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Kristina Rizga: Why Did Black Lives Matter and the NAACP Call for a Moratorium on Charter Schools?

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Kristina Rizga, staff writer at Mother Jones, wrote about the decision by Black Lives Matter and the NAACP to call for a moratorium on new charter schools. Their statements agitated Democrats for Education Reform, and its executive director Shavar Jeffries expressed his disappointment, as did the Black Alliance for Educational Options, which supports both charters and vouchers. US News & World Report treated the disagreement as a fissure among communities of color and asked (in the link, if not in the article), “who speaks for communities of color?” A provocative question since DFER is comprised of white hedge-fund managers, who hired Shavar Jeffries–an African-American lawyer, as its spokesmen. It would be a reach, if not a bad joke, to say that the hedge fund managers of DFER speak for communities of color. BAEO is headed by Howard Fuller, an articulate African American who was trained as a social worker and served for a time as superintendent in Milwaukee; BAEO is funded by the Bradley Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and other rightwing advocates of school choice. Who speaks for communities of color?

Rizga, who wrote an excellent book about a struggling public high school in San Francisco, writes here:

A few weeks ago, the Movement for Black Lives, the network that also includes Black Lives Matter organizers, released its first-ever policy agenda. Among the organization’s six demands and dozens of policy recommendations was a bold education-related stance: a moratorium on both charter schools and public school closures. Charters, the agenda argues, represent a shift of public funds and control over to private entities. Along with “an end to the privatization of education,” the Movement for Black Lives organizers are demanding increased investments in traditional community schools and the health and social services they provide.

The statement came several weeks after another civil rights titan, the NAACP, also passed a resolution, calling for a freeze on the growth of charter schools. The NAACP had equated charters with privatization in previous resolutions, but this year’s statement—which will not become policy until the National Board meeting in the fall—represents the strongest anti-charter language to date, according to Julian Vasquez Heilig, a professor of education leadership and education chair of the NAACP’s California State Conference. “The NAACP is really concerned about unregulated growth of charter schools, and says it’s time to pause and take stock,” says Vasquez Heilig, who posted a copy of the resolution on his blog.

Such policy positions come at a time when parents, legislators, and philanthropists across the country—from Boston to Philadelphia to Los Angeles—are embroiled in fierce debates over the role of charters, particularly in poor, urban areas where most of these schools have been growing. Since 2000, the number of charters more than tripled, from about 1.7 percent to 6.2 percent of public schools.

Charter proponents—including prominent black educators like Secretary of Education John King Jr., Geoffrey Canada, and Steve Perry—argue that legislators need to continue this momentum for “choice” and competition among schools, citing the high test scores and college acceptance letters that many charter schools deliver. “We should not have artificial barriers to the growth of charters that are good,” King told reporters at the recent annual National Association of Black Journalists–National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention, adding that “charters should be a part of the public school landscape and can be a driver of opportunity for kids.”

Skeptics counter that charter schools contribute to racial and socioeconomic segregation, and that high percentages of charter school students in poor, urban districts can also contribute to the fiscal stress and the downward spiral of the traditional schools. Throughout the country, Vasquez Heilig noted, state charter laws vary dramatically: Some charter schools find ways to exclude disadvantaged children; others are created with explicit commitment to serve the most disadvantaged students. Vasquez Heilig argued that a moratorium would allow the public to investigate current practices and promote those that work the best.

“It’s time to pause and investigate: Should there be so many entities that are allowed to open them?” he said. “If you are not an educator, should you be allowed to open a charter school? Is there a due process for parents who feel that their kids were pushed out? How do charters schools make decisions about firing and hiring? How do they spend public money?”

Rizga then cites the major concerns about charters and their impact on children of color: cherrypicking; exclusion and suspension of students who might lower test scores; unregulated growth and lack of oversight; high suspension rates of students of color and students with disabilities; loss of resources by traditional public schools, which enroll most students.

Most significant in these developments is the fact that critics within the black community recognize that charter schools are a means of privatizing public education. The loss of public schools is a loss of democratic control and parent voice, and that does not bode well for communities of color, which already have trouble being heard by corporations and elites.

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