The battle of wills between charter school advocates and opponents continued last Thursday, February 9th, at the NAACP’s special hearing on charter schools in Los Angeles.
The hearing, held at the Deaton Civic Auditorium at LAPD Headquarters, convened some of the city’s most seasoned veterans and dedicated professionals in the education field.
The first part of the hearing was structured to allow ten guest speakers from different sides of the charter school debate to address NAACP’s Task Force on Quality Education. After each oral presentation, the Task Force was given the chance to ask speakers more probing questions.
The 11-member Task Force included Alice Huffman (Chair), Michael Curry, Hazel Dukes, Scot Esdaile, James Gallman, John Jackson, Daquan Love, Dora Nweze, Peter Rose, Gloria Sweet-Love, Derrick Johnson, and Robin Williams.
With few exceptions, the speakers fell into two opposing camps: those who focused on the promise of charter schools and those who, instead, fixated on its problems.
Among those who spoke favorably of charter schools were: Margaret Fortune, CEO of Fortune Schools; Chris Ungar, Ex-President, California Charter School Association (CCSA); Christina De Jesus, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools California
Jonathan Williams, CEO of Accelerated Schools; and Gene Fisher Founder of Watts Learning Center.
One of the most compelling stories of charter school success came from NAACP member, Margarete Fortune, who leads a chain of charter schools in Sacramento and San Bernardino that are top-ranked in California on measures of academic performance.
“There is a reason why black parents are choosing to send their kids to Fortune schools. The traditional school districts in our community woefully under-serve black students,” she said.
— Citizen Ed (@EdCitizen) February 9, 2017
Presenters on the opposing side, who dwelled largely on the flaws of charter schools, were fewer in number, but just as opinionated. They included Jose Acala of California Teachers Association; Cecily Myart-Cruz, VP of United Teachers Los Angeles; and Dr. Julian Heilig-Vasquez, Professor at Sacramento State.
The most passionate speech from the opposition came from Cecily Myart-Cruz, a head of United Teachers Los Angeles. With a booming voice and deep conviction, she held no bars in exposing the faults she saw with charter schools. “CCSA and charter operators want to gloss over the issues that the NAACP moratorium highlights: transparency, accountability, and the impacts on the public school system from unregulated charter growth.”
Moderate voices such as George McKenna were hard to find. In his speech, he neither praised nor vilified charter schools. A self-proclaimed pragmatist with over 50 years of experience in education, his chief concern was bridging the rift between the two sides. He insisted that “the charter and public schools today, have to work together, whether we like it or not.” For him, it seemed non-negotiable. He added, “these children are too precious to be ignored.”
The NAACP Task Force did little to unify the polarized groups. The national leaders opted, instead, to maintain a neutral stance during the session. Rosyln Brock, NAACP Board Chair, placed the NAACP in a position to volley between sides. “If your charter school is working well, it’s accountable, has transparency… continue to do what you’re doing,” Brock said. But then added, “However, if your charter school is throwing out Jamal and Jimmy and Jereeka. And you’re letting Alice and Susan stay in school … we’re here for those who are left in our community.”
To be fair, fostering collaboration between the brain trust that had gathered in Deaton Auditorium last week was not the NAACP’s stated purpose.
Brock made it clear that “We [the Board] are here to listen and to learn.” She continued, “we would like a moratorium, a pause, for us to have a conversation and a dialogue about the opportunity to educate our children.”
Despite hours of discussion, the fact that few solutions were explored at this meeting calls into question whether these type of dialogue-heavy hearings are a worthwhile use of NAACP’s time and resources.
Dialogue is fine. But action is better. And the verdict is still out on whether the National Task Force can translate the knowledge gained from these hearings into meaningful policy action.
Erica Copeland lives in Los Angeles where she counsels high school youth through the college admission process. She wrote this for the blog One Public Education.
Hands off our charter schools!
That was the message delivered to the NAACP by charter parents, students and educators in an outdoor press conference ahead of the civil rights organization’s education hearing held at the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters. The NAACP is currently engaged in a series of hearings around the country to hear from a variety of experts and community members about the organization’s call for a moratorium on charter schools.
That moratorium, passed by the historic civil rights group in October of 2016, has received heavy push-back from the African-American community as well as charter advocates who argue that it doesn’t align with the well-documented attitudes of parents who want more educational choices for their children.
The news conference, organized by the California Charter School Association, featured signs, t-shirts and pointed speeches condemning the NAACP policy. Students shared success stories of overcoming adversity at home and in their communities which they attributed to their charter schools. Educators spoke of the flexibility they have to customize their programs to the needs of their students.
“Black children have found solace in attending charter programs and many are finding greater acceptance and achieving greater victories” – Carmen Taylor Jones, National Council of Negro Women.
— Citizen Ed (@EdCitizen) February 9, 2017
Educators and administrators from local charter schools also gave impassioned pleas to the NAACP to reconsider their call for a halt on expansion of the sector, noting charters are a viable option having positive results for many marginalized communities in California.
