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Developing A Quality Education For Black Children

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Sep 8, 2016 - 10:16:36 AM

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The proper education of Black children has been a challenge since slavery when it was illegal to teach enslaved men, women and children to read. Through the history of segregated and integrated public schools to charter schools and school choice a widening education gap between Black and White students persists in the U.S.

Throughout the ongoing debate about school choice, one constant remains, Black, Latino and poor children in many areas of the country are not afforded the same high quality education as students from more affluent backgrounds and means.

Charter school proponents argue that expanding the pool of schools gives children of color a better opportunity to learn while staunch supporters of public education state that more resources and funding are needed to make those schools better.

The Movement for Black Lives and the NAACP, which has long expressed concern about charter schools, recently called for a moratorium on the expansion of privately managed charter schools.

“The NAACP is not anti-charter as a policy,” Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP told The Final Call. “But we want to put the brakes on opening new schools. We’ve found that charter schools’ suspension rates are higher and some of their expulsions are more. In Philadelphia now that we have a monitoring system, we’ve found that charters are not performing better than public schools.”

Rodney Muhammad, Philadelphia NAACP

The resolution, which was voted on during the annual convention won’t become final until an NAACP board vote in the fall, includes the following language:

“Charter schools have contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system. Weak oversight of charter schools puts students and communities at risk of harm, public funds at risk of being wasted, and further erodes local control of public education. Researchers have warned that charter school expansions in low-income communities mirror predatory lending practices that led to the sub-prime mortgage disaster, putting schools and communities impacted by these practices at great risk of loss and harm…”

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State Sacramento, has consistently written against charter Developing a quality education for Black children by Nisa Islam Muhammad Staff Writer @nisaislam schools. “I am honored it (NAACP Resolution) originated from the California-Hawaii NAACP, where I serve as Education Chair,” he wrote in a recent blog.

“I believe the NAACP, the nation’s vanguard of civil rights, has AGAIN demonstrated and articulated critical leadership sorely lacking from many other civil rights organizations on the issue of school choice.”

In early August, the Movement for Black Lives, more than 50 organizations including Black Lives Matter organizers, released its first policy agenda which also calls for an “end to the privatization of education.”

Their agenda also identifies the financial backers of what they call “an international education privatization agenda,” the Walton Family Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics the number of students enrolled in public charter schools between school years 2003–04 and 2013–14 increased from 800,000 to 2.5 million.

The percentage of public school students who attended charter schools increased from 1.6 to 5.1 percent during this period, following an increase of 1.7 million in the number of charter school students and a decrease of 400,000 in the number of traditional public school students. Between 2012–13 and 2013–14, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools increased from 2.3 million to 2.5 million.

The center also found the following:

Between school years 2003–04 and 2013–14, charter schools experienced changes in their demographic composition similar to those seen at traditional public schools. The percentage of charter school students who were Hispanic increased (from 21 to 30 percent), as did the percentage who were Asian/Pacific Islander (from three to four percent).

In contrast, the percentage of charter school students who were White decreased from 42 to 35 percent. The percentages also decreased for Black (from 32 to 27 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native (from two to one percent).

The call for a moratorium on school choice from two widely known and supported organizations in the Black community has drawn a line in the sand about public versus charter schools. Dr. Steve Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., was quick to respond.

Steve Perry
“The NAACP isn’t even considering what’s best for black children. If they were considering what’s best for Black children the first thing they would be doing is getting Black children out of the schools that lead to the prison pipeline. Over 90 percent of Black children are attending traditional schools that have failed since they opened to educate Black children. So much so that the venerable NAACP came to prominence in large part due to its efforts to get Black children out of those schools,” he told The Final Call.

“The teachers union has thrown a couple of dollars at them and it isn’t even real money. They literally take on the teacher’s union perspective. The teachers union which by the way is over 90 percent White and overwhelmingly female. They take on a suburban White female platform at the expense of Black, Latino and poor children of all colors. The second thing is the data is so clear that Black children, in general, and Black males, in particular, are doing better in charter schools, in particular, and school choice in general.”

Under Dr. Perry’s leadership, Capital Prep has sent 100 percent of its predominantly low-income, minority, first generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since its first class graduated in 2006. Other charter schools around the country, such as Chicago’s allmale Urban Prep Academy have had similar accomplishments. This year was the seventh consecutive year that 100 percent of its seniors have been accepted to a four-year college or university.

Dr. Perry also believes the NAACP resolution is hypocritical. “None of them are sending their children to these raggedy, low performing failure factories that have Black children thinking they are stupid, has parents thinking they are bad parents and the rest of the world thinking there’s something inherently wrong with Black kids.” “However, 10 of the top 20 performing schools in the entire state of New York State are majority Black, Latino and poor student charter schools. So they are not just out performing other urban charter schools, they are beating White schools. So what we have proven with school choice, which the NAACP says they are against as an organization but they are for as parents, is not only are our kids pretty good when they are given access to a good school, but they are freaking amazing because they are beating other kids with significant advantage.”

