(This post is by my dear pal and colleague Erika Sanzi. It was originally published on her blog, Good School Hunting.)
I have the absolute privilege of working alongside some incredibly smart and brave people, people willing to stand up to the power players and put themselves out there because they believe it will help kids and help families. While they don’t all come down on the same side of every issue, they push my thinking and the thinking of all who (smartly) take the time to read their work. The recent dust up with American Federation of Teachers’ prez Randi Weingarten and the disappointing education news out of the NAACP meeting in Baltimore are no exception; African American educators, advocates, moms, and dads from all over the country have raised their voices in protest and I am so grateful that they did.
They aren’t the power players or the ones whose every word goes viral. They are mostly NAACP members who are also the people on the ground, every day, living as Black Americans and using their gifts and talents (and courage) to make education better for other people’s children. Plain and simple.
While the Reverend Al Sharpton recently referred to Randi Weingarten as his sister, she isn’t. He’d be wise to get to know the brothers and sisters and work featured below and find a way to work with them if he really wants to empower the people he claims to represent and serve. We know Randi’s organization has paid his organization, the National Action Network, many thousands of dollars. But we also know that none of those dollars are solving the education problem plaguing our Black communities and Black children.
Some would say that today’s NAACP is an acronym for the National Association for the Advancement of Certain People. It is conspicuously not for the advancement of the millions of Black families trying to escape failing systems and schools.
The association was beholden to White folks from the beginning (less than 10 of the 60 founding members of the NAACP were Black), and today they haven’t stumbled far from their original course. Today, White folks still hold tremendous influence over the NAACP, but now much of it is through the support of labor unions—70 percent of whose members are White.
Particularly for teachers unions, you’d hope that the mostly White members would be aligned with the cause of the oppressed and marginalized of the country. But as far as I can tell from their agenda, they are more aligned with themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, as a member of the NAACP, former youth & college division leader, founder of the my college chapter and liaison between local schools to the ACTSO competition, I believe in the local, regional and national work of NAACP leaders. However, this time, I believe that the NAACP as a whole has gotten it wrong about charter schools.
The call for a moratorium on all charter schools is ridiculous to me. Mainly because I know several other NAACP leaders who support charter schools. How can we advocate for members and citizens to support their local community schools except charter schools?
That to me sounds like discrimination.
I feel like this call of action is waging a war between educational advocates and civil rights activists. There is a happy medium, I believe we just have to be willing to find it. As I’ve read responses and heard NAACP leaders talk about charter schools, I’m trying to figure out how can an organization that was built on providing a voice, equity, freedom of speech, choice and empowerment now say that we only want to support public traditional schools and no charters?
How in God’s name are you even comfortable, as a Black man who has spent his whole life fighting against racism, pointing the finger at charter schools for having a history of racism? Do you not know the history of racism in the public schools in this country? Or are you now pandering to Weingarten and her political agenda? I’m offended, saddened and angry at you for bowing down to anyone who would block a great education to children anywhere, especially the Black and Brown children you allegedly fight for on a daily basis.
I’m so confused, so let’s look at the facts.
In 2009, Al Sharpton, Newt Gingrich and Arne Duncan traveled across the country on an education tour to visit schools in several cities. They visited many types of schools including traditional and charter public schools. The civil rights leader, former House Speaker and Education Secretary were promoting the following for ALL children:
- Higher learning standards
- Lifting restrictions on the growth of high-quality charter schools
- Turning around low-performing schools
- Improving principal and teacher quality
- Greater transparency and accountability in all schools.
These leaders created a joint statement for the people. “Our hope is that these school visits and conversations will inspire the full array of stakeholders to set aside partisanship and ideology and join together in support of a common education reform agenda that addresses our core challenges and provides every child in every school the very best education possible.”
Fist up and Afro picked, I stood up and gave those folks a standing ovation. A bi-partisan group of leaders put their differences aside and worked together to ensure education equity for every child in every school. We were finally fighting for the common good of ALL children everywhere, regardless of zip code. Yes!
Sadly, my Black pride was short lived on this issue and American slime-ball politics made a vicious come back.
As I have argued before, the education system has failed to serve Black children across all sectors. Singling out charter schools for derision misses the larger picture. It moves us away from real answers. Also, and importantly—it’s not what Black parents want.
Black families largely support charters and school choice. I challenge anyone to show a credible survey that shows me otherwise. And this not because charters do such a great job across the board. It’s more the devil and the deep blue sea—or the devil you know versus the potential devil you don’t.
The State of Black Education
I don’t see anything for us to be conservative about when it comes to education. The educational outcomes for Black youth teeter between depressing and enraging—again across all sectors. Just take a look at the Black Minds Matter report from the Education Trust–West.
Among racial groups, Black students in California are least likely to:
- Become proficient readers by third grade;
- Be placed in Gifted and Talented Education programs;
- Master the mid-level mathematics skills that position students for success in college-preparatory math courses;
- Be placed in a full sequence of college-preparatory courses;
- Complete an Advancement Placement (AP) course;
- Graduate from high school in four years; and
- Complete a college degree.
And they are most likely to:
- Be suspended or expelled;
- Be taught by ineffective teachers;
- Be identified for special education; and
- Take remedial, non-credit bearing coursework in college.
Even more interesting than the star-studded plenary is the days leading up to the convention. The interwebs have seen a series of shots fired on the education battlefield. You already know the century-old organization dedicated to advancing “colored people” will – once again – take a stand in opposition to charter schools. I’ve written extensively on the moratorium to halt the proliferation of charters around the country and it never not shocks my system when I think about how anti-advancement of Black people this resolution is!
In preparation of the defense of the moratorium (because they already know it will be affirmed), the NAACP landed some surprise punches through its powerful partners. Known NAACP partner Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called charter schools and vouchers “slightly more polite cousins to segregation.” But before the ed reform community was called semi-segregationists, they were called outright racists by Black America’s best friend.
I understand the teacher’s union relentless pursuit to protect its bottom line and, quite frankly, I’m sure the loss of union dues will make you say things like that, but the R-E-V-E-R-E-N-D?
I have met you on several occasions and I have the utmost respect for your leadership even if I do not always agree with you, I respect your documented history of standing on the side of equity and equality for the black, brown and poor community, even if you stood alone! That takes courage.
First, the NAACP, of which I am a member, chose to declare war against all charter schools, even the very successful ones, versus them fighting against any unsafe and/or failing public school, regardless of the model. Now you, the legendary Reverend Al Sharpton, has fallen for the hype of the “accountability to children doesn’t apply to us,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. You go so far as to call Randi your sister!
But that’s really not the point. Black folks in America are used to having excruciating discussions with those in power: those with wealth and influence and money…with connections and currency. The elites who make things go. We’re used to waiting and not getting what we want. Having our asks for equality slow-walked to the “appropriate” entity — and summarily denied.
We know too well the smiles of “maybe” and the frowns of “sorry, not now or ever” that greet us when trying to change how government views and interacts with us. Disappointment is as much a part of the black experience as the joy of surviving it.
But the one thing you don’t expect is for the group doing the frowning and the slow-walking to be led by people who look like you.
I admire all of these voices and am grateful for their wisdom, and wit, and courage in the face of all the haters. They are the army ready to fight any and all who stand in the way of fulfilling the promise to protect and honor all children when they are at school.
Simply put, Jimmy Kimmel says it best: