Rev. Sharpton, That’s Not What You Said When You Visited Our Charter School.

“Money is a good servant, but a bad master.”

Just like you flip a coin, people can flip-flop on an issue. Especially when there’s money involved.

There are those, like Malcolm X, who reinvent themselves through careful study and broadening horizons. They employ the humility to publicly and transparently highlight their new ideas and the process through which they arrived at their new conclusions, showing love and respect for those who follow them.

Others, however, flip-flop at the sound of jiggling coins. There is no transparency there. Fortunately you can find out where they stand—by looking at the donations they’ve received.  

For instance, recently Rev. Al Sharpton came out against charter schools, aligning himself with Randi Weingarten and the national teachers union she leads.

It’s no surprise to see Randi’s anti-Black child stance on charters. We’ve seen time and again how she uses the spotlight to protect her members’ bottom line.

But, Reverend, your sudden change of heart begs for a bit more scrutiny.

I recall several years ago when you visited the charter school I lead in Philadelphia. You brought with you a coalition of activists and policymakers to advocate for children and communities. Your idea was to coalesce around a third way narrative that demanded:

  • Higher learning standards,
  • Lifting restrictions on the growth of high-quality charter schools,
  • Turning around low-performing schools,
  • Improving principal and teacher quality, and
  • Greater transparency and accountability in all schools.

You issued a joint statement, saying:

In the global economy of the new century, the jobs of the future will go to the best educated. Today, however, American education is at a crossroads.

One path leads to reform and progress, a better-trained workforce, and a well-informed citizenry. Another path leads to the status quo: only 70 percent of students graduating; about 40 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds with a two-year or four-year college degree; double-digit achievement gaps among whites, Hispanics and African-Americans; stagnating performance on international tests.

Our hope is that these school visits and conversations will inspire the full array of stakeholders to set aside partisanship and ideology and join together in support of a common education reform agenda that addresses our core challenges and provides every child in every school the very best education possible.

This stance doesn’t jive with your allegations about the “misuse” of charter schools.

Sure, the quality of charter schools varies across the country (just like traditional schools). But the fact is Black children in urban areas are more likely to be better prepared for college in a charter school.

Follow the Money

Why Rev. Sharpton would align himself with Randi instead of the 700,000-plus families attending charter schools and the thousands who remain on waitlists is confounding.

When a civil rights activist sides with a union leader who has made a career of siding with adults over children’s interests, you must wonder. When 88 percent of low-income parents—the families Rev. Sharpton is supposedly fighting for—support having a charter school in their neighborhoods, you wonder why he wouldn’t advocate for them.

Until you follow the money. Then it doesn’t take long to figure out the flip-flop.

Reverend Al Sharpton’s organization, the National Action Network, was the recipient of Randi’s generosity.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt 6:21)

Hey, I am fine with pursuing funding. After all, nonprofits need capital to get things done.

However, we have to maintain our moral compass. The mission of the National Action Network is purported to be pursuing a “civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people.”

So, Reverend, what’s your treasure?

What do you think?

About the author

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.

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