When committed delegates and longtime activists gathered at the NAACP annual convention in Cincinnati this past July, there were high expectations that the storied civil rights organization would have quite a bit on its plate to discuss.
The summer was steaming with an almost daily stream of headlines on police violence, and chapters in crucial battleground states were mobilizing against an anticipated headwind of voter suppression tricks.
But few expected the issue of charter schools to rise to the top of the agenda priority list. Delegates — most hailing from metropolitan areas where publicly funded public-school options were flourishing — arrived in Cincinnati intent on crafting a loud-and-clear resolution to the growing, yet increasingly controversial, education reform sector: charter schools should be banned.
“We are moving forward to require that charter schools receive the same level of oversight, civil rights protections and provide the same level of transparency, and we require the same of traditional public schools,” said Chairman Roslyn Brock. “Our decision today is driven by a long-held principle and policy of the NAACP that high-quality, free, public education should be afforded to all children.”
Nate Davis, Executive Chairman of the Board for K12, a leading online learning and educational technology company, disagreed with the move and viewed the organization’s motives much differently.
“I fear the current political climate will be dominated by unions who fear the loss of union fees rather than by students and parents and educators who are looking to improve our education system, not maintain the status quo,” Davis told The Tribune. “Students are voting by their growing enrollment in alternative schools and charter schools, schools that are changing their lives for the better. No longer will private and parochial schools that primarily help the wealthy be the only school options.”
NAACP opposition to the charter movement was nothing new. The oldest civil rights organization in the nation had long expressed skepticism over it. But some education experts on both sides of the debate point to the resolution as something of an escalation despite its mostly symbolic value. The timing of it didn’t escape the notice of many observers, who viewed it as the opening of another front in a national election cycle defined by a deeply polarized political environment.
“Maybe they are feeling the heat,” says former Obama administration education undersecretary Peter Groff when describing the reaction to the NAACP’s move and the massive rifts in the debate. “But, it’s not like the resolution is going to have any impact or resonate with policymakers and parents.”
Compton Unified School District Vice President and longtime public school educator Micah Ali tells The Tribune that the resolution was “long overdue” but the group’s “theory of action should be different.”
“The issue for America is not whether charter schools should continue to serve our urban youth, the question is how and under what regulation these charter schools should be permitted to operate,” Ali explained.