A story posted on Roland Martin’s website, News One, asks “Want to know how Hillary Clinton will win the Black vote?”

Ok, I’ll bite. Tell me, how?

The answer: “By learning how to do “The Wobble” of course.”

The Wobble is line dancing for black folk. It apparently can be used as a bridge to help white candidates humanize themselves with black audiences. It might also be an ironic dance that politicians do to win black votes while betraying black trust, as Hillary Clinton is doing with recent comments downplaying her past support for charter schools.

Politico’s story announcing her school reform backslide has a sensationalist headline, “Hillary Clinton Rebukes Charter Schools.” The piece tracks her support for charter schools (and Bill Clinton’s) going back to the mid-1990s, and then serves her current beef, cold and unseasoned.

Charter schools “cherry pick” their students and fail to serve students in the toughest circumstances, she says.

When President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1998 encouraging the increase in charter schools he praised lawmakers for putting “progress over partisanship.”

Now it appears the latter Clinton seeks to reverse the order of the quote and put partisanship before progress. Let’s not be surprised. Her endorsements from the two national unions representing teachers, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, should have signaled a looming sea change that would involve a self-serving mea culpa. The NEA and AFT are America’s largest, most powerful and moneyed opposition to educational options outside of the traditional school district where unions dominate.

Charter schools have no such organization, nor a nation of active foot soldiers.

Back in the day Hillary Clinton said “The president [Bill Clinton] believes, as I do, that charter schools are a way of bringing teachers and parents and communities together.”

Today more than a million parents are on waiting lists. Thousands of teachers work crazy hours to reverse the correlation between poverty and low levels of student learning. As predicted, people have come together.

Who could have known 17 years later Ms. Clinton would run against Mr. Clinton’s biggest achievement in education, one with the best payoff.

Indeed, President Clinton’s 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act poured billions of dollars into several education strategies intended to improve outcomes for kids in poverty, including $11 billion for magnet schools, district desegregation efforts, improved technology, school safety, and progress in special education.

All these years later magnet schools enroll 1.5 million students and produce generally positive (if not mixed) results, but, if their purpose were to reduce racial segregation, they have failed. Most American students attend racially redundant schools, and for children of color, and the poor, these schools have lousy results.

After decades of trendy technology spending, public schools might as well be run by Luddites.

School safety and special education are still an issue.

That leaves one educational innovation in the Clinton arsenal. Charter schools.

This is what she told Roland Martin at a recent town hall about her new concerns:

The original idea, Roland, behind charter schools was to learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools. And here’s a couple of problems. Most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.

You would be hard pressed to find any sunlight between that position and what union leaders say. Adopting this stance may help Clinton politically, but it’s a calculated move that is tragic for poor families and students.

Charter schools have made progress

Since 1998 charter schools have grown from 1,000 to more than 6,100. They now serve 7% of public school students.

In keeping with the original vision for these schools, they educate more students of color living in poverty than the traditional public schools. For instance, black students are 29% of charter school enrollment, but only 16% in regular district schools. Latino students are 27% versus 23% in district schools. Low-income students make up 53% of students versus 48% in districts.

When it comes to student outcomes, there are signs of hope. According to Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) urban charter schools, on average, produce “significantly greater student success in both math and reading, which amounts to 40 additional days of learning growth in math and 28 days of additional growth in reading.”

Sure, charter school opponents will roll their eyes at all of this. They have the best research studies union money can buy. Truthfully, they aren’t always wrong (who is?) when they say charter schools are not all they’re said to be. Many perform poorly. Some states have such weak charter school laws there seems to be a charter school financial scandal daily. Discipline practices in some charter schools would make the army cry uncle.

It’s all true.

So let’s close charter schools that suck, but only if we do the same with nearby district schools suffering the same lack of performance.

But, let’s not ignore the fact that charter schools have proven immensely popular for black and brown students in low income families. And, on average, they deliver academically for those families. They want small, safe, tuition-free public schools that prepare students for good jobs and good lives.

Assuming that people of color and the poor are still major constituencies of the Democratic party, we have to ask why Ms. Clinton would throw black and brown students under the politically expedient school bus?

As Juan Williams points out, it could very well be that “The price of a union endorsement is too high for school children.”

Ms. Clinton can’t Wobble her way out of that one.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.



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