by Tanzi West-Barbour
As a strong supporter of the NAACP, I’ve always trusted that they had my family and my community’s best interests at heart. Those ideals of quality public education, healthy and safe communities, and equal opportunities were always what the NAACP stood for. But while I don’t doubt its intentions, the NAACP has made a serious mistake by attempting to pit the civil rights and education communities against one another. In fact, we are one and the same. Instead of working together to improve public education for all students of color – we are letting a division between those who support charter public schools and those who do not derail our efforts.
Last fall, the NAACP made a moratorium on charter schools part of its official policy. They went on a multi-city roadshow designed to hear from parents, teachers and community members about the impact of charters. A lot of time, money and resources were spent on this tour and I’m not sure they heard the voices that should be speaking the loudest – the students. As a matter of fact, I know they didn’t. I attended their meeting in New Orleans in April, where they were met with a room full of angry parents and students – not at charter school operators, but at the NAACP and its lack of support and forward-fighting efforts for the students of NOLA. That meeting ended with members of the NAACP National Education Task Force screaming at the emotional students who just wanted to be heard.
It. Was. Horrible.
Now the NAACP just released a report that it claims backs up their ridiculous moratorium.
But did they hear the voices of the 400,000 Black children who attend charter schools all over this country? Schools that have helped these students learn and excel and change the trajectory of their lives and create thriving, sustainable lives? I know they did not hear from them.
If the NAACP truly wants to help lift up students of color they should be calling for more schools like Urban Prep Academy in Chicago, not fewer.
That’s why we must draw a line at dividing ourselves over education and unite with one voice. Our children’s success is one place where there is no room for division.
Millions of students are on waiting lists across the country because they know a charter school education is among the best in the country—and it’s worth waiting for.
There are a lot of reasons parents send their students to charters but one of them is because they know their children are part of a national upward trend in education. Of the top 100 schools nationwide, a third are charter schools. Plus, the benefits of a charter education are available to everyone. Like district public schools, charters are free, available to all students, and accountable to the same state and national standards.
Charters have shown remarkable results for underserved students, with close to two-thirds of charter school students being children of color. Studies have found that our African-American students are learning more than their traditional public school peers, and the same can be said for Hispanic children as well.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s room for improvement in every part of public education, and we’re all responsible for calling out failures when we see them. But restricting charter schools will only serve to limit access to high-quality education and opportunities for our children.
Thanks to public charter schools, low-income communities across this country that have been underserved by traditional public schools have found hope for something better. Amid all the challenges facing our country, this is exactly the type of hope that the NAACP should be working to support.
The bottom line is this: charter public schools work, and they work particularly well for the students who truly need them. Preventing growth of charters in a meaningless and harmful moratorium won’t accomplish what the NAACP thinks it will, and our children are only harmed as a result.
We all want great schools for our kids. Let’s work together to heal our existing divisions and ensure that every child can obtain an excellent public education.