Op-Ed: NAACP Charter School Moratorium Contradicts Its Core Educational Principles

Paula L. White | November 9, 2016 | Opinion
The organization wrongfully assumes that it has a better grasp of what children need to thrive than their own mothers and fathers

Paula L. White
Middle-class and wealthy Americans love great public schools; they make life-altering decisions about where to live to ensure that their children have access to a high-quality public-school education. Americans living in poverty love great public schools too, but because of the large number of low-quality schools often located in their neighborhoods, the only way many of these families can choose a great public school is by entering a lottery or other random selection process that will grant their child a chance to attend a high-quality public charter school.

It’s logical to think that the NAACP would stand with families in their support of public school choice but, sadly that is not the case. As a first-generation immigrant, a public charter school founder, and a senior education executive, I’m puzzled by the NAACP’s charter school moratorium because it limits opportunities for children. As I sought to understand their stance more fully, I sized up the NAACP’s charter-school moratorium action against the organization’s publicly stated education goals, only to discover that the moratorium actually contradicts the NAACP’s goals for education. Let’s look at some of the facts in New Jersey as they measure up against the NAACP’s four-pronged education goals:

Increasing resource equity: Target funds to the neediest kids The NAACP cites resource equity as an education priority, but how does placing a moratorium on charter schools help kids in need when many of the state’s neediest children are either enrolled in, or waitlisted to attend, public charter schools? Action must be taken to provide equitable funding for all children in New Jersey’s public schools, but this problem stems from faulty funding plans and their execution, not from the presence of charter schools. A 2010 study showed that in New Jersey, public charter schools receive fewer dollars per student than traditional public schools, while lacking funding for facilities and access to public school construction programs. This leaves many public charter schools struggling with their own funding gaps even as they serve some of our state’s neediest kids.

Ensuring college and career readiness: A path to success after graduation for all students College and career readiness is an NAACP goal for all students. Great charter schools are doing their part to address this. Knowing that many students enroll but don’t graduate from college, public charter schools like TEAM Academy commit to supporting their students to and through college. A former TEAM parent I know was pleased to hear from her college freshman that he was visited by a TEAM college-support counselor within his first month on campus. And recently, Marion P. Thomas Charter School opened a High School of Culinary and Performing Arts and launched a fashion institute there, expanding pathways for students’ postsecondary success. The NAACP would do well to promote the efforts of these great college and career-readiness programs in public charter schools, rather than seeking to stifle their further growth.

Improving Teaching: Growing our own great teachers now in underserved communities The NAACP has a goal of developing great teachers in underserved communities. Uncommon Schools, a charter school organization with schools in New Jersey, has already embarked on such an effort. They are doing so in part with their robust Summer Teaching Fellows program, recruiting many fellows from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Several of the students in this program are Uncommon Schools’ graduates eager to rejoin their underserved communities of origin as teachers. This program is precisely the sort that the NAACP should be seeking to replicate rather than trying to curtail it by flatlining the growth of public charter schools.

Discipline: Eliminate zero tolerance; keep kids in school (applied to turnaround schools) Finally, the NAACP has placed a focus on discipline policies to keep more children in school. Having just left the role of New Jersey’s chief turnaround officer, tracking suspension data in hundreds of traditional public schools, I know that there are bloated and uneven school suspension rates impacting black and brown children across the state. This problem is not yet solved but by the NAACP’s charter school yardstick, it appears a moratorium on further student enrollment in these traditional public schools is warranted until the problem is fully studied and corrected. The NAACP has not called for such a moratorium.

Since the NAACP’s mission includes ensuring the educational equality rights of all people, any public school bringing us closer to such equality should be able to serve more kids, whether it is a public charter school or a traditional public school. Rather than acting in contradiction to its own goals, the NAACP should use these goals as guides to employ a disciplined, unbiased approach that applies to all public schools.

Regardless of its practical impact, the NAACP’s moratorium on charters makes faulty assumptions about people living in poverty or with limited financial means. The organization wrongfully assumes that it has a better grasp of what children need to thrive than their own mothers and fathers. This paternalistic view of New Jersey’s families is disrespectful to parents and detrimental to their kids.