Last fall, the NAACP, the country’s oldest civil rights organization, called for a moratorium on expanding public charter schools until the charter sector, troubled in a number of states, is reformed and steps are taken to ensure that traditional public school districts are not financially harmed by the spread of charters. It was a controversial position for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which was blasted by charter school supporters, including other civil rights groups, but praised by public education advocates.
The NAACP then created a 12-member task force to travel to seven cities to take testimony about charters, which are publicly funded but privately run, as well as about the quality of education for children of color in inner-city schools. The task force report, released Wednesday, sticks by the organization’s recommendation while also talks about problems in traditional inner-city public schools.
In the report, which includes recommendations for moving ahead, the panel’s 12 members stuck by the recommendation, setting out the issue early in the report:
“Charter schools were created with more flexibility because they were expected to innovate and infuse new ideas and creativity into the traditional public school system. However, this aspect of the promise never materialized. Many traditional inner city public schools are failing the children who attend them, thus causing parents with limited resources to search for a funded, quality educational alternative for their children. …
With the expansion of charter schools and their concentration in low-income communities, concerns have been raised within the African American community about the quality, accessibility and accountability of some charters, as well as their broader effects on the funding and management of school districts that serve most students of color.”
Ultimately, the task force said, “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.”
Charter schools have been around for 25 years, and there are now thousands in most states and the District of Columbia serving around 6 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren. Charter supporters — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos among them — say they provide a vital choice to parents whose children are in troubled traditional public schools. But critics see charters as part of the movement to privatize public education, and many traditional public school systems say they lose too many public education dollars to charters.
The task force heard consistent testimony about how charters and traditional public schools are pitted against each other, creating a competition that does not serve students well.
Charter school supporters’ testimony for the most part expressed their support for public education. They argued that their schools were committed to providing quality education. Their testimony rejected the notion that charters “cherry pick” students, though the report documents testimony of others that says otherwise.
“Quality Education for All: One School at a Time” provides parent testimonials that describe how special-needs students, those with low test scores and those with behavioral challenges are being rejected, excessively disciplined or pushed out by charter schools.
A New York City father, Charles Spowler, gave testimony regarding his son’s experience in a Success Academy school: “My son, with great fanfare, got accepted into Harlem Success Academy. Within his first day of school, I was told that he was unfocused and he needed to be disciplined. I was like, ‘Okay. They have high standards. This is good.’”
But, he said, his son was identified, with some other children in his class, as “problematic” and those students all left the school within a few weeks, including his son. He testified: “I could not understand how a school that claimed to be public could come to me and say, ‘Listen. Something is wrong with your son. You got to go.’”
Testimony cited in the report also criticized the lack of stability in many charter schools, as well as the lack of full financial transparency.
In conclusion, the report acknowledges that while some charters serve students well, “there are also a wide range of problems with the operation of charters across the country that require attention.” The report also concludes “even the best charters” cannot be a substitute for an equitable, well-funded public school system.
Following strong recommendations to adequately fund, improve and nurture our public schools, the report issued three specific and far-reaching recommendations for charter school reform.
- Develop and enforce robust charter school accountability measures.
The task force recommended that this be accomplished by the following procedures:
- Create and enforce a rigorous charter authorizing and renewal process in which districts are the only authorizers of charter schools. This is a sea change recommendation. Of the 44 states that allow charter schools, only four — Wyoming, Virginia, Iowa and Kansas — reserve authorization to the district only. Other states have multiple authorizers and layers of override that make charter approval nearly inevitable, and supervision distant and weak.
- Create and enforce a common accountability system.
- Monitor and require charter schools to admit and retain all students. This recommendation calls for the abolishment of all screenings, essays, time-consuming enrollment forms and “suggested” donations by parents. It further recommends the end to push-out, counsel-out and the expulsion of students for academic, behavioral or financial reasons. Finally, it recommends that charters be required to “back fill,” that is, take in students at all grade levels when a student leaves.
- Create and monitor transparent disciplinary guidelines that meet students’ ongoing learning needs and prevent push out. This recommendation states that charters be obligated to follow the same state disciplinary regulations as traditional public schools and use restorative justice in response to high suspension and expulsion rates.
- Require charter schools to hire certified teachers. Many states allow charters to hire the uncertified at far higher rates than traditional public schools.
- Require fiscal transparency and equity regarding the sources of revenues and how those resources are allocated.
The task force recommended that charters be held to the same fiscal transparency standards as traditional public schools and that states address depletion of public school resources caused by the presence of charter schools.
- Eliminate for-profit charter schools.
The task force recommends not only the elimination of for-profit charters, it also recommends the elimination of all of the for-profit management companies that run many nonprofit charters thereby draining taxpayer dollars from the classroom.
Will the charter school establishment take the NAACP’s recommendations to heart and begin to advocate for internal reform? Only time will tell.