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Carol Burris: The NAACP Was Right to Call for a Moratorium on New Charters

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Carol Burris, former high school principal and currently executive director of the Network for Public Education, wrote about the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on new charters.

Not surprisingly, Shaver Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform (the hedge funders’ education reform organization) disagreed. So did John King, the U.S. Secretary of Education. King got his start in education running a no-excuses charter school in Massachusetts that was notable for having the highest suspension rate in the state.

Burris writes that self-named “education reformers” believe that the solution to education problems is to take away democracy from people of color; that they don’t know what is in their best interest; and that they should have no voice in what happens in their children’s schools.

The democratic governance of our public schools is an American tradition worth saving. Although results are not always perfect, school board elections represent democracy in its most responsive and purest form. Sadly, it has become no more than a memory in many communities — especially in urban neighborhoods of color where citizens are already disenfranchised in so many ways.

In those communities, privately managed charters have accelerated a decline that began with mayoral control of public schools. The good news is that there is a growing awareness and resistance to privately managed schools. This is evidenced by the remarkable stand taken by the NAACP at its recent annual convention in Cincinnati, during which members passed a resolution that called for a moratorium on these charter schools.

The private governance of charter schools usually excludes parents and local community members, she says.

Let’s take a look, for example, at the Board of Success Charter Schools in New York City to see what “private management” looks like. New York City’s Success Academy has 17 non-staff directors. They are overwhelmingly white and wealthy. Only one of the 17 board members is black — Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform and a former candidate for mayor of Newark.

The rest of the board reads more like a “who’s who” of the New York Times society page than the representatives of the economically disadvantaged families of New York City. Board President Daniel Loeb, founder of Four Point Capital, is a multi-billionaire. Six other board members are founders or directors of hedge funds or private investment firms. Campbell Brown, whose education reform website consistently comes to the defense of Success, also sits on the board.

The board of Success is not an anomaly. You can find the board of KIPP here. It includes Netflix billionaire Reed Hastings; Carrie Walton Penner, an heir to the Walmart fortune; and Philippe Dauman, president and chief executive officer of Viacom.

Why does it matter who sits on the board?

Elected boards that represent a community give parents voice. I served on a board of education for 10 years. In order to be reelected by residents, I had to be sensitive to the needs of parents and taxpayers, always balancing those needs with sound governance of the schools. Later, as a high school principal in a neighboring district, I was always cognizant that I worked for an elected board. If I suspended a student, for example, I needed to make sure that I did my due diligence and followed policy, knowing that the suspension could be appealed and the overturned by the board.

Public school principals know that the decisions they make are transparent to the public and that missteps or mistakes are likely to reach the ear of a member of the board. It is highly unlikely that a Success parent could pick up a phone and get the board chairman or even his assistant, if a problem at Success occurred.

Burris believes there are clear-cut solutions to the current undemocratic, non-transparent, non-accountable methods of charter schools. Read her article to learn what they are.

Please send a big THANK YOU to the NAACP for speaking out against the privatization of public schools.

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