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Not for Academics Alone

When the NAACP joined a lawsuit brought by the United Federation of Teachers to prevent the closure of 22 public schools and stop the growth of 19 charter schools in New York City, the news was greeted with disbelief ("The NAACP's mystifying decision to side with a union over students," editorial, The Washington Post, June 2).

That's because the schools affected are overwhelmingly failing black students. For example, at the Academy for Collaborative Education, which is earmarked for closing, only 3 percent of students were performing at grade level in English last year, and only 9 percent in math. Why would the NAACP, which has a long history of fighting for a high quality education, take this step?

The answer came partly in an op-ed by Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP ("Why the NAACP is suing New York," The Washington Post, June 3). He explained that charter schools are being given preferential treatment in buildings they share with traditional public schools, and that parents are not being given an opportunity to voice their concerns about closings as required by New York State law.

It's the latter point that warrants elaboration. According to The Wall Street Journal ("NAACP vs. Black Parents," editorial, June 4), "thousands" of black parents held a rally in Harlem to protest the NAACP's decision. Whether that count is accurate and whether the parents represent the feelings of all black parents are both debatable. But what is clear is that parental satisfaction with schools is not necessarily limited to academic performance.

In Oct. 2005, the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education reported that parents frequently opt for schools based on holistic, social, logistic and administrative factors. Academics is not consistently No. 1 on their list, as counterintuitive as that may seem.

Then in May 2009, a study of academic quality in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. schools based on interviews with parents, students and faculty found that just because parents expressed satisfaction with a school does not necessarily mean students are learning much.

In light of these two studies, it is altogether possible that black parents in New York City feel the same way about the schools scheduled to be shuttered. They have the right to choose any school they believe best meets the needs and interests of their children. They may be misguided in not making academic achievement their primary consideration, but that is their prerogative. We need to respect it.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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