The Black civil rights organisation, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) has attacked charter schools and demanded a moratorium on them. In this video from the Real News, the anchor, Jaisal Noor, talks to Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, a teacher, educationalist and blogger, who’s the head of the leadership in education programme at one of the American universities about the NAACP’s call for a ban. The charter schools are the American equivalent of our academy schools. They were introduced in 2001, and began to expand massively after Obama’s election in 2008 as part of his ‘Race to the Top’ education programme. The NAACP object to these schools on the grounds that they remove public control, enforce segregation and have punitive educational regimes. They also draw a comparison between the proliferation of these schools and the predatory sub-prime mortgage market which was partly responsible for the near collapse of the banking system in 2008.
This isn’t the first time the NAACP has criticised charter schools. In 2010 they made a statement that rather than promoting the expansion of these schools, more money should be given to improving existing public (state) schools in urban America serving Black communities. In 2014 the NAACP further condemned charter schools as part of the privatisation of education of education, and the wider privatisation movement. The demand for the moratorium on these schools was passed this year by a meeting of more than 2200 of the organisation’s delegates. Heilig states that this is a very reasonable position as when they were first introduced, charter schools promised more freedom and more accountability. They have instead gained more freedom and less accountability.
Noor responds by stating that for many Black parents in cities like New York and Baltimore, charter schools represent some hope of improving their children’s education over the dire state schools in their areas, but there are long queues of people trying to get in. He quotes a Black Democrat politician, Shivar Jefferies of Democrats for Education Reform as stating that they should be concentrating on fixing what is broken, and expanding what works. Heilig states that he has offered to debate Jefferies about charter schools in California or New York. Jefferies first accepted, and then declined. Heilig states that when you examine the statistics, the supposed advantages of charter schools melt away. He does agree with Jefferies, however, on the wider point that society has failed Black, Latino, Native American and other poor students deliberately. He states that American society has decided that ‘inequality is OK’. Where Heilig and Jefferies differ is in the way this is to be tackled. He points out that there are big corporations, like Wall Street, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation and many more behind the private control of education. Heilig says that this is where he differs with Jefferies. He and the others in NAACP would like community schools, and community-based charters, district charters and intergovernmental charters. He points out that people are upset with the creation of charter schools, because the free market system they are trying to use to improve schools – he gives the example of the ‘better house you buy, the better the school’, is the very system that has damaged the educational system in the first place.
He states that the key to change and improvement is offering more democratic control for parents in their local schools through community-based programmes. Heilig makes the point that if you look at the polls of what people want, they want less testing, higher quality teachers, and better courses. Those require resources. But the Supreme Court in Texas, however, decided that the $25,000 differences between classes for rich and poor is acceptable at school. This means millions of dollars in difference at the district level.
Noor also asks him about the statistics showing that children at charter schools perform extremely well, and so therefore charter schools are an educational improvement that should be further implemented. Heilig points out that there are some state schools that are also doing a great job. He also makes the point that the 2009 Credo study showed that 89 per cent of students at public schools performed exactly the same as those in state schools. Shivar Jefferies and the others in favour of charters schools don’t like that study, and prefer to quote another Credo study from 2015. This study, however, showed that in charter schools Latinos do 0.008 per cent better in reading, and Black 0.05 per cent. He states that the difference in performance is almost negligible. Furthermore, there are other methods in improving performance that are far more effective. These methods, which include reducing class size, can improve educational performance by between 1000 to 4000 per cent. He states that there’s no secret to what works, and you don’t need to go to countries with high standards in education, like Finland and Singapore to see that. You only have to go ‘across the tracks’ to rich neighbourhoods to see what resources are given to their schools, to see the kind of improvements that have to be made to the schools in poor neighbourhoods.
I’ve reblogged this because this debate is clearly very relevant to what’s happening over here with the academies Blair set up and which Thicky Nicky Morgan wanted to make universal. The system’s critics over here have pointed out that they are a part privatisation of education. The backers in Britain, however, tend to be second-rate businessmen. The leading businesses don’t want to touch them because they’re divisive. They are also very highly selective. A much larger proportion of students are expelled, or effectively expelled, from these schools, often for very trivial reasons. These frequently tend to be the poorer, or less intelligent students, the children the school would have problems with getting them through the exams. So they try to get rid of them by expelling them for supposed infractions of school rules. And discipline is also extremely strict. A few years ago a television documentary on the Vardy schools, set up by an evangelical Christian businessman, had humiliated pupils by refusing them to go to the toilet, even when they were in desperate need, and not allowing the girls to leave to change their sanitary towels. And there are also concerns that they’re socially divisive, especially as many of them are now under the control of the church or religious organisations.
Britain tends to look across the Atlantic to try to see what the Americans are doing in certain issues. This demand by the NAACP for a moratorium on charters/ academies, so that society can take stock of their impact, might have an effect in encouraging Black educationalists over here to follow and further demand a halt to their expansion in Britain. This would not only improve conditions for Blacks, but also for the poor White students that are also falling behind.