NAACP opposition to charter schools based on misinformation, misunderstanding

Jondré Pryor is in his ninth year as principal of KIPP South Fulton Academy in East Point and is the 2016 Georgia Charter School Association Principal of the Year. In this essay, Pryor questions why the 64-member board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is taking up a resolution later this week on a moratorium against charter schools at its meeting in Cincinnati .

The NAACP membership called for a moratorium on privately managed charter schools this summer at a national convention Pryor attended. The resolution, which has to be approved by the NAACP board, expresses concern over discipline, increased segregation and financial mismanagement in such charter schools. The growth of for-profit charter schools sector also concerns the NAACP. A similar resolution was approved by the Movement for Black Lives.

Georgia has a mix of charter schools, including some overseen by school districts. However, the growth nationwide is among privately managed charter schools.

With that background, here is principal Pryor's essay:

By Jondré Pryor

As a school principal, summer is when I have time to leave my building and learn from other people working to provide children with opportunities to fulfill their potential. In July, I went to the annual convention of the NAACP, an organization I’ve long respected and whose leadership in the civil rights movement my students study at our school, KIPP South Fulton Academy, near Atlanta.

At the convention, in Cincinnati, I was in a hall with 2,000 people who looked like me and shared my belief in black advocacy and empowerment. But I came to realize that we part ways when it comes to the school choices we believe families should have.

I had never encountered this before at my charter school, where, naturally, I’m surrounded by people who support tuition-free public schools like ours, which are granted greater independence than traditional public schools in districts. Ninety-three percent of families at KIPP South Fulton are African-American, as are nearly 80 percent of my staff. I know so many charter school leaders who are black, like me. So when a resolution came up on the convention floor to oppose schools like mine and prevent more from opening up, I was surprised.

I came to understand the NAACP’s position a little better when I attended a panel on education with several of my KIPP colleagues and when I talked one-on-one with several delegates. It became clear that misinformation was the basis for their opposition. They had heard stories about a few bad charter schools, and they were using that to judge all 6,800 schools in the movement. There have been some terrible stories about charter schools, just as we’ve all read terrible stories about traditional public schools and private schools. Those are unfortunate, embarrassing, disheartening exceptions.

The broader truth is, charter schools are enormously popular among African-American families, and we can point to some outstanding results for our scholars. Last year, a study in 41 regions by Stanford University found more learning happens for African-American students in charter schools than in traditional district schools — about a month each in reading and in math, per school year.

At the NAACP conference, when I told the delegates about the school I lead and the 345 scholars in grades 5-8 who go there, they were surprised to learn that KIPP is a nonprofit, not a company seeking to make money. (Personally, I am opposed to for-profit schools.) They were surprised to hear that in KIPP’s 200 schools nationwide, we stay with our 80,000 students even after they graduate high school. Eighty-one percent go on to college, and we continue to support them toward their diploma.

My conversations at the NAACP conference said to me that those of us in the charter movement, and particularly black charter advocates and other people of color, need to do a better job of sharing our stories and results. Even though charter schools have been around for 25 years and now enroll nearly 3 million students in 43 states and DC, we’re still only 6 percent of public schools in America. Looking at the list of NAACP board members who will decide next week whether to ratify the resolution passed at the summer convention, I see that many of them live in places where they’ve probably never encountered a charter school.

More than 1,500 black parents, education, business and faith leaders have invited NAACP board members to visit charter schools. I hope they’ll visit mine. They’ll see how we adults model grit, optimism, social intelligence and gratitude for our scholars. They’ll experience joy throughout the building and engage with thoughtful, purposeful scholars. Over and over, they’ll meet scholars focused on graduating from college.

Charter public schools have a lot to show for our support of African-American students. I hope those who have expressed opposition to our schools’ existence will give us a chance to change their minds.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.