The Trump era has seen many formerly august institutions abase themselves. In the latest example, after holding a series of town halls on urban education, the NAACP found troublesome evidence of separate and unequal systems of education. But this time they have resolved to try to keep black kids out of the better schools.
Last year, the organization passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter-school expansion pending further examination of the sector. This came despite the overwhelming evidence that charter schools serve disadvantaged black students with striking success.
The most comprehensive nationwide study suggests that they learn the equivalent of an additional 59 days of math and 44 days of reading instruction every year. Poor students from top-performing charter networks graduate from college at three to five times the rate of their public-school peers. Even charter schools that don’t outperform traditional schools on standardized tests see their students go on to enroll in and graduate from college at a significantly higher rate. On the other hand, there’s little empirical evidence that charter-school expansion harms traditional public schools; indeed, perhaps the best evidence suggests that it improves them.
Given the empirical evidence that the NAACP has already chosen to disregard, it seemed unlikely that a series of town halls would produce a report reversing the organization’s stance. Indeed, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the report weaves together anecdotal innuendo to make the case for policies that would strangle charter schools. But what is surprising is its sheer sloppy slipshoddiness.
The report is ridden with typographical errors. It even misspells a key recommendation: that policy makers should “mandate a rigorous authoring [sic] and renewal process.” The actual term, correctly given everywhere else in the text, is authorizing. On the topic of authorizing, the report asserts that states with the fewest authorizers see the best charter-school outcomes, a dubious claim for which it does not bother to provide a traceable citation.
The report acknowledges studies that show stronger high-school-graduation and college-enrollment rates for charter students. But then it counters that research suggests these rates are “sometimes a function of proactively transferring out students who struggle with attendance, behavior, or learning before calculating these statistics.” To support that claim, the report cites a study that doesn’t even address the question of whether charters transfer out struggling students and never mentions high-school graduation or college-enrollment statistics.
An even stranger rebuttal: In response to a Stanford study showing achievement gains by charter students, the report cites education professor Julian Vasquez Heilig as saying the benefits are so small that “you need a telescope to see it. . . . Pre-K? 1000% more impact than charter schools.” Two problems: Stanford researchers translated that impact into the equivalent of 36 additional days of learning per year, and every rigorous study on pre-K shows zero academic effects by third grade.
While playing fast and loose with the facts, the report does strike a savvy political pose. It phrases its recommendations with commonsense terms like “transparency,” “equity,” and above all, “robust charter school accountability.” “Accountability” is a magic word in charter-school policy. No advocate would ever want to be against accountability, so charter opponents routinely put advocates on their heels by labeling anti-charter policies as pro-accountability.
Attending the group’s convention in Baltimore last week, education journalist Chris Stewart reported that the NAACP ‘doesn’t even try to hide the fact that they are a teachers’ union ancillary.’
The recommendation that tips the game away is the NAACP’s call to allow only school districts to authorize and oversee charters. There’s little empirical evidence that school districts authorize higher-quality charter schools, but there are plenty of cases where districts try to stifle high-performing schools. That antagonism stems from the fact that districts are politically captured by teachers’ unions, implacable foes of school choice.
Which, sadly, also appears to be the case with the NAACP. Attending the group’s convention in Baltimore last week, education journalist Chris Stewart reported that the NAACP “doesn’t even try to hide the fact that they are a teachers’ union ancillary.” According to Stewart, an AFT speaker said “they encourage their members to infiltrate the [NAACP] and to advocate at the state level,” and touted a union effort to collect dues on behalf of the NAACP.
The full extent of the working relationship between the NAACP and the teachers’ unions would be a worthy subject for an intrepid investigative journalist. But given that 72 percent of African Americans favor charter schools and hundreds of thousands of African-American students are on waiting lists to attend them, Occam’s razor certainly suggests a political motive behind the NAACP’s opposition.
The NAACP’s report, as reproduced on its website, concludes: “All children deserve the choice of a good neighborhood public school. Public schools must be public. They” [sic]
And that’s where the report ends, not with a bang but a scanning error. A more venerable civil-rights organization might have concluded, “They should be judged by how well they serve the educational needs of students, not the political interests of adults.” But the NAACP didn’t even bother to finish the thought.
The carelessness of the report compounds the callousness of its conclusion: that the schools serving black students most successfully should be stifled. What a tragic turn for an organization that in the last century gave America Brown v. Board of Education.