For Black Students, Are Charter Schools Doing More Harm Than Good?

As Black History Month kicks off with a focus on “The Crisis in Black Education,” the debate has gotten a lot more complicated.

Black History Month began Wednesday, and this year’s theme is “The Crisis in Black Education.” According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the group that founded BHM—this crisis “has grown significantly in urban neighborhoods where public schools lack resources, endure overcrowding, exhibit a racial achievement gap, and confront policies that fail to deliver substantive opportunities.”

Delivering those opportunities is one of America’s unfinished civil rights imperatives. But it will require resolving new divisions within the racial justice movement over one of the great hopes for extending educational opportunity: Charter schools.

President Barack Obama championed these publicly funded but independently run schools, whose promise is that freedom from traditional bureaucratic regulation will allow educators to innovate, thus improving student outcomes. Unlike vouchers—essentially publicly funded passes for select students to attend private school, which Democrats typically oppose—charters are a public form of “school choice” that enjoys bipartisan support. In particular, supporters see them as a lifeline to poor and minority families; most are located in urban and other low-income areas across the country.

But the charter movement was dealt a devastating blow last year when both the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter–aligned Movement for Black Lives called for a moratorium on these schools. With its resolution, the NAACP listed four conditions under which the nation’s oldest civil rights group would support further charter proliferation:

(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools

(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system

(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and

(4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

The Movement for Black Lives had many of the same concerns. In August, a coauthor of the group’s education policy platform, Jonathan Stith, told The American Prospect that “charter schools are used to pull funding from other schools, they destabilize traditional public schools, and ultimately lead to their closures.” Yet as the Prospect noted, the group diverged from the NAACP on one key issue:

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Source: New Republic | GRAHAM VYSE