In Partnership with 74

NAACP should be supporting, not fighting, charters

Guest contributor | February 8, 2017

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By Johnathan Williams

In light of the seemingly endless civil rights violations in the news daily, I was shocked to see our premier civil rights organization, the NAACP, call for a moratorium on the most effective vehicle for delivering better educational outcomes than our traditional school systems. As a man, who happens to be African-American, I started a charter public school in the post-LA Riots/Rodney King Police Revolt to prove that children of color could consistently graduate into our nation’s best colleges and universities. At the time we opened its doors, the traditional public system was approaching a 50 percent drop-out rate. We needed solutions, and we needed them quickly.  

Charter schools provided high-quality public school options for kids in my community, just like they do for kids across the country. It’s this type of community-driven solution that the NAACP should be supporting. Instead, they are choosing to use precious time, energy, and money to fight against charter schools and make a moratorium on any new charters part of their national platform.

The moratorium was adopted during the NAACP’s national board meeting in October; passing over the objections of hundreds of civil rights leaders, parents, and students. 

Now, the NAACP will make a stop at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters this Thursday as part of a national tour to discuss the state of public education and how charter public schools are educating students of color.  

Here in Los Angeles, we are fortunate to have a strong charter school community. We have more charter schools than any other county in the United States and enroll approximately 100,000 students. It is crucial that the children of our district have a voice. It is crucial that the parents in our district have a choice. We must have an open and honest conversation to ensure the best education possible for our students.

Across the country, 3 million students are enrolled in public charter schools and millions more are on waiting lists hoping for a spot. Like traditional public schools, charters are free, and they are open to all students. Charters are funded with public dollars, and as a result, they are accountable to the same state and national standards as traditional public schools. 

Yes, some charter schools may still have room for improvement, as do all schools. The NAACP is right to raise concerns over the lack of integration in our public schools. Making charters the scapegoat won’t get you very far in finding a solution. Charter schools are leading the charge in many regards, to ty to address the education gaps that exist. In fact, in many crucial aspects, charter schools are beginning to outperform traditional public schools, especially among our students of color.

In Los Angeles County, 83 percent of students enrolled in charter schools were from low-income families as opposed to 69 percent in traditional public schools. A recent national study showed that African-American students in public charter schools gained an average of 36 extra days of reading and 26 extra days of math when compared to their traditional school peers. For black students from low-income backgrounds, the gains were even more impressive. Those students gained 44 more days of reading and 59 days — almost two whole months — of extra math.

Not only do these students succeed at a higher rate than their peers in traditional schools, but they also finish school at higher rates. The charter school graduation rate is 83 percent, a trend that has shown improvement across all racial and ethnic groups. Today, the graduation rate for African-Americans is 75 percent, still lower than our white counterparts, but an increase that shows our community rapidly closing that achievement gap. In fact, we’ve exceeded the national rate of improvement by making yearly gains of 1.3 percent since 2011. We want to work with the NAACP, not against it, to ensure that we are doing right by the students who most need our help. 

The good news is that student achievement is up across Los Angeles. These increases in student performance, graduation, and taking of college preparation courses are the results of and reaction to charter schools’ partnership with the community to re-define public schooling. I hope we all agree that the cornerstone of the new civil rights agenda is effective public education. So in addition to the long history of advancing the plight of our people, I hope that the NAACP appreciates the advances charters are delivering.

Johnathan Williams is the founder and chief executive officer of The Accelerated Schools.

*This has been corrected as Thursday’s gathering will be at LAPD headquarters instead of City Hall. 

Disclosure: The 74, the parent of LA School Report, and The Accelerated Schools both receive funding from the California Community Foundation, the William E. Simon Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

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