A few weeks ago, an African-American parent in Florida took the NAACP to task in a guest column for one of the state’s leading African-American newspapers.
Wevlyn Graves was upset because the NAACP’s Florida chapter had joined the state teacher union in a lawsuit to kill the state’s tax credit scholarship.* The 15-year-old initiative is now the largest private school choice program in America, and it’s expected to serve more than 90,000 students this fall. That includes more than 20,000 African-American children. That includes Graves’s 10-year-old son.
“You’re telling me the NAACP is fighting against the ability of African American parents to have more options and choices to further their children’s education,” Graves wrote, “when African Americans have been fighting for that since the beginning? Are you serious?”
I thought of Graves’ op-ed when it surfaced last week that delegates to the NAACP’s national convention had passed a resolution calling for a national moratorium on charter schools.
I appreciate her column because it offers the view of a school choice parent. Their views are too often absent from school choice debates, including this ongoing debate over the NAACP and charters.
I also think Ms. Graves makes a particularly powerful point about school choice history.
Before I go on, a disclaimer: I have nothing but respect and admiration for the NAACP. It pains me to not be on the same page, on this issue, with a group that has done so much, for so many, for so long.
At the same time, I think it’s fair to offer a little more context, especially to progressives who may not follow education issues closely, and who may be reflexively swayed by the NAACP position. They should know there is far more to the NAACP story, and they can read and hear some of the pushback from African-American leaders here, here and here.
To add to Ms. Graves’s thread, there are strong currents of educational freedom that course throughout American history, and they are particularly deep in African-American communities. The NAACP and its surrogates say they’re worried about privatization when it comes to both charter schools and state-supported private school scholarships. But African-American communities have not shied from private schools, charter schools or private philanthropy in education, not when it enabled them to access or create better alternatives for their children.
Mary McLeod Bethune wasn’t aiming to privatize education in 1904, when she founded a private school, the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. She created the school because the public schools were so bad.
Privatization wasn’t on Marva Collins’s mind in 1975, when she took $5,000 from her teacher’s retirement fund to start Westside Prep, an acclaimed private school for low-income black kids in Chicago. She was moved to do so because she could not stomach the epidemic of black children being labeled “disabled” in public schools, and doomed by low expectations.
Rosa Parks wasn’t trying to ring up cash registers in the late 1990s, when she and her foundation applied to start a charter school in Detroit. She wanted to lift up the struggling kids in her inner-city neighborhood, and instill in them the traits that made her an American hero: “dignity with pride, courage with perseverance and power with discipline.” Continue Reading →