Regarding the NAACP Charter School Moratorium, the New York Times Misguides Itself
On October 15, 2016, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) ratified a resolution for a moratorium on charter schools.
Below is the text of that resolution, which was voted on by the NAACP membership at its July 2016 convention:
CALLING FOR A MORATORIUM ON CHARTER SCHOOL EXPANSION AND STRENGTHENING OF OVERSIGHT OF GOVERNANCE AND PRACTICE
WHEREAS, charter schools have been a rapidly growing sector of the education system, increasingly targeting low-income areas and communities of color; and
WHEREAS, charter schools with privately appointed boards do not represent the public yet make decisions about how public funds are spent; and
WHEREAS, charter schools have contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system; and
WHEREAS, research and reports have documented disproportionately high use of punitive and exclusionary discipline in addition to differential enrollment practices that violate protections of student rights for public schooling; and
WHEREAS, research and civil rights organizations have documented violations of parent and children’s rights, conflicts of interest, fiscal mismanagement, and psychologically harmful environments within several rapidly proliferating charter management organizations; and
WHEREAS, analyses on annual missing charter funds have been estimated at nearly half a billion dollars nationally; and
WHEREAS, researchers have warned that charter school expansions in low-income communities mirror predatory lending practices that led to the sub-prime mortgage disaster, putting schools and communities impacted by these practices at great risk of loss and harm; and
WHEREAS, current policies force district campuses to accommodate co-locations of charter schools, resulting in shortages of resources and space and increasing tension and conflict within school communities; and
WHEREAS, weak oversight of charter schools puts students and communities at risk of harm, public funds at risk of being wasted, and further erodes local control of public education; and
WHEREAS, the NAACP shares the concerns of the Journey for Justice Alliance, and alliance of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in 23 states, which has joined with 175 other national local grassroots community, youth, and civil rights organizations calling for a moratorium on the Federal Charter schools program, which has pumped over $3 billion into new charter schools, many of which have already closed or have failed the students drawn to them by the illusive promise of quality.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP reaffirms its 2014 resolution, “School Privatization Threat to Public Education,” in which the NAACP opposes the privatization of public schools and/or public subsidizing or funding of for-profit or charter schools; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP will continue to advocate against any state or Federal legislation which commits or diverts public funding, allows tax breaks, or establishes preferential advantages to for-profit, private, and/or charter schools; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP calls for full funding and support of high quality free public education for all children; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP calls upon units to seek to pass legislation at the State and Local levels that will ensure that parents have access to Charter School Advocacy Boards and that Charter Schools be required to provide schooling for students that are dismissed from school for disciplinary reasons; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP will seek legislation to strengthen investigative powers of those bodies that oversee charter school fraud, corruption, waste, etc.; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, as a tool to help address exclusionary student disciplinary policies and practices of publicly funded charter schools, NAACP units should: a) review the US Department of Justice-US Department of Education joint guidelines on school climate and school discipline http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-departments-education-and-justice-release-school-discipline-guidance-package- : b) encourage charter school administrators to apply that guidance to its student disciplinary practice; and c) work with parents of charter school students in appropriate cases to file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights, US Department of Education, to challenge unwarranted exclusionary practices (e.g., suspensions and expulsions); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP hereby supports a moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP opposes bills that would weaken the investigative powers of any legislative body from uncovering charter school fraud, corruption, and/or waste; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the NAACP supports legislation AND EXECUTIVE ACTIONS that would strengthen local governance and transparency of charter schools, and, in so doing, affirms to protect students and families from exploitative governance practices.
Note also that the NAACP’s concern with charter schools has been increasing, as is evidenced in three charter school resolutions since 2010.
In its 2016, post-ratification charter school moratorium press release, the NAACP summarily voices the following conditions for the future revocation of its moratorium:
We are calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter schools at least until such time as:
(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) 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.
Two days before the NAACP vote, on October 13, 2016, the New York Times (NYT) editorial board published an op-ed entitled, “A Misguided Attack on Charter Schools.”
The question is, is the NAACP “misguided”?
Are charter schools actually held to the same accountability and transparency as are traditional public schools?
No. In fact, the NYT editorial board states as much in its “misguided” op-ed:
The N.A.A.C.P., the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, has struggled in recent years to win over younger African-Americans, who often see the group as out of touch. The N.A.A.C.P.’s board will reinforce that impression if it ratifies an ill-advised resolution — scheduled for a vote this weekend — that calls for a moratorium on expansion of public charter schools, which receive public money but are subject to fewer state regulations than traditional public schools. [Emphasis added.]
The NYT editorial board does not mention the lack of federal oversight of the charter money it liberally distributes to states. And they could have, since the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report on the issue was publicized on September 29, 2016– two weeks prior to the NYT’s pro-charter-school editorial.
Let’s consider the NAACP’s second point– that money for charter schools is diverted from the public school system.
The NYT editorial board does not address this issue, nor does it address the issues of expelling students who default back to the traditional public schools or of the de facto segregation that results from charters’ ability to hone its student bodies into those who are “higher performing”– which in current terms means cost-effective deliverers of higher test scores.
