Do Charter Schools Advance or Impede Civil Rights?

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On January 27th, 2017, the Institute for Education Policy at John Hopkins School of Education convened a group of leaders to discuss charter schools and their relationship with civil rights.

Moderator Dmitri Mehlhorn noted that in light of the recent call for a moratorium on charter school expansion by the NAACP and introduction of bills like the Charter School Act of 2017 in Maryland where the discussion was held, the group would be discussing the impact of charter schools, especially with students of color.

The question under discussion is how much, and how fast they grow and whether charter schools themselves can violate civil rights of children, especially children of color through segregation, through discipline practices, through narrow learning, or whether the cap on charter schools is itself a violation of civil rights by preventing low income students of color from escaping schools systems that are not serving them well.

The group was composed of Hilary D. Shelton (Director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau / Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy), Gerard Robinson (Resident fellow, Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute), Matthew Cregor, Esq. (Education Project Director at the Lawyers’ Committee), and Dr. Ashley Berner (Deputy Director of the Institute for Education Policy at John Hopkins School of Education).

Check out the full video of the discussion, titled “Do Charter Schools Advance or Impede Civil Rights?”

NAACP Hearing Reveals Unsurprising Rift Over Charter Schools

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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.

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.

NAACP’s Charter School Task Force Meets Resistance in Los Angeles

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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.

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.

NAACP: Who Exactly Are You Working to Advance When You Ignore Black Parents?

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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