NAACP Moratorium on Charters Puts Politics before Parent Choice

When my Black children are not educated and are robbed of their civil rights, I expect the NAACP to stand by them.

When my Black children are disciplined more harshly than their peers, kept out of challenging classes, taught a curriculum that reinforces white supremacy, and instructed by the least experienced and least effective teachers – I expect the NAACP to stand by them.

When I find an educational option worthy of their brilliant minds – I expect the NAACP to stand by them.

And when I exercise my agency as a Black woman in America, I expect the NAACP to stand by me.

I expect the NAACP to listen to me, respect my choices, and demand that conditions change so the public school system gives Black children the equal education that our ancestors fought for. If the NAACP is going to close the door to charter schools – as it did last month by passing a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools – it needs to be honest about its priorities, its values, who it stands for, and exactly what it’s consigning Black children to. It doesn’t represent my family.

When the NAACP says no to charters, it’s locking Black children into schools with odds as high as 90-to-10 against them learning. And in most low-income neighborhoods those district schools are just as segregated as charters, but that hasn't shut them down.

Fighting segregation, racist disciplinary practices, and an abysmal proficiency rate for Black children is an urgent cause. But shutting down the schools that so many of us see as escape hatches from these injustices is not. If the NAACP chose instead to tackle these issues in the district schools that educate 94% of U.S. students, it would have a much greater impact: not only would it accelerate Black children’s learning, it would reduce the need for alternatives like charters.

But once again, education discussions are political not personal – Black student and parent voices aren’t centered and the focus is on “defending” a system that never wanted us in the first place. If our priorities and experiences were driving policy, the NAACP would be looking at the district schools that parents are leaving in droves. Because Black parents aren’t just heading to charters; the number of Black families choosing to homeschool their children more than doubled in the last decade. The reason? Studies point to school-related racism as at least part of the reason that most families leave. Black homeschooling parents cite low expectations and harsh discipline of Black students at their district schools and a curriculum in which Black Americans are a mere footnote. We know – and a recent study documents – that racial bias against Black students in terms of teachers’ perception and punishment of them begins as early as preschool. A growing number of Black families are seeking to escape that fate for their children – yet the NAACP wants to force us to stay. Had the NAACP asked parents they would have heard countless stories like mine.

I recently moved back to my hometown of Saint Paul and researched school options for my elementary-aged daughter. Unfortunately, the school I chose was full so the district recommended an alternative school my daughter could attend based on our address.

When I asked if it was good academically, the staff had no idea how to answer the question or even any information at their disposal to provide parents like me on its academic results. So I asked them to pull up the state’s department of education website on the spot and saw that the school they recommended for my daughter had a 12% proficiency rate for students. Worse, once they had that information, the staff didn’t see a problem recommending this school for my child. Can you imagine? What other institution could operate with a 90% failure rate? And who in good conscience would recommend it? Yet the staff member didn’t even seem to think that was important.

Panicked, I was able to find an alternative school – a charter – that I could feel good about enrolling my child in. It’s not ideal – it opened just three years ago, not long enough to have an extensive track record, but it offers much more than the school the district would have required my daughter to attend, including:

  • High expectations for my daughter and accountability for her academic success
  • Respect for me as a parent and regular communication with me on her progress towards meeting key learning benchmarks and their plans to help her succeed
  • A school environment that values her culture and identity
  • A curriculum in which she sees herself
  • A racially diverse teaching staff

Above all, the charter school shares my view that an outcome of 1 in 10 Black children reading at grade level is unacceptable.

I would not be able to sleep at night knowing how much I was risking my daughter’s academic success, confidence, and life options with a school that leaves nearly all of its students behind. It’s no wonder parents of color across the country risk arrest by illegally enrolling their children outside of district boundaries in order to get a better education for their kids. Is the NAACP saying it knows better than us what our kids need? How many NAACP board members enroll their kids in schools with 90% failure rates?

It is outrageous to me that the NAACP wants me to sacrifice my daughter’s education to fight for a system that clearly doesn’t have her best interests at heart. And as to the students being left behind to gamble their futures on a 12% proficiency rate? Their education is equally urgent. As a parent I’m concerned with my children’s education but as an activist, I seek to improve the education for all Black children. I also expect the NAACP to be fighting for them – not by removing alternatives but by seeking justice and equity in the public system that’s clearly failing Black children.

Choosing a charter for my daughter was a personal choice not a political one.

It is a political choice that the NAACP is not standing with my children and me.