After calling for a national moratorium on charter schools until certain concerns were addressed (see below), the NAACP received blowback from charter school advocates. But Jitu Brown, of the Journey for Justice, defended the moratorium in the Washington Post's education blog, the Answer Sheet, saying, "corporate reform has failed to bring equitable educational opportunities to all children."
This hearing was one in a series, a listening tour, making its way across the country.
The distinguished members of the Task Force, all pre-eminent civil rights leaders in cities from Boston to Sacramento, states from Mississippi to Minnesota, gathered testimony from people with direct experience of the issues the moratorium seeks to provide the breathing room to address.
There was massive organized presence by charter advocates. One charter supporter stacked the speaker sign-up sheet with people who would speak against the moratorium, by copying a typed-up charter school roster she had brought.
The unions showed up, too. UTLA brought a contingent from Dorsey High School and CSEA came. The Santa Ana Teachers Association’s charter school task force came. Former Education Chair of the California Assembly, Jackie Goldberg, gave public comment.
I was part of a group of the California Badass Teachers Association (BATs), a grassroots group of about 2000 teachers and education activists. I testified as a recovering charter school parent, but what I heard was more important than anything I said.
I go anywhere that people are willing to talk about what charter schools are doing to public education because of their lack of oversight. Few official bodies in California, and perhaps none in Los Angeles, will openly discuss the need for charter school oversight for fear of the powerful California Charter Schools Association lobby (Gubernatorial candidate and California State Treasurer John Chiang is a rare exception).
So the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in our country, provided us with a rare opportunity. I was grateful for my two minutes at the mic.
When the charter advocates in the back of the room shouted me down, Alice Huffman, the chair, promptly regained order.
I’m sure for some in the audience it wasn’t my anti-charter message that got them riled up. Some were rightly suspicious of a white westsider telling them anything about educating urban, black youth. Heck, my own school board member’s chief-of-staff told me not to go to school board meetings, and to find a Latina instead, because it made things awkward for him in our primarily Latino district.
But I didn’t come to tell them anything about educating black youth. I came to share how charter schools are being used in my neighborhood to segregate our schools.
The west side of Los Angeles had, for a while, more charter schools than anywhere else on the planet (that distinction now belongs to South LA). In my neighborhood, charter schools marketed themselves to white, middle class families as a way to send their kids to school without “those kids”. Of course, they phrased it differently. At the charter elementary school my kids attended, we considered our mostly white, middle class school community to be “like minded".
That’s where better oversight might have turned good intentions into fairer access for all children, not just mine. That is what I wanted to tell the NAACP task force.
After my children transferred to the district middle school across the street, we drove past the charter school every day. One day, my then 11-year old daughter looked out at the charter students during our drive to school and said, “why was my elementary school almost all white and my middle school is almost all black and brown?”
Remember, these two schools were separated only by a little street. The middle school was half Latino and half African American. There, my children’s race was indicated as “statistically insignificant” on demographic reports one year. It was a neighborhood school and a magnet school, part of LAUSD's voluntary integration program, for black and Latino children living in parts of the city beleaguered by poverty, violence, and other harms of racial isolation.
Yet LAUSD has approved nearly every charter school that has been proposed to compete with that school, and offered little of extra support to our neighborhood schools. There's no question that charters deserve credit for pushing district schools to step up, but the charter brand also benefits from a grass-is-greener mentality among parents. More choices mean fewer students in each school. That, in turn, means less funding in district schools which results in fewer elective classes and less support.
I am grateful to the NAACP for the opportunity to share my experience.
However, far more important than my comments were those made by the Task Force members themselves. (I’m counting on the formal presenters like LAUSD board member George McKenna, California NAACP education chair Julian Vasquez Heilig, Green Dot's Cristina de Jesus, and UTLA's Cecily Myart Cruz, to post their presentations on their own widely read blogs and other forums.)
The room was mostly cleared out by the time the committee members made their closing remarks. Unsurprisingly, they revealed deeply thought out views by pre-eminent civil rights leaders who are immersed in the issues of equity for black youth in regions across the country. Their thorough understanding of the charter school issue shone in stark contrast to some op eds that have portrayed the NAACP as out of touch with its members.
Here is a transcript of their closing remarks.
Michael Curry is a civil rights leader in Boston, an attorney and President of the nation’s oldest NAACP chapter. He has been involved in redistricting, pushed for Police body cameras and helped to press for a federal inquiry into racial incidents at an elite Boston school.
…about their history and about Du Bois and Booker T and Marcus Garvey. Excellent school. So I think the conversation is somewhat twisted. Because people believe that they’re here to tell us not to oppose charter schools, and that’s a false premise. This was never about opposing charter schools. I think we need to lift that up again. That this was a conversation about a traditional public education system that we fight all the time. Another false perception. We fight unions at times about policies. We fight school systems. We just sued--not sued--we brought a civil rights complaint against the Boston Public Schools just a few months ago, and had a civil rights finding against the Boston Public Schools. So it’s not like we don’t fight on the other side too. This is about, now you have a new evolving system.
And I love to hear the great stories, but what I need to hear from the charter advocates for expansion is that you have problems, too, and how you’re going to work together to solve the problems within this new system. It’s disingenuous if you come and tell a great story about what’s happening in your school, but right down the street, is another charter school that’s expelling kids, suspending kids, not accepting kids, not enrolling kids. And as you have this national conversation about charter schools, let’s keep it real. It’s a problem. It doesn’t mean that your school—that it’s an attack on your personal school but we’ve got to have an honest conversation about what’s going on across the country. My last point on that is I’m always concerned about any new, evolving solution that’s finding us by people who don’t look like us and people who quite frankly wasn’t on the front lines of solving public education since the problem before. So it makes me question why they’re putting this money where they wouldn’t put this money when we were fighting traditional public school. We were asking for higher funding, and trying to pass legislation and bring lawsuits. They weren’t there. But now, all the sudden, they’re putting all this money behind charters. You need to ask that question. I don’t know what the answer is, but I look forward to having that conversation soon.