The Year of School Choice—But Not for African-American Kids in NYC


By: Dr. John A. Sparks

In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal calls 2011 the “year of school choice.” Parents and the legislators who represent them, particularly in inner-city schools, are tired of waiting for the promised effects of “educational reform” on the public schools their children attend. Therefore, according to the Wall Street Journal, in one form or another, 13 states have passed school-choice legislation, and similar changes are proposed in 28 other states. Such legislation often permits the formation of publicly financed “charter schools,” which are run by new schools boards whose members insist upon an educational environment that will produce real learning.

Despite progress in many places, New York City children, many of them African-American, may not be able to return to charters or start in them anew in the fall due to a lawsuit instituted against the NYC’s Department of Education by what would seem to be a tragically ironic twosome: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

One would certainly assume that NYC’s charter program—which would allow parents to withdraw their children from the 22 poor public schools in New York and move them to effective charter or other schools—would be eagerly supported by the NAACP and the UFT. After all, these are schools deemed (by pre-established criteria) to be “failing.” But that is not the case. Why?

Perhaps one could understand the UFT, long an ideological champion of public schools, no matter how poorly they perform, engaging in such a suit, but why the NAACP, in light of its announced commitment to black and Latino youths and their parents? Here is a case where political/ideological dedication to the public-school monopoly is stronger than loyalty to the very people which the NAACP is pledged to help.

Fortunately, NYC parents with children attending or about to enter charter schools in the fall are not committed to this ideological blindness. They simply want the good schooling for their children that educational choice provides, and they are speaking out. Akeisha Adams, who has a child in Explore Charter School, recently spoke to a group of outraged parents in front of UTF headquarters. Her message was short and sweet to the UTF. “The UTF’s power just keeps growing and growing and growing, right? Now, that is what the teachers’ union is used to. They’re used to children and parents making sacrifices so the teacher’s union can keep its strong hold on public education. Guess what? We are here to tell them today, ‘no more!’”

The same could be said to the NAACP. How can an organization supposedly committed to helping blacks and other minority groups climb the educational ladder file a lawsuit to obstruct educational opportunities for what amounts to 7,000 of New York’s most disadvantaged kids? Black parents have a right to be perplexed, frustrated, and outraged by such a stance.

The Economist reports that another parent, Ny Whittaker, whose child attends a Harlem charter school, summarized it well: the “NAACP is on the wrong side of history.”

Precisely so, and the disgraceful stance of the NAACP and the UTF should be reassessed by its leaders. As a banner at a recent rally read: “UFT your lawsuit hurts my child.”

Dr. John A. Sparks is dean of the Calderwood School of Arts & Letters at Grove City College (Grove City, PA), where he teaches U.S. constitutional history and business law. He is a fellow for educational policy with The Center for Vision & Values and a member of the State Bar of Pennsylvania. Contact him at: jasparks@gcc.edu.

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