Post: Charter schools under attack

Washington Post Editorial Board

“When schools get it right, whether they’re traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working and share it with schools across America.” Hillary Clinton was booed at the National Education Association’s summer convention for that self-evidently sensible proposition. The reaction speaks volumes about labor’s uniformed and self-interested opposition to charter schools and contempt for what’s best for children. Now the union has been joined by a couple of organizations that purport to be champions of opportunity.

In separate conventions over recent weeks, the NAACP, the nation’s oldest black civil rights organization, and the Movement for Black Lives, a network of Black Lives Matter organizers, passed resolutions criticizing charter schools and calling for a moratorium on their growth. Charters were faulted by the groups for supposedly draining money from traditional public schools and allegedly fueling segregation. The NAACP measure, which still must be ratified by the board before becoming official, went so far as to liken the expansion of charters to “predatory lending practices” that put low-income communities at risk.

No doubt that will come as a surprise to the millions of parents who have seen their children well-served by charters and to the additional million more who are on charter school waiting lists for their sons and daughters. “You’ve got thousands and thousands of poor black parents whose children are so much better off because these schools exist,” Howard Fuller of the Black Alliance for Educational Options told the New York Times.

Since the first charter school opened nearly 25 years ago in Minnesota, support for the non-traditional schools has grown with nearly 3 million students in more than 6,700 charters in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Demand is high with parents of school-age children – particularly those who have low incomes – overwhelmingly saying they favor the opening of more charter schools. Little wonder, considering that the alternative is often failing traditional schools and that high-quality charters have proven to be successful in lifting student achievement. A recent study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University looked at 41 regions and found that “urban charter schools on average achieve significantly greater student success in both math and reading, which amounts to 40 additional days of learning growth in math and 28 days of additional growth in reading,” compared to traditional public schools. About 60 percent of charters are located in cities, serving high-risk students. The thought of denying school choice to these families – something that middle- and upper-class parents blithely take for granted – is simply maddening.

To be sure, there are charter schools with problems, as was demonstrated by comedian John Oliver’s recent skewering of several outrageous cases. But rather than impose artificial limits, the response should be to fix such problems as lax authorization standards or unfair discipline practices while replicating the successes. Schools that fail to educate students – be they charter or traditional – should be shuttered. We urge NAACP leadership to put the interests of African-American children ahead of the interests of political allies who help finance the group’s activities – and veto this ill-conceived resolution.

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