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

 

Takeaways From the NAACP Task Force’s ‘Quality Education’ Hearing in Orlando.

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On Friday, January 27th, the NAACP continued their series of education hearings, held by a special task force to “to gain further knowledge, engage in debate, and take action” as a response to the backlash to their ‘moratorium’ on charter schools. After hearings in New Haven, Connecticut and Memphis, Tennessee, the third of seven hearings took place last weekend in Orlando, during the Florida NAACP state conference.

Held at the Rosen Centre Hotel, the event was lightly attended (<100 in attendance) and saw a format of rotating presentations and testimony to the task force, who would follow up with a few questions. After the greetings, opening remarks and presentations, the panel took a (very) short series of questions and answers from those in attendance.

Here are a few notes from the event:

The most important voices – stakeholders – were largely absent. 

While the NAACP claimed the purpose of the task force was to have a national “stakeholder convening”, those voices were nearly completely absent at this hearing. The event began at 2:00 pm in the afternoon on a weekday, leading one to question how said stakeholders would able to attend in the first place.

The most relevant voices of parents, students, and educators who see the inside of these schools daily, were mostly missing. Late into the proceedings, one of the few youth voices to be heard, Brendien Mitchell, a member of the Youth and College Division of the Florida NAACP, noted it was worth discussion that the younger voices were not heard until the end of the hearing.

If the NAACP is genuine in their desire to convene stakeholders and engage in productive conversation, they ought to reconsider their methods. Unfortunately, the format at this hearing was not conducive to that goal. Perhaps they should consider making the next gathering more accessible and open to parents, students and educators.

The lack of youth in the audience was reflected by the actual task force. At one point, the head of the panel noted “you should know that we do have a young person on this task force.. but he could not be here today”.

The NAACP showed a disturbing deference to AFT president Randi Weingarten and felt the need for a police presence. 

For some reason, American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten was treated as some kind of rock star or guest of honor at the hearing. Prior to her presentation, the head of the task force told the audience to stand, and give Ms. Weingarten a rousing ovation. This moment was odd to say the least, and suffice it to say, calling for a standing ovation for the teachers’ union head did not reflect well on the supposed unbiased nature of the hearing.

Midway through her presentation, educational advocate and former head of Black Lives Matter – St. Paul, Rashad Turner spoke out. He interrupted Weingarten in an attempt to counter her misinformation around charters. He also questioned the unique level of admiration that was reserved for Weingarten, after other presenters like the state’s recent Superintendent of the Year, Robert Runcie of Broward County, didn’t receive the same.

Turner was quickly shouted down, with the task force shutting off the lights and having him removed from the hearing by police. This isn’t the first controversy around the NAACP being called out for their moratorium. As they were ratifying the resolution in Cincinatti, families rallying outside had the police called on them.

Misinformation and Confusion abound. 

The task force sent to Orlando and tasked with the duty of weighing presentations and testimony seemed woefully confused and misinformed on many points around how charter schools operate. Specifically, the false dichotomy of “private charters” vs “public schools” persisted throughout the majority of the hearing which did lead to at least a few of the presenters feeling the need to point out to the panel that charter schools are in fact public.

Beyond that, there seemed to be confusion around what lotteries for enrollment are and how they work, as well as misinformation around accountability standards for schools, specifically in Florida. In relation to the state of charters in Florida, the task force heard in plain terms that they are in fact held to high accountability standards and are performing at high levels.

It is cause for concern that this long after the moratorium was passed, NAACP representatives are still so ignorant about what charter schools are and how they work. And it has to be frustrating for school and district leaders to continually have to explain the same basic truths over and over to a bunch of folks who quite simply, refuse to do their homework.

For more information and several videos from the NAACP education hearing, check the #WakeUpNAACP hashtag on twitter, and follow us @CitizenEd.

 

Hey NAACP, Black Parents Want Quality Education Schools for Their Kids By Any Means Necessary

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By Khulia Pringle

With the recent moratorium on Charter schools by the NAACP coupled with my trip to Memphis, Tennessee  for a public hearing held by the NAACP about their moratorium, I am forced to reflect on how in the world we got here. How did I become a voice in opposition to one of the oldest and most black institutions in America?

I remember when I first made the commitment to go back to school to become an educator. One of the reasons I thought it would be cool to teach was that I’d get to teach all the stuff I never learned about in school, things that would have made a difference in how I felt about my own cultural identity. Ironically, the history of the NAACP was on my list of topics to teach. I wanted my students to learn about W.E.B. Dubois’ involvement in founding an organization dedicated to the advancement of people who look like my students. I wanted them to understand the monumental and historic Brown vs. Board of Education case led by the nation’s first black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. I knew in my head and my heart that these pieces of history had to be taught and I was going to be proud to make sure my students learned that the NAACP played a critical role in the struggle for civil rights in America.

As I embarked on my journey to become a teacher, I had the opportunity to work at a charter school in Minneapolis as a Promise Fellow. I was very impressed with what I saw happening in classrooms. I later did my student teaching at a charter school in Saint Paul and I came away impressed by their model too.

