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NAACP Stops in Memphis on National Tour to Talk Charter Schools

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NAACP charter schools Memphis.jpgFrom New York City to Los Angles, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is holding meetings across the country to discuss the impact of charter schools on school districts.

This comes after the influential civil rights group took the controversial step of calling for a ban on all new charter schools in October—a move some charter advocates fear could undermine support for the sector.

A new NAACP task force, which was specially created to collect input on these issues from advocates, teachers, parents and policy experts, held its second of seven such meetings in Memphis on Tuesday evening. It held its first last month in New Haven, Conn.

In addition to Memphis, the task force is holding meetings in a number of other cities that have become flashpoints in national debates over charter schools: New York, Detroit, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

While Los Angeles and New York rank first and second nationally for having the highest total number of students enrolled in charter schools, New Orleans and Detroit rank first and second for having the highest percentage of students enrolled in charters, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

A Charter School Moratorium

The task force was created in October after the NAACP approved a resolution officially calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. The move not only rocked the charter school community, which serves large proportions of low-income, black students, it highlighted a growing divide within the black community over charter schools.

Around the same time the NAACP was considering its moratorium, the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of civil rights activists including Black Lives Matter, also called for a halt to charter growth. Both groups cited concerns over increased segregation, high rates of suspensions and expulsions for black students, and poor oversight in charter schools as reasons to hit pause on the sector's growth.

NAACP president Cornell William Brooks recently explained to Education Week that his organization wants to stop charter expansion in part because the sector's fast growth of charter schools has weakened public education as a whole.

How Does This Affect Charter Schools?

Although it's unclear at this stage what effect the NAACP's call for a moratorium will have, some charter school advocates are concerned it will undermine support for the sector. It's an issue that may be further complicated by President-elect Donald Trump.

His enthusiastic embrace of school choice—including charter schools—as well as the racially-charged comments he made during his presidential campaign, may further undermine the popularity of charter schools not only with Democrats, but also black and Latino communities.

Although 58 percent of Democrats support charter schools, according to a 2016 poll from Stanford University's Hoover Institution, support is shakier—although certainly not weak—among African Americans.

Forty-five percent of African-American respondents said they either "completely support" or "somewhat support" charter schools, compared with 29 percent that either "completely oppose" or "somewhat oppose" charters, according to the same poll. 

Memphis Charter Schools

The rift in the black community over charter schools is on full display in Memphis. The city has been the target of ambitious and controversial reforms, including a state-run district that converts consistently failing traditional schools into charters, called the Achievement School District.

While charter schools in Memphis have earned their fair share of critics, they also have staunch supporters. Sarah Carpenter, a grandmother who decided to send her granddaughter to a Memphis charter school, told Education Week that she was wowed by the school's focus on college preparation—something she said she never experienced as a student or even a parent in Memphis. Carpenter has become an outspoken critic of the NAACP's moratorium.

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Photo credit: Students at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis, Tenn. —Randy Tankersley for Education Week

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