However, the NYT editorial board does feature Stanford’s CREDO studies and the great gains on test scores for students of color– but only if the charter schools are well run:
The Stanford study notes, however, that poorly run charters can be disastrous. In some areas, the study notes, not a single charter school outperforms the traditional school alternative — and in some places, more than half are significantly worse. The city of Detroit, where more than half of all students attend charter schools, has recently become an example of such a failure.
Where charter schools excel, however, demand for admission is high.
Of course, without proper oversight, it is pretty much left up to the charter school and its management organization to decide to be well run. And that it a major problem, one that the NYT editorial admits is a problem, as is discriminatory discipline– but, it says, discriminatory discipline is a problem at traditional public schools, as well:
Given the demand for good charters, a moratorium would clearly be a bad idea. But the N.A.A.C.P. has raised legitimate concerns that lawmakers and education officials need to take seriously. It notes, for example, that minority students are more likely to be suspended from charter schools than their white peers.
That is, of course, outrageous, but it is an endemic problem to the public school system as a whole and not limited to charters. The Obama administration has recently put schools on notice that discriminatory disciplinary policies violate federal civil rights law.
Two points here: First, charter schools have higher suspension rates than do traditional public schools, with some, like US Secretary of Education John King’s Roxbury Prep leading the pack in Massachusetts, as UCLA’s Civil Rights Project noted in its March 2016 report:
…More recent [since 2011-12] suspension data that were collected and publicly reported by two state education departments indicate that many charters still have excessive suspension rates and large racial disparities. For example, Connecticut’s 2015 state report showed that, at the preK-5 level, elementary charter schools had much higher suspension and expulsion rates than other types of preK-5 schools, with an average rate of 14% for the charter schools versus 3% for the non-charters. Moreover, the Connecticut report showed that, between 2011-12 and 2013-2014, Connecticut’s charter schools at the high school level showed the largest increase in rates of suspension and expulsion and the highest average high school suspension rate (over 30%) for Black males.
In Massachusetts, discipline data from 2014-15 were reported for 1,861 schools, of which 79 (4.2%) are charter schools. An examination of these recent data on school and district suspension rates in Massachusetts revealed that charter schools made up a disproportionate share (3 of the top 20) of the state’s highest-suspending schools, all with rates over 35% for all students. Moreover, when we rank-ordered the suspension rates for all schools in the state by racial group, charters were 3 of the 12 highest suspending for Blacks, all with rates over 40%; charters were 4 of the top 14 for Latinos, all with rates over 33%; and for students with disabilities, charters were 3 of the top 12, all with rates over 50%.
With a suspension rate of 40%, Roxbury Preparatory Academy was the twelfth highest-suspending school in the commonwealth, and ninth highest for students with disabilities, at 57.8%. It also had the highest overall suspension rate of all charter schools in the state. According to the state website, these high rates are significantly lower than Roxbury Prep’s corresponding rates in 2012-13 (59.8% and 77.2%, respectively).
Like many high-suspending charter schools, Roxbury Prep has been praised in recent years for high academic performance. The school is particularly noteworthy because current U.S. Secretary of Education John King is one of its founders….
While we make no assumptions about Secretary King’s position on charters that favor harsh disciplinary approaches, the school’s strong reputation does raise concerns that extraordinarily high suspension rates may be overlooked when charter schools, like Roxbury Prep, are regarded as “high performing”….
Although beyond the scope of this report, the possibility certainly exists that some charter schools are artificially boosting their test scores or graduation rates by using harsh discipline to discourage lower-achieving youth from continuing to attend. If so, this not only would distort the public’s understanding of the benefits of some high-suspending charter schools, it also would steal attention away from charter schools that employ non-punitive approaches and still have good, if somewhat less impressive, academic outcomes.
The concern that some charter school leaders embrace a zero-tolerance approach is a salient and pressing issue…. [Some paragraph breaks added.]
The NAACP should be concerned about charter school discipline, especially about so-called “zero tolerance” discipline policies at charter schools that are being celebrated for also having high test scores. Such concern is not misguided.
In June 2016, King himself told the National Charter School Conference that charter schools need to revamp their discipline policies, which leads to the second noteworthy point about the NYT editorial board referring to Obama’s cracking down on discriminatory discipline: Such a point only underscores the need for oversight of charter schools the same as for traditional public schools, which is what the NAACP is seeking to a greater degree in its charter school moratorium resolution.
The NAACP charter moratorium is not an “attack.” It is accountability.
It is not good enough to note that when charters excel, they’re great, or tossing off the charters “are far from universally perfect” line (which the NYT does in its op-ed) and that failing charter schools “should be shut down”–another pro-charter, clichéd non-solution that only leads to unnecessary community disruption– disruption that could be curbed if there were stronger controls in place to begin with.
As is proven by its “misguided” editorial, the NYT editorial board is *reinforcing an out of touch impression,* not the NAACP.