NAACP Calls for an End to For-Profit Charter Schools and Wider Rollback on Charter Sector Autonomy

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An NAACP task force has recommended an end to for-profit charter schools and reforms that would take away much of the autonomy charters enjoy by holding them to many of the same rules required of traditional district schools.

“Having heard all of the testimony, we have concluded that while there definitely are some good charter schools in our country that are serving scholars well … there are some problems with the operations of some charter schools across our country that truly require attention,” said DaQuan Love, a task force member and administrator at a Minnesota charter school.

The report hits on many of the criticisms commonly leveled at charter schools regarding discipline, funding, and selection and retention of only the brightest students. The release follows a call by the organization last year for a moratorium on new charter schools, which set off a firestorm in the education reform movement, and a seven-city tour by the task force to gather information about charters.

(The 74: NAACP to Deliver Blow to Charter Schools Today After Public Hearings Critics Say Were Setups)

Some NAACP leaders at Wednesday’s convention were candid in their charter school criticism.

Interim President and CEO Derrick Johnson, who said he is “absolutely opposed to charter schools,” urged the group not to “get caught into the charter-versus-public argument” but said he sees the need for charters in urban districts where “state legislative bodies are also undermining public schools as well.”

NAACP advocates should work on the real issue of quality education for all children and “not get sidelined of this one [school] versus that one, when the only one [issue] is the center and that’s quality for all,” he added.

Charter advocates say there’s been too much misinformation surrounding the debate.

Leaders haven’t acknowledged the huge numbers of black families choosing charter schools and black leaders and organizations running them, Ron Rice, senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said in an interview Tuesday afternoon ahead of the report’s release.

“It seems that this organization, in trying to chart a course in education in the 21st century, which I commend them for, is missing the forest for the trees,” he said.

People of goodwill both within the NAACP and the charter movement will find a way to come together for the good of children, he said: “We need to provide a quality education for our children by any means necessary, no matter what adult interest it hurts, hinders, or puts to the side.”

Roquel Crutcher sits on both ends of the debate: She has been a lifelong member of the NAACP, serves on the Washington, D.C., chapter’s executive committee, and started a chapter at her alma mater, American University. She’s also an alumna of KIPP Memphis and currently works in government affairs for the KIPP Foundation. The 22-year-old said Tuesday afternoon she was “shocked” by the call for a moratorium.

“The tension is something I don’t understand,” she said.

She asked an education panel yesterday how the two camps could move past the issue to improve outcomes for black children — everyone’s ultimate goal.

Though she didn’t get a real answer, she’s optimistic, she said.

“We are all here because we want to advance black people who historically have not been advanced,” she said. “I see a finish line, and I just want to start the conversation. I want to keep the conversation going. I think we will get there.”

Report aims to hold charters to district standards

The report recommends the end to both for-profit charter schools and for-profit charter management organizations.

“The widespread finding of misconduct and poor student performance in for-profit charter schools demand the elimination of these schools. Moreover, allowing for-profit entities to operate schools creates an inherent conflict of interest,” the report says.

A study released in June found that for-profit charter schools are less likely to improve student achievement than nonprofit charter schools or traditional public schools.

Representatives of for-profit charter schools were not immediately available for comment.

Among specific recommendations, the group said only school districts should authorize charter schools, arguing that “states with the fewest authorizers have been found to have the strongest charter school outcomes.”

Many charter supporters agree on the need for stronger authorizing but fear that putting that power solely in the hands of local school districts could shut down charter growth since district schools often see charters as competitors for enrollment and per-pupil dollars.

(The 74: Richmond — Autonomy or Accountability? Good Charter School Authorizing Means Balancing the Two)

Other recommendations state that charters should:

• Be held to the “same standards when it comes to access and retention of students as traditional public schools” and be held to the same accountability system as district schools.

• Have an “open enrollment process” that requires charters to accept students regardless of educational or behavioral history or needs, and ban “essays, complicated enrollment forms and ‘suggested’ parent donations.”

• Be forbidden from “counseling out” or expelling struggling students.

• “Backfill” by replacing students who do leave with those on waiting lists.

• Employ certified teachers.

• Create and use transparent discipline guidelines and reporting systems.

Besides the NAACP, there was another organizational force at play: teachers unions, which traditionally oppose charters and have been longtime financial supporters of the NAACP.

Representatives of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s two largest teachers unions, spoke before the task force presented its report.

“We are connecting the dots. We have to be partners, and education is an area where the partnerships have to be multiple. So we’re partnering with AFT, NEA; we’re supportive of programs that keep our communities engaged with our schools,” said Leon Russell, chairman of the group’s board of directors.

Of the task force, Becky Pringle, vice president of the NEA, said that “their courageous leadership could not be more important at such a pivotal time in America.” President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are staunch supporters of school choice, including private school vouchers, and their broader agenda has alienated many progressives.

But the alliance between the nation’s most storied civil rights organization and the teachers union in their opposition to charters — and recents remarks tying school choice to racism — brought a fierce rebuke from other black school leaders who see it more as political maneuvering than protecting children.

(The 74: ‘This Is About Power and Control’: Advocates Push Back on Weingarten for Linking School Choice to Segregation)

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in a statement thanked the group for acknowledging charter schools’ value and agreed that many public schools, district and charter, serving children of color have been inequitably funded compared to public schools attended by affluent, white children.

She noted that 82 percent of black parents in an alliance survey favored school choice, that more than 800,000 black students were now enrolled in charter schools — a higher percentage than attend district schools — and that thousands of parents signed a letter last fall to the NAACP supporting public charter schools.

Citing a 2015 CREDO report, Rees said black charter school students gained 36 days of learning in math and 26 in reading over their traditional public school peers, while for black students living in poverty, the gains were 59 days in math and 44 in reading.

“In communities where public schools have underserved families for generations, the best charter schools are showing something better is possible. The NAACP has always pushed for better, and we invite the organization to lock arms with us as believers in public education,” she said. “Charter schools alone cannot right all wrongs in our nation’s education system, just as they should not be exclusively blamed for them. As the report says, quoting charter school leader Cristina de Jesus, ‘A bad school is our common enemy.’ ”

The task force recommended several follow-up items for the NAACP, including creating a coalition of like-minded national groups and seeking negotiations with national policymakers. They also sent members home with a pamphlet of information, including model legislation.

The Walton Family Foundation provides funding to The 74,  is a “major convention sponsor” of the NAACP conference, and funds CREDO’s charter school research.

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