In October, the NAACP ratified a resolution supporting a nationwide moratorium on charter schools — garnering both criticism and praise. On Saturday afternoon, both sides came together.
The NAACP’s National Task Force for Education Quality held the first of seven hearings, at the Omni Hotel in New Haven, Connecticut, seeking input from their members, parents and teachers. The task force was organized by the NAACP’s National Board of Directors after the charter school resolution was ratified.
At times heated, over 200 attendees looked on for nearly four hours while both sides debated the merits of charter schools. One agreement did seem to emerge: While the room was deeply divided, many spoke of quality as paramount — unfortunately, it was the facts where viewpoints diverged.
The “elephant in the room”
“Being pro-public does not mean I’m anti-charter,” said Ph.D. Edward Joyner, a member of the New Haven Board of Education, who was one of six expert speakers at the event. “But, there should be quality indicators.”
Joyner, who said he fully supported the NAACP resolution, argued that charter schools were not being held to the same standards as district schools. His argument fell in line with other “pro-public” speakers, who decried charter schools for allegedly diverting resources away from district schools while cherry-picking their students.
On the other side of the issue, charter school advocates denied cherry-picking — something which Connecticut’s NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile called the “elephant in the room.”
Cherry-picking, or expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate was actually among the five recommendation laid out by the NAACP’s charter resolution.
“The notion that public schools engage in any type of segregation is absolutely false,” said Jeremiah Grace, the Executive Director of Northeast Charter School Network, in response to the NAACP’s recommendation. “Public charter schools have no legal or possible way of selecting their students. Admission is determined by a blind lottery.”
Not everyone agreed. Shonta Browdy, chair of the NAACP Greater Hartford branch’s education committee, who also spoke at the hearing, said she’s witnessed local charter schools counsel out students. “They come in droves,” she said of low-performing students pushed back into the public school system after October 1st.
The story may be more complicated.
When asked about admission to his school, Dr. Steve Perry, founder of Capital Prep Magnet in Hartford and Capital Prep Harbor Charter School Bridgeport, said that students were admitted by lottery. He then explained that no matter the school, a certain level of support must be granted to students with IEPs, though even district schools send some students with severe needs out of the district to private outplacements.
Perry’s not wrong. Bridgeport Public Schools, for example, spends $16,150,000 on tuition for students in out of district placements. While there has been anecdotal evidence that certain schools have “counseled” students out, most studies have not found any compelling evidence this is an overarching trend.
The focus on school type is a distraction
Yale University Professor of Child Psychiatry James Comer took a different position. To Comer, the NAACP’s focus on school type was a distraction from the real problem. “That’s not the problem.”
The real problem, in Comer’s view, is that schools are not child development centered. “The energy that we lose by focusing on the wrong thing is not available to focus on providing experiences that would support the development of children,” said Comer.
Others echoed Comer’s sentiments — “This is not an either/or debate,” argued Grace during his testimony. “In fact, this is a with/and situation, in which black families should have the right to choose the school environment that will best serve the needs of their children.”
“I couldn’t imagine a world where the NAACP says let’s pause. Let’s have a moratorium on the Harlem Children Zone or Community Roots in Brooklyn, or all these wonderful and lovely charters schools that are doing great work by our students” said Tenicka Boyd, a New York City parent and organizer for Students First NYC.
“This doesn’t exist in a world of power points and statistics,” said Boyd while describing the situation of parents she works with. “This impacts real students and real students lives.”
In case you’d like to view it, the entire NAACP Task Force On Education Quality hearing on charter schools can be viewed here.