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"Superman" Charter Schools Might Not Be So Heroic

The NAACP and the United Federation of Teachers have filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education to stop the city’s closure of 22 public schools and to prevent charter schools from sharing building spaces with public schools.

According to New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, this amounts to “denying our students quality options.” Some parents of students in New York Charter schools agree, writing a joint letter to New York NAACP President Hazel Dukes stating, “We, as parents, community leaders and educators fighting for equal opportunities for all children, were so perplexed to see the NAACP of New York listed as a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to block our children's access to better schools."

The NAACP’s lawsuit however, is for the benefit of all students in New York City, including the few who are lucky enough to be selected in the lottery to be educated by the “Superman” many proponents claim charter schools to be. The NAACP deserves praise for its courageous stand for equity in the era of school choice and high-stakes testing. Far too often, at both the local and federal levels, policymakers have used charter schools and blamed teacher unions as a strategy to shy away from the real problems facing America’s public schools: segregation and disparate allocation of human resources and capital.

Through this lawsuit, the NAACP and the United Federation of Teachers are raising questions that have been missing from the reform and charter school debate. This lawsuit is a challenge as to whether charter schools are more effective than regular public schools and forces the Department of Education to grapple with the need to ensure educational excellence for students in failing public schools.

According to a study conducted by the Civil Projects at UCLA, charter schools make some of the existing problems found in American public education worse. Their research found that two out of every three black charter school students also attend a heavily segregated school, and nearly two-fifths attend a school where 99% of the students are also underrepresented minorities. These figures aren’t better than those in existing public schools, but about double the rate for black students that attend public schools. Additionally, research by CREDO suggests that most charter schools perform no better, if not worse, than their public school counterparts, despite the fact that charters don’t have the constitutional obligation to provide education to all students. 

The issue at stake in this dispute between the NAACP, the United Federation of Teachers, and charter schools is not one about choice, because equity for all students in education is not a choice but a democratic mandate. Through this lawsuit the NAACP and the United Teacher’s Federation are advancing the school reform debate from binaries like us vs. them or excellence vs. teacher’s union to how do we best educate all of America’s children. The NAACP and the United Federation of Teachers should be applauded for their efforts at making sure equity is not a choice, but a given for all children attending public schools. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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