I saw schools that were doing things I hadn’t seen before — later I learned there was a word for what I was witnessing: innovation. Whatever it was, I liked it. The very first thing that jumped out at me was that both schools were run and founded by African Americans. I don’t think most people realize what a huge deal that is. How many schools do you know that are founded and lead by people of color? I live in Minnesota, and there aren’t many.

The second thing that I noticed were demographics of the student bodies. Both schools were more than 90 percent African American students. But what I found most significant was that these kids had come from all over the twin cities and the surrounding suburbs, when they could have attended school much closer to home. Parents were choosing to bring their kids to these two schools for a variety of reasons. I noticed in both schools that there was a focus on community partnership and parent engagement. Instruction and learning was student centered, equity was a daily conversation, and teachers were encouraged to try new things. And relationships were strong, providing the strong foundation of trust needed to make great things happen in schools.

The NAACP moratorium has put me in a hard and frustrating position. I am forced to say, NO, NAACP, these schools work for our kids and deserve a chance. Perhaps you should set your sights on the century old system that is letting far too many of us down. Parents are smart enough to make our own decisions if given the real deal on ALL their options. Don’t underestimate our ability, as parents, to determine which school provides the environment in which our children have the best chance to thrive.

The NAACP needs to show more respect to parents. Black parents overwhelmingly support charter schools and school choice in general as a way to advance our black children.

They need to do a better job of listening to and representing the people of color at the center of their mission.

Khulia Pringle is a mother, teacher, and parent organizer in St. Paul, Minnesota

The NAACP’s demands of charter schools aren’t about educational quality

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If you want to kill a good idea just set impossible conditions for its success and it will die trying to meet them. That’s the apparent strategy behind the resolution adopted by the National Association of Colored People this fall calling for a moratorium on public charter schools until the following four conditions are met:

(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools

(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system

(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and

(4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

These conditions are either unprovable, subjective or baseless so the call for a moratorium is essentially a call for no new charter schools until the NAACP changes its mind. It’s like some accountability opponents who insist they are not against testing but simply want “valid, reliable” tests, and then go on to argue that every existing test falls short of this “reasonable” standard.

Consider the conditions one at a time.

Are transparency and accountability standards different for charters than for traditional public schools? Charters and traditional public schools are both subject to the same open meetings laws and financial and academic reporting requirements.

Both public charter schools and traditional public schools are required to administer the same standardized tests and meet the same performance goals. And charter schools are closed down more frequently than traditional public schools.

When families are provided quality, accessible, and easily-digestible information about charter schools, charters also face organic accountability from parents seeking the best options for their children. They just leave.

In practice, many charter schools may face less scrutiny than traditional public school systems because the public and the media don’t regularly attend their board meetings, but the laws apply equally. Charter schools are also held accountable by their authorizers who, in a quality environment, are similarly watched and held accountable by an oversight body.

The second requirement is silly on the face of it. Charter schools are public schools and in our system of public education, most of the money follows the child. If a child switches from a neighborhood school to a magnet school, to another traditional public school, or if the child’s family moves to another school district, the school loses some funding tied to that child.

It’s no different for charters. Traditional public schools are not entitled to keep money dedicated to a child’s education simply by virtue of the the child’s address. Parents vote with their feet and the money follows the child. When school enrollment declines, for whatever reason, the system must adjust.

It’s important to note that, despite the fact that money should follow the child, charters get approximately one third less funding than traditional public schools. They’re typically provided only a portion of the per-pupil expenditure and have less access to facilities funding.

Regarding, the third issue, there is some data showing higher suspension and expulsion rates among some charter schools, but there are also places like D.C. and New Orleans offering positive alternatives to suspension and expulsion. Traditional public schools invented zero discipline policies and are plenty guilty of suspending and expelling students. Blanket condemnation of the entire charter sector is both unfair and false.

And let’s also remember that some charters, like some traditional schools, may not be right for some kids, but that’s a decision for the parent and the school to make together. If charter schools are systematically pushing kids out, authorizers should hold them accountable.

The fourth issue is especially hard to pin down. The NAACP implies that charters are “creaming” — screening out low-performing students in order to boost their overall test scores. Here again there may be anecdotes, but there is no data supporting this claim, and therefore no ability for the charter sector to “meet” this expectation.

What are the facts about creaming and what would satisfy the NAACP? Nobody knows. What we do know is that when applicants exceed the number of seats, charters hold a lottery and accept all kids who are selected. Magnet schools and gifted programs, which are in many traditional school systems, openly screen for higher-performing students. Is the NAACP okay with that?

In the end, quality must count most

None of the NAACP’s four conditions have anything to do with educational quality, which is, after all, the core reason we have charters. Parents want better educational options for their kids. Studies show that many charters, especially in urban areas, are doing very well and the best of them are closing achievement gaps.

Parents have a right to choose the school that best meets their child’s educational needs. People with money choose private schools or move to expensive communities with better schools.  Charters empower low-income parents to make the same choice.

Public charter schools aren’t perfect and they need some oversight. But the NAACP’s four conditions fail the “reasonable” test and their moratorium will effectively take away a parent’s right to choice from the very people the organization exists to serve.A