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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Charter Schools Are Racist? The Answer Isn’t Black and White

It’s been one year since members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people took the extraordinary step of calling for a ban on new charter schools. Their reasoning? Charters—mostly through a lack of accountability and regulations—were hurting black students. The NAACP’s move cracked open a divide within the African-American community on the subject. A highly visible contingent of the charter sector is devoted to serving black and Latino students. Earl Phalen is part of that group. He’s the founder of a charter network of ten schools that serves mostly low-income black students in Indianapolis and Detroit. As NAACP members are meeting in Baltimore this week, and the group is set to release a report on charter schools, I called Phalen to ask him, one year later, what effect the NAACP’s call for a moratorium has had on him and his work.

In the meantime, large percentages of black Americans support school choice:

Private school choice is the work of racists. That message, it seems increasingly clear, is going to be a major weapon wielded by opponents of educational freedom for the foreseeable future. It is the explicit contention of a new Center for American Progress report, The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers, and of Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, who has been proclaiming that modern choice programs are “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.” As I and others have written, the assertion that school choice originated in racism, or somehow has a more repellant history than public schooling, would be laughable if the implications of the charge were not so serious. Remember, Brown v. Board of Education was about massive, mandated segregation in public schools, the schools that defenders love to tell us serve the vast majority of students. Segregation in them meant—and means—segregation for huge swaths of people. Perhaps that is why a response to my critique of the CAP report from the Century Foundation’s Kimberly Quick focused not on history, but my pointing out that private school choice is popular with African Americans. According to Quick this is not so, and by the way, on what grounds does someone at Cato speak “on behalf of the black community”? Cato has no African American policy scholars. I never wrote that I speak on behalf of African Americans. I do not presume to speak for anyone other than myself. But the survey literature—African Americans speaking for themselves—is overwhelmingly on my side.
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