Was NAACP Duped?

A sign with the logo of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP), is seen during a rally at the
A sign with the logo of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP), is seen during a rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall June 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. The event focused on voting rights and civil rights. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

They probably had their press releases ready. Despite the full-court lobbying, the charter fans had to have an idea which way the wind was blowing. And so when the NAACP announced the official, full-throated adoption of the call for a charter moratorium, charter fans were ready to explain why it should be ignored.

As always, nobody leapt in with less nuance or modulation than Jeanne Allen at the Center for Education Reform. In an email subject-lined "NAACP Caves To Union Pressure," Allen made it clear that the NAACP has been pressured, duped, and kept in the dark about The Truth.

This is yet another case of a group being intimidated by unions, and being misinformed about how opportunities for poor children, in particular, and minorities, are best served by the kinds of choices that charter schools offer.

This theme runs through most of the charter-flavored responses to the NAACP resolution. Take Jondre Pryor, a KIPP principal who once met an actual NAACP person thereby allowing him to see just how ignorant the NAACP is of What Is Really Going On.

I came to understand the NAACP's position a little better when I attended a panel on education with several of my KIPP colleagues and when I talked one-on-one with several delegates. It became clear that misinformation was the basis for their opposition. They had heard stories about a few bad charter schools, and they were using that to judge all 6,800 schools in the movement. 

As Jim Horn has pointed out, one of the stories they might have heard was the story of Pryor's own school, where angry parents withdrew students over allegations of mistreatment and the Atlanta newspaper running a photo of KIPP students sitting on the floor, working toward the magic day when they would be judged compliant enough to "earn" a desk.

The NAACP resolution is actually pretty restrained. The NAACP hasn't rejected charters (they specifically state they aren't doing this because of charter opposition), or called for a roll back. They've called for four issues to be settled before the charter train gets rolling again:

1) Charters should be subject to the same transparency and accountability as public schools

2) Public funds should not be diverted to charters at the expense of public schools

3) Charter schools should stop suspending and ejecting students that a public school is obligated to serve

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.

These are four odd things for charter fans to object to. For #1, calls to hold bad charters accountable are now a staple of charter fans (see for instance this call from charter supporters for cybers to get their act together). Keeping charters accountable and closing the bad ones is a basic part of the sale pitch. Numbers 2 and 3 are regularly denied. Just check out the #YesOn2 folks in Massachusetts claiming that more charters will mean more money for all schools. Every time a story breaks about charters pushing out students, the response is not justification, but denial. Faced with the Got To Go list, Eva Moskowitz mostly claimed that her charters do no such thing. As for Number 4, with the exception of that wacky Mike Petrilli, this is once again a thing that charter fans claim they don't do.

In short, it's not entirely clear why the charter PR muscle isn't behind a push to say, "We think the NAACP's concerns are legitimate, and that's why we already mostly don't do these things, except for a few bad actors that we want to see closed, too." Why, really, are they freaking out?

If I had to guess (and, of course, I do), I'd say the freak-outery is that this is a PR set-back. The charter movement depends a lot on the ability of the rich white guys pushing charters to be able to gesture at some Actual Black Persons who support charters and agree that charters are the best thing that white folks have ever done for them. This whole holleration is not about policy or politics, but instead centers on their bastard child, PR optics.

It may be simpler than that. Many of the charter backers are in it to make money. A moratorium on launching new charters would hurt their bottom line, and they are simply businessmen who have hit an obstacle to expanding their business revenue. It's PR perhaps with a side of money-grubbing.

But charter fans do have options here. They could, instead of arguing that the NAACP can be dismissed because they are now ignorant dupes, actually listen to what they're saying.

I say this as someone on the Support Public Ed side of the debate, where many of us really blew it in the early stages by suggesting that support for charters among parents of color was only happening because they had been misinformed and duped. But they weren't. They were responding to what looked like the best available solution to the problem of underfunded, under-resourced, just generally crappy poor schools.

The lesson for some of us? It's a mistake to dismiss someone's concerns just because you disagree with their method of addressing those concerns. If someone comes running out of a building wearing a tin hat and shouting, "I'm wearing this tine hat because the building is on fire," discussing the anti-fire efficacy of tin hats is useful, but denying the flames shooting out of windows is not.

So if charter fans were smart, they would look at things like the NAACP resolution and say, "Well, we clearly have some problems that need to be addressed, because these folks are certainly responding to something that they see going on." They could look at this as something more than a lost skirmish in a PR battle, but an opportunity to gather some actual information.

Or Allen and her posse can keep trying to write off the NAACP as a group of ignorant dupes, blame it all on the teachers' union, and keep wondering why, even though they've thrown away their tin hats, everything feels so very warm.

Originally posted at Curmudgucation