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Are Charter Schools Bad for Black Children? The NAACP Asked, Here's What It Found

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For-profit companies should be banned from running charter schools, and school districts should be the only entities allowed to grant and revoke charters. Those are the two primary recommendations concerning charter schools put forth in a wide-ranging report released Wednesday by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The report is the result of a nationwide "listening tour" conducted by the NAACP between December and April. The tour was organized in the wake of strong blowback the organization faced last year after calling for a moratorium on all new charter schools during its national convention.

The task force created by the NAACP to study charters went to seven cities—New York, New Haven, Conn., Orlando, Fla., Memphis, Tenn.; New Orleans, Detroit, and Los Angeles—many of which are flashpoints in the larger debate over how charters have upset the education ecosystem.

In its report, the task force meticulously details the feedback it received from parents, teachers, researchers, union members, local officials, and district and charter school leaders. As it lays out its myriad findings, the report can read a bit like the greatest hits of the charter debate: Some say charters cherry pick the best students, others say they don't. Some claim charters force out students with disabilities, others report the opposite. Charter schools exacerbate racial segregation; no they don't. And so on.

From that tangle of contradictory testimony, the NAACP task force extrapolated a series of recommendations.

The group lays out a formula for improving charters that includes:

  • Only allowing school districts to decide which charter schools open and which are shut down;
  • Creating systems to monitor student suspensions and expulsions in charter schools; and
  • Requiring all teachers be certified.

(Those first and third items are popular policy proposals with teachers' unions, and, predictably, unpopular with most charter school advocates.)

But when it comes to charters run by for-profit companies, the report is unsparing. There is no possible reform for such schools, in particular for-profit virtual charters. The report points to Tennessee as a model for banning for-profit and virtual charter schools.

However, it's worth noting that in Tennessee school districts are still allowed to contract with for-profit virtual education providers and do. K12 Inc., which runs the most virtual charter schools in the country and has come under fire for the poor performance of many of its schools, also manages an online school through a Tennessee district that is nearly identical the to the virtual charters it oversees in other states.

In addition to its charter-specific recommendations, the report also calls for overhauling school finance systems and increasing investment in low-performing schools.

Insomuch as the report coalesces around any one theme, it's perhaps this: that the rapid expansion of charter schools can create chaos for parents as they try to navigate an increasingly complicated education landscape.

The report says the task force's conclusion is best summed up by Chris Ungar, former president of the California School Boards Association, who spoke during their Los Angeles stop:

"Can charter schools be part of the solution? Absolutely. But that solution must be intentional, well-planned growth that takes into account the health and sustainability of the entire public education system, including the so-called traditional public schools that educate 90 percent of our country's students."

Notably, that's a far more conciliatory tone than the NAACP's call last year for a moratorium on all new charter schools.

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

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