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June 2011
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NAACP On the Wrong Side of the School Reform Movement

Credit: Amsterdam News

By Reginald Richardson | Email the author | June 12, 2011

Our education columnist speaks out

In a desperate bid for relevance, the storied National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has inserted itself into the charter school debate and are, in my opinion, walking in through the wrong door.

Last year the NAACP joined the teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), in a lawsuit against New York City and the Department of Education (DOE) to prevent the DOE from closing public schools that were deemed to be failing. It was the desire of the DOE to replace these schools with new smaller government-run schools or new privately operated charter schools.

The UFT and the NAACP won that fight. The court ruled that the schools remain open, because the city violated the rules regarding timely public notification of the closings.

This year, the city moved to close those schools, as well as additional failing schools. Once again, the UFT and the NAACP have initiated a lawsuit to stop the school closings.

When Hazel Dukes, President of the New York State Chapter of the NAACP, received an email from a charter school parent pleading with her to halt the lawsuit to close failing schools, Ms. Dukes responded by saying that the parent was “doing the business of slave masters” by supporting the expansion of charter schools.

When called on these inflammatory statements, Dukes refused to back down, saying, “In a public school, I want everything to be equitable. We shouldn’t have a dividing line. In my humble opinion, that is segregation.”

The NAACP’s participation in the lawsuit to keep failing schools open is a stunning contradiction of its long history of fighting to ensure that people of color have access to quality educational opportunities.

The animus that the NAACP has aimed toward charter schools seems to be misdirected.

For one, charter schools are public schools. They receive public funding and are open to all students.  Because there is such great demand, they usually admit students through a lottery process.

What makes charters different from the traditional government run school is that they are mostly run by private organizations and are not bound by the union work rules and bureaucratic red tape.

This allows charters to hire the most qualified teachers and school leaders, regardless of seniority or tenure considerations.  Teachers who are not effective can be dismissed without the cumbersome process that government-run schools must endure.

They are also able to be innovative in terms of curriculum and scheduling in ways that government-run schools cannot ever hope to be.

The second problem that the NAACP has in its campaign to keep failing schools open is that it’s African-American and Latino students who are the ones trapped in these schools.

The biggest beneficiaries of the charter school movement have been African- American and Latino students.  Parents desperate to escape their failing neighborhood zoned public schools have applied in droves to get their children into the few charter school seats that are available.

This fact, in effect, pits the NAACP against its own constituents.  Last month, thousands of Harlem residents held a rally protesting the NAACP’s support of the lawsuit to keep open failing schools and stop the expansion of successful charter schools.

The involvement of the UFT in these proceedings makes perfect sense.  Since charter schools are largely union free, the closure of poorly performing schools and the expansion of charter schools means a reduction in the number of dues paying UFT members which affects their powerbase as well as their pocket books.

The involvement of the NAACP in this suit however is much more baffling.  How is it that an organization that has earned the respect of communities of color for its tireless advocacy for access to opportunity now seeks to block the best opportunity for our children to receive a quality education?

To characterize the parents who seek to take advantage of this opportunity as the tools of “slave masters” is a case of self-serving historical revisionism.

The slave master was responsible for severely punishing, and in some cases putting to death, any black person who learned to read, write or calculate.  The parents who support the expansion of charter schools are seeking to do the opposite.  They are trying to expand the learning opportunities that are available to their children.

It appears that the NAACP values its alliance with the UFT over the best interests of their own constituents.  It is one thing to advocate for increasing resources to government run public schools.  It is quite another to insist that schools that have done a poor job of educating our children remain open.

The NAACP’s fight to ensure that our children have access to “equally” bad schools is at best misguided and at worst self-defeating.

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NAACP to Support Unions at Image Awards But Must Do More



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