Sharif El Mekki, principal of Philadelphia’s Mastery Charter School, told The Final Call that before the NAACP calls for a moratorium a few questions should be answered.


‘If America is unwilling to destroy the old system of education in order to create a new system of education, then America’s status as a world power will quickly fade away in a generation or so.’
–Minister Louis Farrakhan, “A Torchlight for America.”

“Why do so many low-income Black and Latino families feel the need to choose charters over traditional schools? Where is the moratorium on unfair funding practices that create inequities in our communities in need? Where is the moratorium on the inherent inequities created by criteriabased public schools and magnet programs that cream from the top (as charters are routinely accused of)? Where is the moratorium on unfair union contracts that make it almost impossible to exit consistently underperforming teachers?” he asked.

“If a moratorium on school choice for Black and Latino families will address the questions above, then we should talk. If not, it is a distraction from delivering on what families in charters and on charter wait lists are asking for,” said Mr. El Mekki.

He added, “Just like traditional district schools, charters have much room to grow. But the call for a moratorium reeks of the type of privilege associated with Black flight post Brown vs. the Board of Education. Those who choose to stay in the neighborhoods of their families deserve to also have great school choices in the communities they live.”

The reality is there are good public schools and good charter schools, failing public schools and failing charter schools.

“We should be fixing what’s broken and expanding what works, not pre-empting the choices of parents of color about the best schools appropriate for meeting the particular needs of their children,” explained Democrats For Education Reform President Shavar Jeffries in a statement.

One of the concerns about charter schools is who is really qualified to open a school and who is profiting financially from the education of most poor children of color?

“Everyone that opens a charter, are they really qualified to run a school,” asked Mr. Muhammad. “We have hedge fund managers applying for charters. They quadrupled the amount they want for administration. They profit off the backs of Black children. They get $6 million to $7 million a year to run a school. There are very good charter schools in Philadelphia but a lot of them are performing poorly.”

The federal government and local governments offer tax credits for businesses interested in opening charter schools as part of the New Markets Tax Credit that began in 2000. According to the Treasury Department, the credit combines: …the private sector and the federal government—to bring economic and community development to low-income communities. From job creation to increased access to essential educational, health, and retail services, and from the rehabilitation of blighted communities to the development of renewable energy sources, NMTC projects have benefited neighborhoods throughout the country.

According to researchers these credits allow hedge fund managers and wealthy real estate investors to take advantage of these credits with little oversight as to how the schools are run and if they are in fact serving the best interests of students, parents and the community.

The moratorium would allow states to investigate problems such as schools that only accept the best students, force challenging students to withdraw, have high suspension rates of Black students and students with disabilities as well as claims that unregulated charter schools are draining public funds.

“It’s time to pause and investigate: Should there be so many entities that are allowed to open them?” asked Dr. Vasquez Heilig. “If you are not an educator, should you be allowed to open a charter school? Is there a due process for parents who feel that their kids were pushed out? How do charters schools make decisions about firing and hiring? How do they spend public money?”

Principal Mekki believes the NAACP is far removed from the realities of the typical Black student.

“Last year, as our students and families were rallying for our charter to be renewed, our local NAACP dropped this gem, ‘they are nothing but a consultant group for private industry who wants to take over our children and put them back on the auction block.’ Yes. He likened our public school and the school choice of thousands of families over the past 10 years to an auction block.” “While the national office and many state affiliations perch on far-removed ivory towers pontificating about the needs of the students, I can’t help but to question their leadership, relevance, and ‘woke ness’ they possess. This recent demand for a moratorium on charter schools has a familiar ring of dismissiveness towards the plight of the other 90 percent of Black America.”

As far back as the 1930s, Nation of Islam patriarch Elijah Muhammad was keenly aware that the U.S. educational system was not the place for Black children. Mr. Muhammad and his followers were persecuted and jailed for taking their children out of White schools to teach them in an environment that eventually gave birth to Muhammad University of Islam, a private educational system.

“Our children should be trained in our own schools, not dropped into the schools of the enemy where they are taught that Whites have been and forever will be world rulers,” the Hon. Elijah Muhammad wrote in his monumental book, “Message to the Blackman in America.”

His National Representative, Minister Louis Farrakhan, cautioned that the problem of today’s education is that the root motivation is the acquisition of wealth and material things rather than the cultivation of the human spirit.

“If America does not wake up and recognize the consequences of perpetuating the current system of education, then the country’s fate is sealed. If America is unwilling to destroy the old system of education in order to create a new system of education, then America’s status as a world power will quickly fade away in a generation or so,” wrote Min. Farrakhan in his critically acclaimed book, “A Torchlight for America.”

Dr. Marco Clark, principal of the Richard Wright Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., explained that the repercussions of failing schools have a ripple effect.

“People wonder why HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) are failing. They are failing because we are sending unprepared students to them. Students are not prepared well in public schools and consequently can’t perform well in college,” he told The Final Call. “How will the NAACP’s decision affect communities with a lack of options? The NAACP is ignoring the facts and that’s just ludicrous.” (Final Call staff contributed to this report.)