Despite public resistance by black leaders across the political spectrum against this impending decision, the NAACP Saturday released yet another resolution condemning school choice and calling for a nationwide ban on new charter schools.
“The NAACP opposes privatization of public schools and public subsidizing or funding of for-profit or charter schools,” the organization said in a statement. “Privatization of public schools” is survey-tested union talk attempting to manipulate people into disliking the idea of a more diverse ecosystem of publicly funded education through mechanisms such as vouchers, education savings accounts, and charter schools. These allow all families to have the same opportunities to attend schools of choice, as rich families do.
A coalition of 160 black leaders pointed this out in an attempt to get NAACP to back off this resolution when it was first proposed this year: “A blanket moratorium on charter schools would limit Black students’ access to some of the best schools in America and deny Black parents the opportunity to make decisions about what’s best for their children.”
Unlike many Americans, of course, and particularly unlike African-Americans because of their higher levels of poverty, wealthy families can afford to pay taxes for public school plus tuition to private school, or buy their way into high-performing public school districts. The NAACP insists it instead wants all Americans to pay the eye-popping property and other taxes the rich do to fund local schools of comparable extravagance, and therefore black kids should be held hostage in poorly performing public schools as leverage to push for this political arrangement.
All increases in spending equate to tax increases, either immediately or later if contracted through debt. So NAACP here is effectively demanding tax increases to increase education funding nationwide: “The NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children,” said Roslyn Brock, NAACP’s national board chairman. “We are dedicated to eliminating the severe racial inequities that continue to plague the education system.”
This stance is a head-scratcher on myriad counts. For one, the United States already boasts the highest-funded public education system in the world, at an average cost (not including public debt, typically for facilities costs, which is massive) of $12,000 per student per year. The districts where black students are concentrated tend to spend even more — Washington DC, for example, spends approximately $25,000 per child per year, Baltimore spends $15,000 per student, and Detroit $14,000. U.S. education spending has quadrupled since the 1970s while student achievement has stagnated, and seems to have had little effect on black kids particularly (once raised above segregation-era pittances).
Now, the average charter school — which is a fully public school that local citizens can apply to run as independent boards following public transparency laws — spends approximately $7,600 per student per year. Despite the huge cost savings charters offer, quality studies show their students learn at least as much, and often more, than their peers in traditional public schools.
In fact, the children who seem to academically and socially benefit the most from enrolling in a charter school are the very children NAACP claims to represent: poor, minority children. For example: “Black and Hispanic students who attended charter schools in [New York City] for eight years closed the achievement gap with affluent suburbs like Scarsdale by 86% in math and 66% in English,” found a National Bureau for Economic Research study. “Public charter middle schools in Boston cut the black-white achievement gap in math by as much as half in a single year.”
Massachusetts charters close the racial achievement gap on half the funding of traditional public schools — and charters are legally forbidden from refusing any student for any reason. They have to take low performers, English learners, and disabled kids. Closed the achievement gaps between white and minority students! That’s practically the Holy Grail of education reform! And at half the cost! What more could you want?
Let’s just hold for a minute here and look at that achievement gap, because it’s distressing. Keep in mind that black children disproportionately attend some of America’s worst public schools, which poorer families cannot escape unless they can pay higher rent or mortgages to live in a better school district or private tuition fees. For a national overview of that problem, let’s start with latest federal high-school graduation stats:
What do we see? Almost 18 in 20 white kids graduate high school. Only about 15 in 20 black kids does.
Next, the latest national reading and math stats, because graduation rates are easier to juke (just pass kids whether they can read or cipher or not). Look at the proficiency rates of students about to graduate from high school, at grade 12. Just 7 percent of black kids are proficient in math when they graduate, and just 17 percent proficient in reading.
Notice how the white kids’ average quadruples or triples black kids’ proficiency rates. Closing the gap between these two — bringing the black kids’ average up that far — is crazy awesome. If they cared about black kids’ futures, the NAACP’s board would be begging more charter schools to open as quickly as possible, not demanding the opposite.
Results like this are probably a major reason black parents support charter schools and voucher programs at massively high levels. A national poll out this month showed that, if they could pick any schools they wanted for their kids, a plurality of 44 percent of black Americans would choose a private school. Obviously their preferences are not in line with NAACP’s stance against “school privatization” and supporting only traditional public schools.
Just a quarter of African-Americans would pick public schools if they had a choice in the matter; and 20 percent would pick a charter school. In that same poll, a whopping 74 percent of black respondents favored charter schools, and two-thirds supported vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. Clearly, the NAACP doesn’t represent most black families on this matter.
Enrollment patterns show a similar reality. According to the latest federal data, 27 percent of charter school students are black, more than double their proportion among the general population of 12 percent. About a million African-American children attend charter schools exclusively because of their parents’ choice to enroll them in those environments.
NAACP is telling these black parents they’ve made bad choices, that their individual success is a threat to their peers. That sounds like a more polished rendition of the “acting white” slur that says black kids who study hard and make something of themselves are somehow betraying peers who don’t make those choices.
In reality, again, the opposite is true. School choice not only gives poor and moderate-income parents education buying power and thus leverage equal to that of wealthy families, it cultivates the social capital and infrastructure money can’t buy, which is a far more fundamental precursor to success and ability to withstand adversity. Andy Smarick wrote movingly about this recently:
For instance, assigning students to schools by rote can undermine individual agency. Explicitly creating highly similar schools (PS 1, PS 2, PS 3, etc.) can be seen as homogenizing cities with vast diversity. Allowing only one public body to run schools, and then centralizing key decisions in its large bureaucracy, can inhibit the initiatives of neighborhood leaders. And empowering a citywide elected board enables the priorities and values of the majority to take precedence over those of discrete communities and neighborhoods…
Families, no longer merely told where to send their children to school, have collaborated to push for new types of schools and directed the evolution of existing schools. Educators, no longer merely assigned to a school by a district central office, have teamed up with colleagues to found new schools. A recent study on D.C.’s charter-school governance found that chartering has given hundreds of citizens (parents, lawyers, neighborhood leaders, business executives) an opportunity to participate more fully in schooling through seats on governing boards.
Black families are among those worst injured by poor public schools and our nation’s system of ZIP code-assigned schooling. Their choice to better their family and children is not made at the expense of other kids. In exercising these choices, black parents are creating better futures both for their children and for their communities. They should be celebrated, not condemned, for taking individual responsibility for their families and communities in this way.
This is yet another signal that organizations that purport to represent African-Americans often actually represent the opposite of what these citizens themselves think will give them a hope and a future. The NAACP’s refusal to represent not only the best interests but the expressed desires of a vast majority of their supposed constituents is a major strike against their credibility.