Leading black education reformers have a message for the NAACP: What you’re doing is hurting black America.
“The NAACP was formed to help and not to hurt, and that is what I think they are doing right now,” Virginia Walden Ford, a longtime activist in the education reform movement, told Watchdog.org. “They’ve lost the ability to go into the community to see what people had to say. They are not partnering with the community.”
The NAACP’s national board is set to vote Oct. 15 to finalize a resolution proposing a moratorium on new charter schools, claiming public charters targeting low-income and minority areas drain funding and abet segregation.
In response, the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools launched the ChartersWork campaign, with 160 African-American education leaders signing a letter opposing the NAACP’s call for a moratorium. A parent sign-on letter had more than 1,000 signatures as of Oct. 6.
Chris Stewart, director of outreach and external affairs at the Education Post and a community leader in Chicago who signed the ChartersWork letter, told Watchdog.org the NAACP is out of touch with the African-American community.
“Every day more people are signing on and becoming more resolute about not allowing a retail civil rights organization to sell us down a river,” Stewart said. “But, to date, the NAACP has shown no interest in meeting with black people that disagree with them — even after repeated requests.”
Being “sold down the river” is highly charged language for African Americans — a reference to enslaved people being sold down the Mississippi or Ohio rivers into even worse conditions than they had already been subjected to.
Employing that image in a debate on school choice is an indication of how bitter the divisions have become between community activists like Stewart and the hierarchy of the traditional civil rights movement, almost all of whom are wedded politically to a Democratic Party that tends to side with teachers unions over education reformers.
“The NAACP should know better than to further marginalize black people,” said Stewart. “Black support for charters is inescapable, no matter how many grants they get from teachers unions to ignore that fact.”
Howard Fuller, founder and director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, also signed the ChartersWork letter.
While acknowledging that “charter schools aren’t perfect,” he said “it is important to be honest about the state of our public education system,” and expressed disappointment in the NAACP’s indifference to families who can’t afford to move or send their children to private schools.
“The NAACP’s insistence on undermining public charter schools that are making a real difference for the black children who are thriving there is an injustice to every low-income black child who deserves the same educational opportunities as more affluent children,” Fuller said.
More in sorrow than in anger, Fuller lamented the position of an organization that has so often been on the right side of history.
“This puts the NAACP on the wrong side of history for our people, and I cannot let this offense go unchallenged,” he said.
According to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, middle-class black children attending charter schools in 41 cities gain an average of 29 additional days of learning in reading and 43 days in math compared with students in traditional public schools. Black children in low-income families attending charters gain an additional 44 days in reading and 59 days in math learning, according to the study.
The ChartersWork letter says the NAACP “cites a variety of cherry-picked and debunked claims about charter schools. The notion of dedicated charter school founders and educators acting like predatory subprime mortgage lenders — a comparison the resolution explicitly makes — is a far cry from the truth.”
But with less than a week to go before the NAACP votes on the moratorium, the reformers’ complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
“I just hope that somebody in the NAACP will hear what we are saying,” said Walden Ford. “I hope they are listening.”
For Stewart, it’s not about history or politics or what any organization has accomplished in the past.
“Seeing the waiting lists on charter schools, and the polls showing black folks support them, that tells me the community knows what it wants,” Stewart added. “It’s the retail civil rights organizations that are out of touch with reality.”