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Whose Civil Rights?

I doubt anyone missed the challenge mounted by a group of civil rights leaders to President Obama's Race to the Top education program -- an effort to push beyond incremental (or no) progress in urban schools where boys fare the worst. Race to the Top, by contrast, rolls the dice: producing winners and losers, according to this logic, is likely to do more good than perpetuating the status quo.

Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are right on this one. Now, Whitney Tilson's always-entertaining and informative blog brings us some updates:

1) In my last email, I wrote:

The major civil rights organizations, with few exceptions, have been gutless weasels and completely disgraced themselves in siding with the unions against meaningful reforms of a public school system that systematically, all over the country, gives black and Latino students the very worst teachers and schools, thereby trapping black and Latino communities in multi-generational cycles of poverty, violence and despair. In light of this sorry history, this week's press release criticizing Obama's education reform initiatives isn't a surprise...but it sure is pathetic... It's one thing for unions to throw poor and minority kids under the bus - heck, it's their fiduciary obligation to look out for the best interests of their members - but for civil rights organizations to do so?!?!

In response, my friend David Brand of 100 Black Men, wrote (I'm sharing with his permission):

I was at the President's speech at the Urban League. He was very well received by the audience.

Please note that one major African-American organization did not sign that insult to the President. The 100 Black Men of America refused to sign. The 100 is 100% pro-school choice and applauds the President and Sec. Duncan for standing up for the kids. The 100 also does not take NEA/AFT money which may be the real motivation here.

People with real experience educating Black children said no to the unions. The 100 now has 12 charter or public single gender schools around the country. The movement should partner and invest more resources with those like the 100 who stand with the movement.

Some facts: There are 110 chapters of the 100 in the US (5 intl). About 80 either run Saturday Academy, adopt a school or other mentoring programs that focus on academic achievement with college being the goal. The New York and Atlanta chapter run all male schools as special initiatives of the Chancellor. The Memphis, Baton Rouge, Las Vegas and Prince Georges chapter run co-ed charter schools. Each chapter responding to the needs of their community.

The Mobile chapter runs a school for juvenile offenders who go to the school or prison. The Bay area chapter is planning 3 all-male charter schools in Oakland, San Francisco and Richmond. This is what the premier African-American service organization is doing. The 100 has honored member Howard Fuller and we are proud to work with DFER and BAEO.

I just spoke with Rev. Sharpton who told me that he and Marc Morial [CEO of the National Urban League] did not authorize the Schott Foundation and NAACP to use their names. They have issued statements disassociate them from the statement which was orchestrated by unions and Jesse Jackson Sr.

Hear, hear! I'll also add that Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund, didn't sign this travesty.

2) PA State Senator Anthony Williams gives the NAACP the RIPPING it so richly deserves:

The NAACP's mission, as stated in its constitution, is to ensure the political, educational, and socioeconomic equity rights of all people. So its abandonment of children creates a paralyzing moment full of confusion and betrayal.

Failing schools disproportionately occupied by children of color most certainly are NOT equal.

How can the same organization that sent a young, brilliant, future Supreme Court justice by the name of Thurgood Marshall to Washington to eradicate "separate but equal" from the public education system today send its best and brightest to argue for the preservation of schools that continually fail our poorest, most powerless children?

How can the organization that liberated the powerless to speak truth to power today claim victory in a lawsuit that stands in stark contrast to its expressed mission, its constitution, and Justice Marshall's legacy?

How cruel the past 56 years since Brown have been to present this paradoxical moment. The new NAACP, in fighting for failing schools and against the children forced to attend them, in reality fights to preserve the "separate and unequal" reality of today's public education system. I long for the "old" NAACP that abided by Marshall's words:

"I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust . . . We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better."

3) A GREAT op ed in the WSJ with another blasting of the NAACP (and a nice shout-out for DFER):

This past week the NAACP, the National Urban League and other civil-rights groups collectively condemned charter schools. Claiming to speak for minority Americans, the organizations expressed "reservations" about the Obama administration's "extensive reliance on charter schools." They specifically voiced concern about "the overrepresentation of charter schools in low-income and predominantly minority communities."

Someone should remind these leaders who they represent. The truth is that support for charters among ordinary African-Americans and Hispanics is strong and has only increased dramatically in the past two years. Opposition along the lines expressed by the NAACP and the Urban League is articulated by a small minority.

...The same cannot be said for the NAACP. It's time civil-rights groups listened to their communities.

Education reform has emerged as a wedge issue for the Democratic Party. Teachers unions are becoming increasingly pointed in their attack on Education Secretary Arne Duncan's efforts to promote charters. Meanwhile, Democrats for Education Reform, a renegade group supporting charters and other school reforms, has gained surprising influence at the highest levels of the Obama administration.

...By casting their lot firmly with teachers unions, the leadership of the NAACP and the Urban League hope to preserve their power and safeguard their traditional sources of financial support. Not only is this is a cynical strategy, it ignores where African-Americans and Hispanics are on the issue. Thankfully, the Obama administration is paying attention to the needs of low-income, minority communities and not to their purported leaders.

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