NACSA Testifies at NAACP Charter School Hearing

The NAACP held the latest of several public hearings about issues in charter schools today in Orlando, Florida. Karega Rausch, NACSA Vice President of Research & Evaluation was invited to testify on authorizing and charter school oversight.

The following is a transcript of his remarks:


January 27, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to speak and let me start by thanking the NAACP for its long history of advocating on behalf of people of color.

It is no exaggeration to say that the advances made for Black people and others in America today would be less but for the efforts of this organization.

As one who stands on the shoulders of giants who have come before me, I deeply thank the NAACP for its essential work.

***

I want to begin with a question that one of our colleagues in the civil rights movement has always kept front and center. In any discussion about education and society, the amazing and inspiring Marian Wright Edelman always asks: “How are the children doing?”

I begin with that question because this isn’t about politics and this isn’t about money.

This is about kids—our kids. Yours and mine. Kids of color. Low-income kids. Kids who have too often been denied the education they need and deserve.

By every possible indicator, the kids that both of us care so much about—low-income students of color—are doing worse than their higher-income white counterparts.

They have less access pre-school, fewer choices in K-12 education, and less rigor in high school. Fewer graduate and go on to college, fewer complete college, and most of them earn less in life.

These outcomes have nothing—nothing—to do with the ability of our kids. It’s about adults not seeing the brilliance in them. Adults having lower expectations for what they can accomplish. And adults providing fewer opportunities for their God-given talents to grow and thrive.

Equality remains a goal—but it’s still far from reality.

And one of the areas of particular inequity is around quality school options. Middle-class families can move to a community with good, well-funded schools. They can send their children to private schools. They may even have the resources to homeschool if they choose.

Poor people mostly don’t have these choices. Many of them are forced to send their child to their neighborhood school, regardless of whether it is the right school for their child.

We are thankfully living a time when that has begun to change. Today, millions of low-income families of color are exercising choice and it’s no surprise that they overwhelmingly value their educational freedom.

Ask any parent who has made a choice in education—and they will tell you—it’s their greatest source of hope for their children.

I work for an organization, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which promotes high-quality options for students who need them most.

We work in over 40 states that currently allow public charter schools. Specifically, we help authorizers—those responsible for deciding which charter schools are good enough to be approved and which schools are good enough to stay open, as well as ensuring each school treats all students fairly and spends public tax dollars appropriately.

Authorizers should hold charter schools to high standards of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness. We support a high bar for those seeking the privilege of educating our children. In fact, we believe charters should meet a higher standard than district-run schools and in my home state of Indiana that is, in fact, the case.

Under Indiana’s A–F grading system, a district-run school has to get an F for five years in a row to be closed down or otherwise intervened in; for public charters it’s four.

We are also in a state today, Florida, where quality charter authorizing policies and practices are improving, and where there are many strong charter schools. Authorizers in Florida are just now completing their review of new charter proposals using a much more robust process, and we are hearing that authorizers are making better decisions about which schools to open based on better information.

In addition, this state’s largest charter authorizer, Miami-Dade—run by the terrific Assistant Superintendent Tiffanie Pauline, who happens to be a Black woman—oversees a strong portfolio of schools and is leading efforts to focus more heavily on student outcomes and promoting transparency.

Now, I will be the first to agree that too many charters across the country don’t meet high standards. Some of them should never have opened in the first place. Others should close down as soon as we can identify better options for the students.

And I will loudly and vigorously join the NAACP in calling for a high bar and in demanding both accountability and transparency.

But a nationwide moratorium is a blunt instrument that does nothing to distinguish outstanding charter schools from weak ones.

I am talking about charters like many KIPP schools, Uncommon Schools, the Denver School of Science and Technology in the city where I was raised, some of the Brooke charter schools in Boston, the Christel House Academies in Indiana, and Aspire and Summit Academy in New York.

While no school is perfect, these schools are literally eliminating achievement gaps. They are literally giving low-income children of color a chance to get into Ivy League schools and compete with the very brightest and wealthiest kids in America.

They are literally advancing equality, which is the very mission of the NAACP.

America recently honored Dr. King, whose message about “Why We Can’t Wait” resonates deeply with all of us:

“Justice delayed is justice denied.” Similarly, education delayed is education denied.

King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail is the closest thing we have to a founding document of the movement for equality.

