A Message to the NAACP on the Eve of Its Charter Vote: Black Families Want More School Choices

Oct 14, 2016 12:00:00 AM


Black families support charter schools. That’s clear from a number of recent surveys on school choice. In the 2016 Education Next survey, nearly twice as many African-American respondents (45 percent) supported the formation of charter schools as opposed them (23 percent). And in the TV One/RolandSMartin.com poll, 72 percent of African-American parents favored charter schools, and only 13 percent opposed. In addition, there are more than a million students on charter school waiting lists, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Charter schools are not perfect, but most Black families prefer to have public school choices. Black families too often get the short end of the educational stick. We know this. We often live in the most under resourced neighborhoods, with the most impacted schools. And if anyone thinks this doesn’t matter for the experiences of kids, just listen to the recent KQED series on segregation in Oakland schools. The NAACP’s Board of Directors needs to keep this in mind when casting their votes on October 15 on a proposed moratorium on charter schools. They cannot ignore the loud and clear voices of Black families demanding better school options for their children. And while I am the first to say we need better data and analysis in Oakland, according to the latest Oakland Achieves study, 95 percent of African-American charter high schoolers completed the A-G requirements, which is a higher rate than White students districtwide. And charter schools aren’t only popular and producing results for Black families, they’re often started by Black educators, for the Black community. Youth Uprising started a charter school near Castlemont, not to gain profit, but to serve Black students and to give Black families another public school option. Oral Lee Brown is putting her own money behind a residential charter school, because our babies need that, and nobody else is doing it. We know charters aren’t perfect. In some cases, they are not accessible enough or are not performing better than the traditional schools. But when you are between the devil and the deep blue sea, sometimes you jump. We all dream of great neighborhood schools in every ’hood. But for Black folks, that dream has largely been one deferred. Charter schools are not the answer, but for those of us last-in-line for delivery of great neighborhood schools, maybe we have a better chance, rolling our own dice rather than playing in a game historically fixed against us.

Dirk Tillotson

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 parents moved their family to a high-performing school district where they were the first Black family on the block. The challenges of that experience embedded in him a desire to create academically high-quality schools where students don’t have to check their identities at the door. Dirk currently resides in Oakland, California, and blogs at Great School Voices.

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