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A Movement of Diversity & Equity

National Charter Schools Week 2018 Day 5

The charter school movement, and many of its greatest initial and on-going successes, is rooted in its commitment to serving students who for whatever the reason have not been well-served by traditional public education. It’s greatest strength, in fact, is being able to serve students from fragile communities, in the words of former Thurgood Marshall College Fund CEO Johnny Taylor. Schools founded and often led by people of color, focused on the greatest needs of diverse populations of children, have demonstrated that with unrelenting commitment and high expectations, all students can achieve.  Numerous data report that more than half of all charter schools serve a majority minority population. That’s why on this Day 5 of #CharterSchoolsWeek we find it especially troubling that many civil rights groups have actively crusaded against charter schools. As Mother Jones reported from NAACP to Black Lives Matter leaders (though clearly not the rank and file), a serious move continues to threaten the promise and future of educational equity for all.

While it is hard to ascribe ulterior motives to the actions of their leaders, it is impossible to ignore how closely their position aligns with that of long-time charter foes – particularly the American Federation of Teachers, so close that during one of the NAACP’s “town hall” meetings on the moratorium, the president of AFT, Randi Weingarten, walked into the meeting while it was going on. The NAACP chairperson of the meeting stopped the discussion and asked everyone in the room to stand and give the AFT leader a round of applause. To say their positions align might be a bit of an understatement.

The NAACP’s stand, essentially, backs the teachers’ union charge that charters are not part of a solution to the poor quality of education in many communities of color, but are, in fact a threat to those communities. It also reinforces the explosive charge made by American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten, that education reform parents and advocates are racists akin to the southern segregationists of the past, whose real goal was to re-segregate the American education system.

This coordination of messages and efforts is clear. In political terms, it’s called a “wedge strategy:” Identify a group that is closely allied with one position – i.e. the minority community and its support for charters – and drive a wedge into that support by shifting the debate to a negative, unrelated issue – i.e. racism.

These actions have sparked outrage from African American leaders who know first-hand the value of charters as a driving force for improving education in urban settings – from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia, to New York, Los Angeles, Miami and countless other of America’s major metropolitan areas – and providing opportunities that allow children to flourish instead of founder educationally.

Just ask any one of the nearly 1,000 charter schools led by people of color represented by the National Charter Collaborative. Ask Michelle Mason, the head of the Newark Charter School Fund­, Shantelle Wright, or former Detroit superintendent and edreform leader Deborah McGriff. Ask advocate, author and K12 president Kevin Chavous, Gerard Robinson of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, Sonia Park of the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition, or any of the thousands of leaders who reengaged the quest for civil rights through education opportunity rather than succumb to a system that for decades has failed the children.

As education & civil rights warrior Howard Fuller puts it on Reality Check w/Jeanne Allen, “I just find the whole discussion to be ludicrous, bogus, uninformed and while all of that’s going on, poor black and brown children who have for years been seeking out good schools… now [that] have them in some places they are being criticized for going to a good school.”

When the NAACP moratorium hit the front pages, David Hardy, founder and chair of Boys’ Latin Philadelphia Charter School, and Donald Hense, founder and chair of Washington, D.C.’s Friendship Public Charter Schools (both members of CER’s board of directors) issued a statement calling the NAACP’s campaign against charter schools “detrimental and disrespectful to all parents who struggle to ensure a quality education for their children.

“Rather than embrace, and work to expand, the opportunities that charter schools represent to America’s disadvantaged, and to families of color across the nation, the NAACP has chosen to stand as an obstacle, and work to stifle, a movement that, for thousands of children, is the greatest — and only – hope for achieving a quality education….[its] union-driven, anti-charter school agenda, and its “model legislation” effort is an outrageous political scheme to further support the union’s agenda by undermining the voice and will of parents who are fighting for options for their children’s education and for the right and freedom to choose.”

It is these outspoken leaders who are following the Dream. You need look no further for proof of that than to study the work of Wyatt T. Walker, chief of staff to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who helped found New York’s first charter school and advocated for this equity-achieving reform until his last days.

Charter schools are leveling the playing field and have not only equalized opportunity for millions but introduced the innovations normally reserved for the affluent to kids from Harlem to Hawaii.

So today as we continue to celebrate National Charter Schools Week, let’s resolve to lean in with all we have on those who misinform and are misinformed. No child should be relegated to attend any school based on zip code, and no parent forced to accept that which fails their children simply because that’s the way it was.