An English teacher friend of mine was a finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year in the mid 90’s. As one of the culminating steps in the selection process, the four finalists were assigned a topic little was known about at the time. They were instructed to research it and present their findings to an audience.
The topic was charter schools. There were no charter schools in Connecticut at the time. My friend concluded that the worth of charter schools would depend on the answers to two questions:
1) Will the innovations created at charter schools inform and improve the public schools that the vast majority of children and adolescents in the U.S. attend?
2) Will charter schools be held accountable to address student needs as traditional public schools are required to do?
Fast forward to 2017: We now have had charter schools in Connecticut for 21 years. The answers to my friend’s two questions came from the NAACP.
The NAACP, long concerned about the education of children of color, in 2016 passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the opening any more charter schools. Then, from December 2016 through April 2017, a NAACP task force conducted a listening tour, focusing on seven states (including Connecticut), to gather information about existing charter schools and K-12 public schools in general. The answers to my friend’s two questions were part of the report of the NAACP Task Force entitled “Quality Education For All … One School At A Time.”
The NAACP Task Force Report answered the first question with an emphatic NO. The report states: “Charter schools were created with more flexibility because they were expected to innovate and infuse new ideas into the traditional public school system. However, that aspect of the promise never materialized.” There has been no carryover from the charter schools to the traditional public schools. Charter schools have not been learning labs, free from the restrictions imposed on public schools, which try out new ideas that benefit the larger population of students in public schools. Charter schools have failed in fulfilling their original purpose.
The NAACP Task Force Report also states that, in addition to not improving education in general, the education that charter schools provide to their students is questionable. The report quotes a large scale study of student data from the Center for Research Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute that found that 17 percent of charter schools produced academic gains better than traditional public schools, 37 percent of charter schools performed worse than their traditional public schools counterparts serving similar students, 46 percent of the schools showed no difference. The NAACP Task Force Report goes on to state that there are better ways, other than charter schools, to improve student achievement, such as reducing class size.
The NAACP Task Force Report answered the second question with a resounding NOT YET and made specific recommendations for holding existing charter schools accountable.
The NAACP report criticizes charters for taking public tax money but not letting the public know how they spend that money. The report also criticizes charter schools for not accepting its share of children with learning issues and children who do not speak English as their first language and for counseling out students who will not be successful on measures such as standardized tests or graduation rates. In addition, the report criticizes charter schools for giving students inexperienced and uncertified teachers and for suspending and expelling students for behavioral issues at a much higher rate than traditional public schools.
The report recommends that only local boards of education, which are responsive to the voters in the school district, be allowed to authorize and supervise charter schools, not appointed state boards of education or appointed state departments of education. Charters would be required have the same level of fiscal transparency and accountability as the traditional public schools in the district. The report also calls for charter schools to have open enrollment and to “not select and reject students based on their educational or behavioral histories and needs”. In addition, the report calls for charter schools to follow the same regulations as traditional public schools in regard to hiring certified teachers as well as suspending and expelling students.
The NAACP Task Force Report rejects charter schools and insists that children of color have the same rights as white suburban children. How sad that in 2017 those rights still need to be demanded. But they do. The NAACP Task Force Report must be listened to and enacted in order to make real the civil rights of children.
Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for middle and high school curricula she designed and implemented.