Feds Spar With NAACP Over Criticism of Charter Schools
The civil rights group blames the schools for many ills, including resegregation of classrooms.
In Cincinnati last week, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for a national moratorium on charter schools, declaring their proliferation in poor, urban neighborhoods the educational equivalent of “predatory lending practices” responsible for issues ranging from unequal discipline to school resegregation.
Education Secretary John King pushed back on the NAACP’s declaration in Washington on Thursday, insisting there shouldn’t be “artificial barriers” to the growth of quality, taxpayer-funded, locally controlled schools that are “drivers of opportunity for kids.”
There are “places around the country that you will find characters that are closing the achievement gap, charters that are sending all of their students on to college when the local neighborhood school is sending hardly any students on to college,” King told reporters at the annual National Association of Black Journalists–National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention, just hours after the NAACP approved its resolution in Baltimore.
Still, “there are charters that are not good, and states need to act to improve those schools or close those schools,” King said in a one-on-one interview with journalist Maria Hinojosa. “So our role at the federal level is to both encourage the creation of schools that are good and also encourage charter operators to take their responsibility to act” when schools come up short.
The one-day, long-distance debate between King, the top education official in the country, and the NAACP, arguably the nation’s most august civil rights organization, mirrors the national controversy around charter schools.
As cash-strapped states and school districts struggle to adequately fund public schools, particularly in urban areas, the appetite for charters has grown among policy makers and education reformers (and like-minded conservative politicians).
Supporters point to charters as a way for communities, parents, and educators to work together, creating a coherent, tailored plan to teach kids based on where they live and what they need. They argue that charters offer parents in struggling neighborhoods a choice, increasing competition for failing traditional public schools.
Opponents, however, say the charter school system sacrifices accountability—and the fight between affluent and poor districts for equitable school funding—on the altar of local control. With less accountability, they say, those schools have a reputation of shortchanging students, mismanaging publicly funded budgets, and overworking teachers, with little government oversight.
According to the U.S. Department of Education,the number of charter schools nationwide has more than tripled since 2000, from 1.7 percent to 6.2 percent, with the total number of public charter schools increasing from 1,500 to 6,100. They also got bigger over the same time. The number of schools that have between 500 and 1,000 students doubled, from 11 percent to 22 percent.