This is not to say the urgent need to extend quality options somehow means abandoning kids in district-run schools. I and most of my colleagues in this space believe our work must be both/and, not either/or.

There are new and different challenges that emerge in communities as quality options expand. We need to collaboratively figure out how to solve them. But let’s also make sure such conversations are about how students are performing, not just revenue challenges.

President Barack Obama once said that the history of the civil rights movement was written in the classroom. That’s our history and together we will write the next chapter.

In addition to being an educational researcher, I am also a parent of two beautiful black girls. I was blessed with a good education and I chose this field because I believe it is society’s most important work.

My organization wants to be a full and active partner with any other organization, including the NAACP, which seeks to expand quality options and address shortcomings.

And yes there are legitimate issues in need of remedy. But these issues tend to not be widespread; rather, they tend to be context and location specific. The charter sector—like the district-run sector—has good and bad actors, high-performers and low-performers.

But you don’t address isolated examples with a blanket moratorium. You don’t chop down an entire tree because of a few bad apples.

A clear example of an issue that is a problem in some places is use of exclusionary discipline; an issue I have spent most of my adult life addressing as a researcher and advocate.

A recent study by UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies examined charter school use of out-of-school suspension and disciplinary disparities by race and disability status.

As illustrated by the figure, the UCLA report authors examined charter schools deemed high suspending (those that had an out-of-school suspension rate of greater than 10 percent at the elementary level and 25 percent at the secondary level for any racial group and for kids with disabilities) and low suspending (those with a suspension rate of less than 2 percent for elementary schools and 10 percent for secondary schools for every racial group and for kids with disabilities).

As you can see two facts emerge. First, about 22 percent of charters have high and/or disparate suspension rates. As has been the case for at least 50 years among some schools in the district-run sector, there are some charter schools with unacceptably high and disproportionate suspension rates that are in need of remedy. We need to be clear, direct, and honest about that fact.

At the same time, just like in the district-run sector, there are a lot more charter schools that have low and relatively equitable suspension rates—a little more than one-third.

Taken together, these findings led the authors to conclude:

“We find a very wide distribution of suspension rates among the [charter] schools, which illustrates why generalizing from the aggregate charter school rates is problematic…most charter schools are not high suspending…these findings clearly suggest low suspending charters are abundant.” (P. 16)

Yes, there are charter schools with problems, but most charter schools don’t fit that stereotype. This kind of finding—isolated, not widespread problems—resembles most of the issues raised in the NAACP resolution on charter schools.

These data and others are a clear call for precision in problem remedy, rather than inaccurate blanket condemnations.

For hundreds of years, Black people have done whatever it takes to attain the freedom that comes with a quality education, including scraping together pennies earned with sweat and blood to attend private schools or establish schools of our own. Our people have a long history of educational self-reliance extending to the present: from Freedom Schools to the African American Independent School Movement, to the many charter schools founded, taught and lead by dedicated Black people, we have shown time and time again that despite the most overwhelming of odds, we will find a way to ensure our children are educated.

Even today, the fastest-growing segment among homeschoolers are Black families who are still frustrated by what they see as discriminatory practices within public schools. That’s a clear message from the people we all serve.

Our people have shown we will do anything to give our kids a good education.

The last thing that we—your organization and mine—should be doing is denying low-income, Black parents a hard-earned measure of freedom.

***

In closing, I just want to say that I always assume the best intentions of others. I respect your motive to address problems in education, including in public charter schools. I do not support the view that the NAACP has lost its way.

Similarly, I ask that you take us at our word and recognize that those of us working to expand quality options have an equally honorable motive—which is to give our children the best chance at a successful life.

As you craft recommendations from your dialogue across the country, I implore you to rescind the national moratorium on charter schools. Your call to stop charter schools everywhere, including in places that are changing Black lives for the better, has alienated too many parents and families of color. It’s also alienated many teachers, school leaders, authorizers, and concerned citizens of color who want quality schools—regardless of type—to expand.

What’s more, by rescinding the moratorium and promoting quality charter schools, you will have willing partners, such as my organization, committed to learning more and collectively addressing the real challenges among some charter schools, which the moratorium sought to address.

So rather than take away choice—even temporarily—let’s instead work together to empower parents of color to control their children’s educational destiny and to put all of their children—our children—on a path to self-directed success. Because at the end of the day when we ask, “How are the children doing?” we must be able to say “Much better than they were.”

Thank you.