While I think there is a lot
wrong with the NAACP’s look at charters, they did get two things right. One is a substantive policy that we should take up, and the other is more of an admission that hopefully will lead us to a better conversation and meaningful action. First, let’s look at the policy recommendation: ending for-profit charters.
1. For-Profit Charters Have No Place in Public Education
There is no profit to skim from public schools without hurting kids. When private firms are focused around profit, all sorts of mischief ensues. Further, there is no evidence that for-profit charters increase learning—in fact they seem to deliver worse results than traditional public schools or non-profit charter public schools. Just look at the
stats on achievement in the for-profit charter sector, which at best is middling and at worst is “abysmal.” Here in California, our experience with the very small for-profit sector is similarly dismal, with a range of
fiscally and academically scandalous outcomes. In my own experience I have seen sketchy practices from the few for-profits I have encountered. Things like loaning money to the school for facilities at exorbitant rates; or selling services of dubious value to charter school boards that deliberately aren’t equipped to exercise oversight; and where outspoken and ethical educators can be shown the door for standing up for kids or the community. Schools cannot serve two masters, and when profits and services compete—kids and families tend to lose. Thankfully all of our charter public schools in Oakland are run by local not-for-profits, and there are actually very few for-profit charters in California. But we should ban for-profits from running the schools altogether. In fact, this should actually be an easy one to agree on. When I asked the California Charter Schools Association about their stance—I was a little surprised—they supported a ban. Sadly, though, it’s not that easy, as some folks would rather play politics than get to agreement (more on this in a later blog). I have not seen a single, fact-based argument for charter schools run by for profit companies. And I challenge anyone to argue for them on the facts. Seriously, I will even publish it here on the blog. The NAACP is right: For-profit charters should be banned.
2. This Charter School Debate Is a Distraction
No sector is serving Black children well over all—not traditional public schools, not charter public schools, not private schools or even homeschools—nothing. The
numbers tell the story. And despite all the time and energy devoted to charter bashing, they make up a tiny proportion of the schools (dis)serving Black kids. So why is there a focus on this 7 percent of schools when it diverts needed attention from the other 93 percent of public schools? The NAACP has only perpetuated this problem through the process of creating this report, but thankfully they do acknowledge the issue, buried pretty deeply in the report. Here is how
Chalkbeat summarized it:
Perhaps ironically after devoting an entire report to the topic, the NAACP suggests that charter schools may be a distraction: 'It is a concern that charter schools have had a larger influence on the national conversation about how to improve education in communities of color than these other well-researched educational investments.'
Graduation rates and achievement for Black students, while pitiful, are better than they have ever been. We’ve got to focus on Black student achievement everywhere, in every school. You could get rid of every charter school tomorrow and it would not help the Black community a whit. In fact I think you would have revolt on your hands from some Black parents, who are being relatively well served by their charters. There is a raging fire and here we are, arguing about where to spray the hose—with the NAACP focusing on only one room as the house is consumed by flames.
An original version of this post appeared on Great School Voices.
Dirk Tillotson is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Great Schools Choices, which supports community-based charter school development and increasing access for underserved families. He has worked for over 20 years supporting mostly charter community schools in Oakland, New Orleans and New York City, and he’s even consulted on education issues in the Middle East. As a child, his ...