like “what do we know about educating black children, what policies enable better outcomes for our students, and what is our evidence?”
They could have asked the 700,000 black students attending charter schools what they like about their schools. They could have asked black parents why they invest their hopes and dreams in these schools. And, they could have asked black teachers, often pioneering teachers frustrated by incremental change in district schools, teach in charter schools.
Alas, they didn’t ask. They didn’t want to know.
A long road to irrelevance
Let’s be upfront about something. The NAACP has been irrelevant for years.
Don’t take my word for it, look at Melissa Harris-Perry’s provocative piece in the New York Times (“How to Save the N.A.A.C.P. From Irrelevance”) where she calls the NAACP’s 64-member board “bloated” and their membership “inconsequential.”
That critique, and the relevancy question, go back decades.
An Atlanta Journal and Constitution piece in 1994 asked “what is the NAACP to do to remain a relevant and useful organization?”
“Until the NAACP figures out how to define and execute programmatic efforts for confronting the pervasive problems of America’s urban ghettos, this oldest and once most revered of the civil rights organizations will likely continue on what appears to be a march of folly.”
John McWhorter asked in 2009 “If the NAACP as it currently operates ceased to exist tomorrow, what significant effect would it have on black America?”
Recently Ferguson protester and national activist Johnetta Elzie provided answers: “I don’t ever think about [the NAACP] as a resource. I don’t ever look in their direction to see what’s going on. I think that’s a problem because their legacy means we should be looking for them for leadership at all times.”
Fat cash and bad medicine
What I will say next will seem unkind. Remember, I say this with love.
If we’re honest we’ll admit relevancy isn’t the NAACP’s problem. The root of all evil, love of money, is their problem.
Huffman and her California NAACP offer a brazen case study on how retail civil rights group trade on our race for cash we never see.
An example: last year Huffman and the NAACP were battered for their involvement in the defeat of Proposition 61, a ballot measure in California that would have made prescription drugs more affordable for millions of people. Big Pharma airdropped $109 milliont to kill the proposal. They reportedly paid Huffman $108,500 for her consulting services and guess what? The NAACP was against affordable prescription drugs.
The Democratic consultant who led the campaign to pass Prop 61 said of Huffman “[a]mong the political class in Sacramento, it’s very well known that Alice essentially applies the NAACP good housekeeping seal to special interest causes in return for money…I don’t know how she gets away with it.”
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters said Huffman’s work for big pharma “dishonored the NAACP.”
But Huffman’s girft isn’t atypical of larger NAACP. While they rail against “privatization” in education, they have more corporate patrons than NASCAR.
Another example: the NAACP once supported a tax on soda to address obesity and illnesses caused by sugary beverages. Coke and Pepsi paid them a million dollars and suddenly diabetes wasn’t so bad after all.
They have joined cigarette manufacturers targeting black communities with menthol cigarettes, telecom companies seeking to end net neutrality, and pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, a company with a colorful ethical record.
Their eyes way off the prize
While examples of fraud, inefficiency, discrimination, racism, ineffective teaching, and denial of legal rights pile up in the nation’s district schools, where most black children exist each school day, the NAACP myopia around charter schools distracts from the many ways our kids are short-changed in public schools overall.
In Huffman’s state 75% of black boys aren’t meeting state standards in reading. You have to wonder why the NAACP hasn’t called a moratorium on California’s district schools.
Given their history of pay-to-play politics and transactional behavior excuse me if I see the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter schools as having nothing to do with education. My guess it they’re making good on their grants from teachers’ unions. Kids be damned.
Meanwhile, when charter leaders gather in D.C. this week they will focus hard solving America’s tragic problem of educational malpractice plaguing marginalized communities. They will keep their eyes on student outcomes as if nothing else matters. I will be with them keeping attention where it should be.
If only someone could pay the NAACP enough to do the same.