As I sat at the meeting of the education committee of the Connecticut General Assembly in early spring and heard the CEO of the charter school advocacy group, ConnCAN, say that Connecticut needed more seats in charter schools in order to save students from “being trapped in failing schools”, I had questions.
First of all, if thousands of children are suffering, why is the concern with just helping a handful of them? Only 1.5% of Connecticut’s public school students are in charter schools. What about the other 98.5%? Do we have a lifeboat mentality in which a few are rescued and the rest go down with what charter school advocates are happy to call a sinking ship? How is that fair?
Secondly, what happened to Sheff vs. O’Neill, the court case which set clear goals for integrating schools in Connecticut? All of the charter school students accompanying the CEO of ConnCAN to the legislative hearing were children of color. Clearly, the enrollment of Connecticut’s charter schools mirrors the national figures as reported by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, which states: “Charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools 1n virtually every state and every metropolitan area in the nation.” The report points out that 70% of charter school students are in schools in which 90-100% of the students are students of color, which is double the number of students segregated in that way in traditional public schools.
Thirdly, how do we know which schools are “failing” and which are not? Nationally, about 50% of charter schools perform the same as their traditional public school counterparts although the charter school student population is more selective and has fewer special education students and fewer students with English as a second language. The other 50% of charter schools are about equally divided between some doing better than traditional public schools and others doing worse than traditional public schools. Clearly, being a charter school does not exempt a school from being a “failing school”. If charter schools offered an education that is innovative and exciting, then surely the suburban parents would clamor for them to be in their communities.
Fourthly, how can a school build a good curriculum and sound pedagogy when the staff has a high rate of turnover? Charter schools have a 20-45% teacher turnover rate with young, uncertified teachers who have no teaching experience coming in each year and staying for an average of 2.3 years. High teacher turnover affects the quality of the education because it impedes the development of instructional cohesion within the school.
Fifthly, what about the high suspension rates in charter schools? For example, last year, 23.78 % of the children were suspended at a charter elementary school in New Haven (Achievement First’s Amistad Academy), 58.6% of the students at one charter high school (Elm City College Prep) and 53.5% of students at another high school (Bridgeport Achievement First) were suspended as compared to 25 % of high school students suspended from schools identified by the state as the lowest performing schools in the state. The average suspension rate for all of Connecticut’s high schools is 12.3%. Currently, Achievement First Hartford , which has elementary grades through high school, is on probation after an audit criticized the school for a high rate of suspensions as well as for having too many uncertified teachers.
In addition, what about the governance of charter schools which take taxpayer money but deny taxpayer oversight and refuse transparency? Their boards are comprised largely of wealthy entrepreneurs and hedge fund managers from outside of the school’s community rather than comprised of parents and citizens of the community?
And lastly, if charter schools are about good education, why are they not in suburban communities? Are charter schools done to impoverished communities of color more than for impoverished communities of color? Is the charter school movement part of what Rupert Murdoch calls a profit-making “$500 billion sector in the US alone” and visited upon the unsuspecting parents who are earnestly searching for the best for their children? Are charter schools windfalls for enterprising entrepreneurs?
I left the meeting concerned.
Then I later became dismayed. The result of the hearing was that in June the Governor gave the legislature an ultimatum: 401 new charter school seats must be funded. That resulted in an increase of 4.1 million allocated for charter schools and a decrease of 51.7 million for traditional public schools and a decrease of 15.4 million for magnet schools. Connecticut is in a financial crisis; everything is being trimmed. The only way to account for the increasing of the budget allocation for charter schools is to recognize the role of campaign financing. The Governor’s chief campaign contributor, a wealthy entrepreneur, sits on the boards of charter schools and is a lead advocator for charter schools in Connecticut.
Politics. Profits for entrepreneurs. Racism. Inadequate learning experiences for students. What hope is there for all the children?
But then came the summer and the good news…….
The NAACP is doing something for all of the children.. They have taken a firm stand. At their national convention in July, the NAACP passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. The NAACP criticized charter schools for lack of public governance, the targeting of low income communities of color, increased segregation, inadequate teaching staffs, and harsh disciplinary practices. The organization that has long been in the forefront of highlighting civil rights violations has taken the lead. More than 50 African American social advocacy groups, including the Black Lives Matter movement has joined the NAACP, stating that charter schools represent a “systemic attack” on communities of color.
The resolution for a moratorium on charter school expansion requires ratification by the Board of Directors of the NAACP at a board meeting in the fall. The charter school industry, with the unlimited money of Bill and Melinda Gates, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton family are marshaling forces to overturn the NAACP resolution. A PAC called Democrats for Education Reform, whose board is composed largely of hedge fund managers who seem to regard privatizing education through charters schools as a way to turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital, are engaged in fierce opposition to the NAACP resolution.
You can be a voice in this controversy. If you believe that the NAACP has taken a positive step forward with their call for a moratorium on new charter schools, please join me by clicking on the this link to state your support of the NAACP for their wise and courageous resolution.
Sure we have a lot to do to improve education: fund universal Pre-K, reduce class size in K-12, improve supportive services, get rid of the damaging Common Core, and replace standardized tests with effective assessments. But first we must say loudly and firmly that those improvements are for ALL children. We, as a nation, must stop privatizing public education with profit-making, racial profiling charter schools for SOME of our children and, instead, focus on ALL of our children. Our democracy demands it.
NOTE: PRESS RELEASE
October 15, 2016
CINCINNATI – Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Board of Directors ratified a resolution Saturday adopted by delegates at its 2016 107th National Convention calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice.
“The NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the National NAACP Board of Directors. “We are dedicated to eliminating the severe racial inequities that continue to plague the education system.”