The NAACP made news last week when it called for a moratorium on public charter schools, while a coalition of over 50 other groups called the Movement For Black Lives proposed “An End to the Privatization of Education.” In effect this would mean an end to charter schools that today serve millions of low-income children of color.
In doing so these groups, one a legacy civil rights organization and the other a post-civil rights era “social justice movement,” have provided white liberals freedom to ignore the real concerns Black parents have with low quality traditional public schools.
Missing from both platforms is the voice of Black people who choose charter schools, students who are well served by them, educators who work in them, or staff working in education philanthropies that support them. All of those voices qualify as “Black lives,” but, as educational minorities, they are denied their place in two major forums of Black thought. That just won’t work.
I am one of those parents who chose a charter school and my choice was deeply personal, and practical. Our family needed an option when the traditional school district offered us a small selection of poorly performing schools, checked out teachers, low expectations, and lousy results. We saw a path out and we took it.
Every parent wants their children to do better in life and charter schools are sometimes an attractive option. In fact, when Brilliant Corners Research polled Black parents last year they found 72% of them favored charter schools.
A 2015 poll by Education Post found a similar percentage of Black parents who agreed that “charter schools offer parents in low-income communities options for quality schools that would be otherwise inaccessible to them.”
Findings like these are repeated time and again. The Boston Globe polled Black parents this past April and also found strong support for charter schools.
One study of Black charter school parents in Ohio found, “the main reason parents withdrew their children from the local traditional public school was to improve the quality of education their students were receiving. Parents defined “quality of education” as smaller class sizes, better teachers, teacher familiarity, a sense of belonging, one-on-one attention, and supportive staff.”
Research tells us low-income students attending urban charter schools tend to do better. That drives many of us to choose try them as a path out of schools that often fail to keep our kids progressing academically.
A report by Stanford’s CREDO found “charter schools in the aggregate provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers.”
Millions of black students, teachers, principals, and advocates working in education prefer charter schools, but we are constantly marginalized out of view as if there is no good reason to exercise our choice on behalf of our children. Recent actions by the NAACP and M4BL only further push us to the fringes.
It’s also dishonest. You can’t talk so much about “democracy” and “voter suppression” when you’re actively suppressing the voices of educational minorities. How is it wise to get between us and the schools we haves determined are right for our kids?
As a card carrying member of the NAACP and a Gen X adviser, confidant, and supporter of activists in the Black Lives Matter movement, I fully support both groups putting forth solid policy solutions to end mass incarceration, curb surging student loan debt, and fight voter suppression, among other important issues critical to improving black communities. But, when they attack my school choice, we have a problem.
Both the NAACP and the M4BL want to limit or end the existence of charter schools, they say, because school reform strips “Black people of the right to self-determine the kind of education their children receive.”
They really need to check themselves. Charters are self-determination and the organizations fighting them are funded by teacher unions and billionaire donors who want to take away the rights of Black parents to choose the best education for their children.
They are pitting one group of black parents against another in an attend to defend a misfiring education system that has left too many of us behind. To me, that says that they believe that only some black lives matter—not mine.
Chris Stewart is Director of External Affairs with Education Post, a former elected member of Minneapolis’ Board of Education, a 2014 Bush Fellow, and publisher of Citizen.Education, a weekly alternative blog on education.