NAACP report finds ‘wide range of problems’ with charter schools

By Benjamin Wermund, POLITICO

After calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion last year, the NAACP is releasing a highly anticipated report Wednesday that finds a “wide range of problems” with the schools.

“While there are certainly some charter schools serving students well, there are also a wide range of problems with the operation of charters across the country that require attention,” the report says. It calls for the elimination of for-profit operators and for tougher oversight, and stresses the need to “protect students from failing schools and create more high quality schools, regardless of the school’s structure.”

The report comes as race has emerged as a focal point in ongoing sparring over White House efforts to expand school choice policies. While most arguments have centered on private school vouchers, the NAACP’s charter schools stance is significant, in part, because charters — for which the Trump administration wants to boost funding — are very popular among many black parents.

Approximately 837,000 black students attended charter schools during the 2016-17 school year, according to the report. That’s more than one-quarter of charter school enrollment, while black students make up just 15 percent of the nation’s overall enrollment.

“All children deserve the choice of a good neighborhood public school,” the report says. “Public schools must be public. They must serve all children equitably and well. To the extent that they are part of our public education system, charter schools must be designed to serve these ends.”

The report is the result of the work of the NAACP Task Force on Quality Education, which was formed after the charter moratorium request. The group was initially tasked with studying only charters, but its aim was expanded after President Donald Trump was elected.

“Based upon the United States President-Elect’s campaign promise to expand privatization of public education, the officers were concerned that the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education victory that promised a quality education for all was at risk,” the report says. The task force held a series of listening sessions in citiesnationwide, including in New Haven, Conn., Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and New York.

The report says that each hearing’s participants “emphasized the need to protect students from failing schools and create more high quality schools, regardless of the school’s structure.” But, it says, “while high quality, accountable and accessible charters can contribute to educational opportunity, by themselves, even the best charters are not a substitute for more stable, adequate and equitable investments in public education in the communities that serve our children.”

The report calls for the elimination of for-profit charter schools, saying “allowing for-profit entities to operate schools creates an inherent conflict of interest.” It also calls for more rigorous authorizing and renewal charter processes.

“States with the fewest authorizers have been found to have the strongest charter school outcomes,” the report says. “To do this, states should allow only districts to serve as authorizers, empower those districts to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight.”

Much of the report focuses on funding. It calls for “more equitable and adequate funding for all schools serving students of color” and for an investment in “low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity to close the achievement gap.” The report also says school finance reform is needed and calls for states to model funding formulas off Massachusetts and California. The federal government should additionally enforce all funding-equity provisions in Every Student Succeeds Act, the report says.

The NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter expansion last year drew strong resistance. The New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards urged the NAACP to think twice before passing the resolution. Charter school groups, such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, urged their members to call the NAACP and tell them to shoot down the resolution.

Those tensions were highlighted this week, when Howard Fuller, a civil rights activist, former Milwaukee schools superintendent and founder of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, blasted the NAACP’s call.

The NAACP has the right to express its opposition to charter schools, Fuller said, but thousands of parents have already shown their support.

“I’m a strong supporter of the NAACP,” he said. “But the reality is, the NAACP doesn’t represent all black people in this country.”

Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.

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