An Open Letter to the NAACP & Black Lives Matter: We Are On the Same Team

Cassandra Pinkney, co-founder and executive director of Eagle Academy Public Charter School, authored this letter to the NAACP a few days before she passed away last Friday.
The NAACP and Black Lives Matter are arguing that charter schools are hurting minority communities—as an African-American woman with more than 30 years of experience educating underprivileged children, I can tell you they are sorely mistaken. By framing the debate as “charter versus traditional,” they are overlooking one important factor that is hindering their fight for equality and opportunity in education: We are on the same team. Let me be clear: I understand that charter schools—like traditional public schools—are not perfect, but they are undeniably providing minority children with educational opportunities formerly only enjoyed by the wealthy. While the goal of these two organizations is to create a society where high-quality education is accessible to every child, removing another public option for education will only limit this access. It’s time to shift the narrative away from “charter versus traditional” and towards “successful school versus unsuccessful school.” Make no mistake, [pullquote position="left"]charter schools are working to improve the way children learn, and research shows they are succeeding. A 2015 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that low-income African-American students at charters out-performed comparable students at nearby public schools in math and reading by more than two months’ worth of additional learning. How can we justify turning our backs on schools where children are beating the odds? The advantage of charter schools is their ability to acknowledge that every child is unique and incorporate this into the curriculum. As the founder of Washington D.C.-based Eagle Academy Public Charter School, we have designed our school around the idea of educating the “whole child.” Our Ward 8 campus in Congress Heights serves a 98 percent African-American population and the average commute to school is about 1.5 miles, according to the D.C. Public Charter School Board—meaning most of our kids are local and living in the toughest neighborhood in the District. That is why it is imperative that our students are not only taught traditional subjects such as math and reading, but they are also taught necessary life skills, like how to handle conflict and stress. With psychologists, a behavioral specialist and an occupational therapist on staff, we are able to address the deeper needs of a child that might otherwise be overlooked in the classroom. We also have a swimming pool and teach all of our kids to swim knowing that African-American children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than their Caucasian peers, according to the CDC. These resources—which are simply not available in the traditional public school setting—allow children to address the problems impeding their ability to focus, so they can get back to learning. Yes, it is naïve to assume all charter schools are uniformly excellent. But it is just as naïve to make broad assumptions regarding the value of all charters. While I believe in the mission of the NAACP and applaud its efforts to open a dialogue for how we can improve, I have just one request: Before making a decision that could impede opportunities for the very children you are fighting to protect, listen to the voices of African-Americans who chose to send their children to charters, students who have thrived in them and educators who have taught in them. Day-in and day-out at Eagle, I see firsthand what underprivileged children are capable of when given a chance—and I can assure you, taking away this chance is not the answer.
Cassandra Pinkney, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Eagle Academy Public Charter School, has over thirty years of experience in the education field. She served as the D.C. Public School System’s Early Childhood and Special Education Coordinator and earned her Masters in Early Childhood, Special Education and Human Development from George Washington University.

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