Following the press conference outside, the community members filled in the L.A. Police Department Auditorium, to take part in the hearing on charter schools and educational quality.
Margaret Fortune, CEO of Fortune School of Education, a network of K-12 public charter schools focused on closing the African American achievement gap, gave perhaps the most passionate testimony to the task force. In a reoccurring theme for the charter advocates that spoke, she noted that she is a card-holding member of the organization, but could not wrap her head around the idea that they would call for a halt to a system that is showing results with so many Black children.
“The charters and public schools today have to work together. Charter schools exist because of dissatisfaction with public schools” – George McKenna, LAUSD District 1 Board Member.
Fortune and several others who gave testimony lamented the division caused by the moratorium, noting that it was a “distraction” that was dividing, rather than empowering the community to work together to fight for quality education regardless of school type.
Similar to the most recent hearing in Orlando, Florida, the task force listened to testimony from a variety of speakers advocating both for and against the moratorium. Speakers at this event included charter school founders and advocates, teachers union representatives, school board members and unlike the previous hearing, a relatively large group of parents, teachers, and students.
The final segment of the hearing, a time designated for comments and questions from these stakeholders, showed more of the division between those in attendance, with speakers alternating between supporting and condemning the charter moratorium.
One thing was clear from the outset: these California charter families and advocates have and will continue to organize to stop the NAACP and any other body from limiting their educational options.
By Khulia Pringle
It is my prayer that the NAACP hearing on their charter school moratorium happening today in Los Angeles goes far better than the ones I recently attended in Orlando, Florida and Memphis Tennessee. It would be an understatement to say that both were appalling experiences for me as a black woman and an educator.
NAACP members revealed themselves in both cities to be woefully uninformed, consistently asking questions about charter schools that they should have known the answers to long before their organization voted to put a moratorium in place. It’s as if they decided to put the brakes on something without knowing a damn thing about what it is and how it works.
That takes some nerve when you think of how many parents and children are impacted by their ignorance.
My disappointments and frustrations are many when it comes to these hearings. In Memphis, the most appalling thing I saw was that parents were almost completely shut out of the discussion. The hearing lasted four hours and yet, somehow, they only allowed for twelve minutes of public comment.
Twelve minutes for the people most impacted by their decision. Twelve minutes for people who sat and listened to their uninformed questions and comments for four hours.
The first thing I noticed in Orlando was that the agenda was almost identical to the one I’d seen in Memphis. Some pro-charter people and some anti-charter people. But something really disturbing jumped from the page in Orlando: Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, was on the agenda.
Do Your Homework
One thing was crystal clear very quickly. NAACP members had not done their research, their homework, before voting on the charter moratorium resolution. Most of them didn’t know anything.
Here’s a taste of what they asked:
Do Charter Schools accept students with IEPs?
Do Charters schools cherry pick kids?
Do Charter Schools kick kids out leading to a school to prison pipeline?
Do Charter schools keep the money if a child leaves the school?
Do Charter school teachers have to be trained?
Not only did this line of questioning, directed exclusively to those seen as “pro-charter,” expose a remarkable level of ignorance but it also revealed to me that not enough folks were asking the right questions.
I would have liked to have heard some questions like this:
Are traditional public schools held accountable for failing poor students and students of color?
What are the suspension rates for traditional public schools?
When kids are kicked or pushed out of the traditional system, where do they go?
If charters are not accepting students with IEP’s, then why?
What is the level of racial diversity of teachers in traditional public schools? Are kids currently seeing themselves in their teachers and school administrators?
Are teachers required to take cultural competency and implicit bias training? What are the repercussions for a teacher being blatantly racist and/or a bullying children?
What does the curriculum like in a traditional public schools? Are all kids learning about themselves in history class?
What are traditional public schools doing to retain families and encourage parents to choose them instead of a charter school?
But the worst part of the whole thing, for me, was the arrival of Randi Weingarten who was quite literally treated like some rock star by the NAACP panel.
“We have a very special guest, that has just arrived, Can we all stand up give Randi Weingarten, a standing ovation.”
Are you kidding me? I am now being told to stand for someone who is singlehandedly trying to prevent black and brown kids from having better and more quality school options? I looked around and everyone, except for me and education advocate Rashad Turner, did as they were told and stood up. I literally said out loud, why are y’all standing?
Randi started out talking about all of her concerns about charter schools and all the reasons why they aren’t the solution. And then she mentions that she owns a charter school in Brooklyn. Say What? Well ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black.
I couldn’t stomach any more, so I left.
It is my hope, my prayer, that the Los Angeles hearing is different today. But I ain’t gonna lie; the fact that it’s being held at the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters is not a very good start.
Khulia Pringle is a mother, teacher, and parent organizer in St. Paul, Minnesota
In education there is no bigger legal challenge in history more famous than the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954.
That suit, brought by the NAACP, was a largely successful strike against state sanctioned discrimination against black and brown students.
Dr. Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of Rev. Oliver Brown – whose name has become synonymous with the landmark legal case, joined the Rock The Schools podcast to talk about Brown v. Board, education, and school choice. You can listen to the discussion below, but here are some of her comments edited to make them easier to read:
On her first recognition that her family had been involved in a groundbreaking legal case:
Coming home from school as an 8th grader and seeing a white man I did not recognize standing on the porch. We lived in an integrated neighborhood so seeing people of other races was not unusual but I didn’t know this man. I got closer and he noticed my reluctance to approach him, he stuck out his hand and said “Hi, I’m Charles Kuralt with CBS news and I’m doing an on the road show for the 10th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education.”
On how the case came about:
In our city it began appropriately so with the NAACP and it’s leader at the time, a man by the name of McKinley Burnett. He decided that he was going to organize a challenge that would include Federal intervention in segregated schools. There were 11 school segregation cases in the state of Kansas before Brown vs. The Board of Education. Three of those early cases were also in Topeka so he was following a very long standing tradition when he set out in 1948 to convince the school board that it was time to really make a policy shift and desegregate the elementary schools.
On how the Brown family became involved:
The NAACP decided to recruit parents that had elementary aged children, which is how my father ended up getting our family involved. His participation was almost coincidental.A knock at the door. A friend of his who was one of the attorneys in the NAACP, part of the team recruiting asked my father if he would be willing to join their campaign as one of the Plaintiffs because it was a class action lawsuit they were putting together.
Meet the Brown parents:
My mom was 29 years old at the time. Dad was 32. They were young people. They were not activists. They didn’t belong to the NAACP. My dad ended up being the central figure because the final roster included 12 moms, homemakers, married women, so gender we believe is why he became the central figure in the Topeka case.
On the role and power of parents:
Parents really understand what’s going on because they have so little choice. Much like Brown parents, parents today need to align themselves with like-minded advocates, policymakers, and civil rights organizations so they can speak truth to power. We need to recognize, respect and honor the role of parenting. Parents know that education can help break the cycle of poverty but sadly what I observed as a teacher back in the 70’s, – and it’s also true today – the social economic status of the parents impacts how the system views them. There is a lack of willingness to fully engage parents as partners in their child’s education.
On the low expectations of teachers for black children:
The classroom teachers, some of my fellow educators who were white, were not as willing to engage with parents of color. And they certainly were not as willing to set the high standards that we all grew up with when it came to expectations for students of color. I watched that decline up close and personal. Our country had a major opportunity that we missed after Brown, after the civil rights movement. We missed that opportunity by not having the cultural competency training that could’ve helped a lot of teachers. Their biases came into the classroom with them and those biases often impacted the educational options that set outcomes for their children.
You know children have to believe you care about them. They have to believe they’re important. They have to believe that education is important. They must have high expectations and standards. It requires an awful lot of initiative.
On what really drove Brown v. Board’s push for integration:
Brown was about having access to the resources and equal educational opportunity. The money follows white children, let’s be honest. So it was about following the money, following the opportunity, following the resources, following the access to excellence moreso than the complexion of the person sitting in the seat next to you.
On her father’s concerns about the impact of integration on black educators:
His concern immediately after Brown was announced was what would happen to the teachers in the black schools? In 1953 the superintendent of Topeka Public Schools right before the court was to hear Brown sent out a letter to the African American teachers who had been teaching for 3 years or less, I guess what they considered non-tenure, told them in that letter that if the Plaintiffs succeed you will not have a job. In his way of thinking there would not be enough white parents willing to have African American teachers for their children for them to be retained. So before school started in the fall of 1954, he made good on that promise and released a lot of those black educators. When schools were integrated in Topeka the educators were integrated as well. And for one year he issued a policy that if I’m a fourth grade teacher in your school now, now you have a black teacher in your school for the first time, you have to call every white parent of fourth graders in your school to get their approval.
“Our children are just as smart, just as capable, just as accomplished, or can be, as any other child.”
On the opportunity charter schools offer:
First of all, we’ve lost so many generations fighting over how we do education. Magnet schools…is it neighborhood schools? Is it this? Is it that? Is it charter schools? Is it vouchers? Is it school choice? We have been fighting since 1954. If charter schools have the opportunity for flexibility, innovation, to be able to show a difference in improving math scores and reading scores; I don’t want to see more children languishing in traditional public schools while policymakers fight. I’m of the opinion that educational options have to be on the table. Our children are just as smart, just as capable, just as accomplished, or can be, as any other child.
On the push of today’s NAACP to halt the growth of charter schools:
Before you take such a public stance on something you point out that you worked on yourself, historically to give African Americans options to school improvement, better options, better access for their children, let’s have a sit down. Let’s examine the Stanford University studies on charter schools. Let’s talk to the people that are charter school administrators. Let’s talk to the parents who have children that are succeeding in those schools. Let’s talk to the parents who are on the waiting lists. Let’s have a sit down before you do that. We were not afforded that opportunity to sit down with the leadership with the NAACP before that vote was put before the membership. I’m kind of heartbroken about that.
Listen to the podcast with Dr. Brown Henderson…